Why we need engineering in medical sciences

Two female medical engineers examining a piece of equipment.

Bringing innovation and new technology, how the integration of engineering with medical science is helping to better lives and make healthcare more affordable.

I think engineering can be a crucial part of the story when bringing medical sciences to patients. I love the innovation that many engineers bring to the table, focusing on new and better technologies. I think engineering contributions can be relevant to probably every single disease and have an important part to play.

Similarly, engineers really need great medical scientists to input into the designs to make sure that they are fit for purpose and can benefit the most people possible. I strongly believe that engineering can help in democratising access to healthcare by creating better and more affordable technologies.

This is one of the key drivers for my own research programme (Imperial College London).

When engineering meets medical science

Focusing on biomaterials, my research interests cover bioengineering challenges which seek to heal the body (known as regenerative medicine), detect diseases and develop new ways of studying biomaterials.

Some of my group work on the science of biomaterials at very small scales. Such as designing tiny probes that combine gold nanomaterials (roughly a thousand times smaller than a human hair) with DNA or protein biomolecules.

These tiny probes are used for ultra-sensitive detection of diseases like cancer or infections. While others study bioengineering approaches in regenerative medicine, such as 3D printed scaffolds to support cell and tissue development for use in musculoskeletal or cardiac repair.

I’m super motivated by the symbiosis of research and engineering applications. I run a very multidisciplinary group: The Stevens Group with engineers, chemists, physicists, biologists, computer scientists and even surgeons! I love the interaction between people from different backgrounds, countries and how together we can solve important unmet needs in medicine.

A platform for success

I also believe in wider collaboration and am delighted to serve as the Director of the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform (UKRMP) Hub for Smart Materials. This programme brings together 10 different universities across the UK focusing on strategies for regenerating the eye, musculoskeletal system and the liver.

We aim to make real-life impact, so we have set up key advisory groups to bring on board manufacturing, safety, immunology and translational expertise. Some of the consortium’s work is now progressing towards clinical trials, such as research on ligaments from Oxford University, which is really exciting!

Meeting the challenges

Regenerative medicine is an area where biomaterials can play a really important role, and the regulatory landscape is still evolving. Safety and efficacy are the two main requirements for translating our research into clinical products. We work closely with regulatory professionals and clinicians to ensure that all our researchers come into contact with the translational process during their training with us.

For me personally, I had my twins just after starting a faculty job at Imperial, and subsequently had another baby too. It has been incredibly challenging, but I surprised myself by being able to keep running a very active lab alongside a busy family life. I always want to reassure young potential parents that you can find ways of doing both, you might just have to get creative!

The importance of collaboration

As you’ve probably gathered, I’m incredibly proud of the diverse team of scientists, engineers and clinicians in my group, and it enables us to do really exciting work. My advice to others would be to take the time to pick the very best quality collaborative people. Provide many opportunities for collaboration and communication to happen between the team.

People from different fields of expertise may speak different languages, but as long as they are motivated and collaborative then great things will happen.

Find out more

The UKRMP Regenerative Medicine Virtual Conference will take place on 21 and 22 September 2021, showcasing exciting advances in regenerative medicine research in the UK and internationally. This free event will consist of a series of talks and panel sessions, allowing for stimulating conversation and networking.

A Special Focus Day on Engineering and Physical Sciences in Regenerative Medicine will be held on 28 September 2021. This day will be to raise the profile of Engineering and Physical Sciences in regenerative medicine research.

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