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Message From Chair
Welcome to the UCSD Department of Bioengineering Website!
I am frequently asked: “What is a bioengineer”? My short answer is: “It’s an engineer who knows how to analyze and work in depth with living cells, tissues and organisms”. Let me explain by guiding you through some highlights of our Department.
Bioengineering is a young and ever more important discipline across the world. UC San Diego has played a leading role in its birth as an academic engineering discipline and continues to pioneer its evolution into a major engineering field of the future. UCSD Bioengineering began in 1966, when its three founding faculty members, Professors Benjamin Zweifach, Y.-C. Bert Fung and Marcos Intaglietta joined the then Department of Applied Mechanics and Engineering Science (AMES) on the young UCSD campus to work on the application of engineering principles to physiology and biology. Using engineering principles, these pioneers developed modern areas of biomechanics and microcirculation to study basic properties of tissues and cells. In the presence of two Medical Centers and strong biological sciences on the UCSD campus, bioengineering enjoyed from the beginning a close interaction with medicine and the life sciences. From the beginning Bioengineering was blooming, and it developed new ways of quantitatively thinking about living tissues and design of innovative measurement techniques.
In the years that followed, UCSD Bioengineering continued pioneering new directions. In the 1990s the idea was sparked that it may be possible to grow tissues in the lab, and this set in motion the beginnings of tissue engineering, a term coined at UCSD. Bioengineers realized that the emergence of modern technology could provide the ability to study and use design principles of living tissues. This early effort in tissue engineering was enhanced by the integration of stem cell biology, and lead to a spearheading development that has reached clinical trials by now. UCSD was at the forefront in recruiting bioengineers who would analyze and reproduce the framework of cells and their environment, which is essential for repairing and growing tissues.
Decades of evolution of bioengineering and its growth were spearheaded and supported by the Whitaker Foundation whose motif was the building of bio- and biomedical engineering in the nation. UCSD and a select group of institutions were awarded leadership and development awards, and this lead to a permanent home for bioengineering on the UCSD campus in 2002, the Powell-Focht Bioengineering Hall. Bioengineering owes a deep gratitude to the vision espoused by the Whitaker Foundation and by the Powell Foundation that supported this effort. A more comprehensive and broad history of the early development of Bioengineering and the role of the Whitaker Foundation can be found at the IEM Website.
In the early 2000s, the sequencing of the genome by geneticists and the technologies for in-vitro and in-vivo probing of cells and their components redefined the ability to engineer tissues all the way from molecules to organs. Researchers in the Bioengineering Department started to engage in the development of new technologies ranging from next-generation genome sequencing to quantitative molecular imaging in living cells. It was also a time when UCSD Bioengineers proposed that quantitative systems biology is needed to understand the functioning of the genome and the proteins it encodes; this is a task for bioengineering and should be embraced by Departments of Bioengineering. In systems biology, full genome-wide biochemical reaction networks are mathematically formulated and experimentally verified. In the process the scope of UCSD Bioengineering has expanded from mammalian organisms to microorganisms that are of environmental and bioprocess importance.
Our Department represents these frontiers in bioengineering, and you will see that we broadly categorize our research interests to embrace three pillars of biomedical engineering basic analysis and design, namely, - multiscale bioengineering from genetics to whole organisms; - tissue engineering and regenerative medicine to help patients; and - systems biology and systems medicine to look at the full complexity of the living world.
You may ask the question: Where is UCSD Bioengineering headed? To get an idea we invite you to look at some of the ongoing research. Bioengineers measure and analyze living tissues, develop quantitative models and study their behavior through perturbations. A most important perturbation to study is disease and aging. And so you find in our Department bioengineers working on an ever-expanding range of important diseases, in bones and muscle, in the heart and in blood vessels, the brain and the eye, metabolic diseases, tumors, diseases in adults, the young and the aged, all the way to some of the most challenging medical problems, like multiorgan failure and death after trauma. Bioengineers are trying to determine the root cause of disease as the door to prevention, and develop new ways to improve medical treatments. Bioengineers think in terms of translation of their work to the use in patients. The field of “systems medicine” has emerged. The ability to study diseases in molecular detail and investigate the effects of disease at the systems level leads to deciphering systemic pathways and concepts of off-target effects of a drug on physiology. Recognizing that this is the sine qua non of medicine in the coming decades, UC San Diego has established the Institute of Engineering in Medicine, which is the harbinger for entirely new approaches to healthcare.
UCSD Bioengineers have reached advanced stages in this development and matured their ideas to a point at which they are tested in patients in formal clinical trials. Most important, our students have become leaders in the bioengineering industry; they pioneer new diagnostics and therapies, and have even done so by creating start-up companies. The end goal is personal and economic benefit to all members of society that goes beyond merely satisfying intellectual curiosity.
Our Department is highly ranked 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 at UC San Diego, internationally renowned research institutions, and a vibrant industrial base spanning from bioengineering and biotechnology to information and communication technology that rival any in the country. We are fortunate to be located in San Diego. Besides the Jacobs School of Engineering and the UCSD Medical Center, UCSD houses additional premier interdisciplinary institutions, such as the Moores Cancer Center, the California Institute for Telecommunication and Information Technology, and the San Diego Supercomputer Center, to name just a few.
The fundamental objectives of our outstanding faculty are to educate the bioengineers of the future, to enable them to pursue careers in academia or industry or any other endeavor, to carry out trailblazing research embracing the principles of bioengineering, and to be on the forefront of the evolution of bioengineering.
We welcome you to visit us here on the website or in person on campus. We like to share our vision and hear your thoughts and ideas.
Geert W. Schmid-Schoenbein,