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Message From Chair
Welcome to the Department of Bioengineering website! The website provides you a kaleidoscopic view of the research and education the Department offers along with the profiles of the people associated with the Department. I will provide an introduction to the Department along with a perspective on the field of Bioengineering.
Bioengineering is a young albeit very important discipline that is still in the process of evolution. UC San Diego has played a very important role both in the birth and continues to pioneer the evolution of the discipline. UCSD Bioengineering began in the 1970s with 3 faculty members joining the then Department of Applied Mechanics and Engineering Science (AMES) to work on application of mechanical engineering principles to physiology. Areas of biomechanics and microcirculation applied to physiology in general and vascular physiology in particular initiated a new era in bioengineering. Prior to this, the field of bioengineering referred to biomedical engineering of prosthetic devices in physiology. In addition to exciting applications of engineering principles, UCSD bioengineering began to extend the notion of engineering models of physiological systems to physiological processes. This led to a conceptual shift in the discipline and led to the areas of tissue and physiological process engineering. These two decades of evolution of bioengineering and its growth across the country was spearheaded by the Whitaker Foundation whose leit motif was the building of bio- and biomedical engineering across the Country. The Staff of the Whitaker Foundation were Messianic in their zeal for the spreading of bioengineering and the community owes a significant amount to the vision espoused by them. A more comprehensive and broad history of the early development of Bio and Biomedical Engineering and the role of Whitaker Foundation can be found at the IEM Website. UCSD and a select set of institutions were awarded leadership and development awards by the Whitaker Foundation and the legacy of these awards continue and their impact speaks for the investment.
Concurrent to developments in bioengineering, the field of radiology continued to evolve at a rapid pace and the ability to study hard tissues in more detail became feasible. At UCSD, the early pioneers of bioengineering realized that the emergence of more modern technology would provide the ability to study the design principles of tissues and engineer them and the beginnings of tissue engineering, focused on both hard and soft tissues, started to emerge in the 1990s. Departments across the country began to recruit engineers whose research interest lay in soft tissue engineering. Meanwhile, the sequencing of the genome and the technologies for in vitro and in vivo probing of cells and their components in great detail began to emerge and this redefined the ability to engineer across scales from molecule to cellular to tissue to organ in physiology. In the early 2000, UCSD Bioengineering proposed that quantitative systems biology is essentially an intellectual quest of bioengineering and should be embraced by Departments of Bioengineering. Given that a number of principles of intracellular and molecular system principles scale across organisms, the scope of bioengineering expanded to micro-organisms and single-cell eukaryotic systems. UCSD’s early adoption of this concept led departments across the country to recruit in the field of systems biology and today it is common place for students interested in systems biology to seek bioengineering programs. This was also augmented by development of new technologies ranging from genome to live cell imaging by researchers in Bioengineering Departments. In the mid 2000’s systems biology gradually shifted to mammalian, especially human systems, and systems medicine with molecular and cellular perspectives began to emerge. Ability to study diseases in molecular detail and investigate the effects of disease at the systems level led to deciphering systemic pathways and concepts of off-target effects of a drug on physiology. Recognizing that this will be the sine qua non of medicine in the coming decades, UCSD formed the Institute of Engineering in Medicine, which is the harbinger for entirely new approaches to healthcare. Also, in the mid 2000’s the field of tissue engineering began to realize that our understanding of the principles of tissue generation are sufficiently detailed that we can begin to think about the use of stem cells in engineering tissues ex vivo. UCSD was once again at the fore front in recruiting bioengineers who work on engineering the environment and the framework of cells that is essential for engineering tissues ex vivo. The ability to study and implement bioengineering across scales is now a reality. Our department represents these frontiers in bioengineering and you will see that we broadly categorize our research interests to embrace three pillars of bio and biomedical engineering, namely, multiscale bioengineering; tissue engineering and regenerative medicine; and systems biology and medicine.
Our Department has outstanding faculty members in these all of these areas and we continue to recruit excellent faculty and students. Frequently, I am asked by insightful prospective students two important questions. What is the field of bioengineering and where is it going? And given the diversity of Bioengineering and expertise in your department, what is the uniting factor? To answer these let us ask, what do bio and biomedical engineers do? Engineers measure components of systems with existing techniques or develop new technologies, understand the design principles of the system, develop a quantitative model and study the behavior of the system through the model by introducing perturbations. They are thus able to both build similar systems that can provide similar and different input-response characteristics and lead to innovation. Bioengineers apply these principles to living systems. The end goal is societal and economic benefit that goes beyond merely satisfying intellectual curiosity.
Our department is ranked highly by our peers and we take pride in educating some of the very best students in the Country. We are immersed in an intellectually stimulating scientific community with outstanding engineering, science and medical departments in UCSD, internationally renowned research institutions, such as the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the Scripps Research Institute, and the Burnham Institute and a vibrant industrial base that spans biotechnology to information and communication technology. UCSD also houses premier interdisciplinary institutions like the Moores Cancer Center, the California Institute for Telecommunication and Information Technology, and the San Diego Supercomputer Center, to name but a few of many. The Department boasts numerous core facilities that make us a state-of-the-art department for research and education. We occupy the Powell-Focht Bioengineering Hall, which is in part a legacy of the Whitaker endowment, an enviable infrastructure that is both modern in design and futuristic in concept. We are also fortunate to be located in San Diego which is arguably the best location to live in terms of climate and environment. Our fundamental objectives are three-fold: to educate the bio and biomedical engineers of the future in the most rigorous and versatile manner to enable them to pursue careers, be it in academia or industry or any other endeavor of choice; to carry out outstanding research embracing the principles of bioengineering stated above, be it on microbes or humans, for the purpose of societal and economic welfare; and to be on the forefront of the evolution of bio and biomedical engineering, contributing both to the defining of new areas and towards spearheading educational values. If you are a student and would like to understand and share our vision, we welcome you to explore further by visiting my letter to prospective students. If you are a colleague who wishes to help us think further or differently, we welcome your thoughts and ideas. If you are a prospective donor who, in addition to sharing our vision for bioengineering, has the potential to influence its implementation, we welcome you to contact us with the guarantee that you will make a difference for the future.
I welcome your thoughts and comments and encourage you to explore deeper into our website.
Shankar Subramaniam, Ph.D.
Chair, UCSD Department of Bioengineering