NAE Symposium: The Engineering in Medicine

From top to bottom: Biomedical Engineering Associate Professor Elizabeth Hillman, who specializes in 2D and 3D optical imaging; Lee Goldman, executive vice president for health and biomedical sciences at CUMC; the NAE regional symposium focused on data science and health, imaging and health, regenerative medicine, and neuroengineering. (Photos by Timothy Lee Photographers)

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) held its Northeastern Regional Symposium this spring at Columbia Engineering, showcasing the groundbreaking research of some of the University’s leading engineers and scientists on “The Engineering in Medicine.”

The daylong event, held in the Low Rotunda, highlighted Columbia’s novel research initiatives to advance health informatics, engineer better medicines, and reverse-engineer the human brain. The symposium concentrated on four key areas: data science and health, imaging and health, regenerative medicine, and neuroengineering.

“By its nature, engineering is a profession whose mission is to seek creative solutions to societal problems, local and global, big and small,” said Dean Mary C. Boyce, introducing proceedings and highlighting collaborations between Columbia Engineering, the Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), and other schools. “Columbia Engineering is proud of its leadership and partnership roles in supporting the University’s multidisciplinary initiatives in medicine and human health through the institutes and initiatives that cut across the University.”

After remarks from NAE President C. D. Mote Jr., examining the “grand challenges” facing researchers, Lee Goldman, Columbia’s executive vice president for health and biomedical sciences and CUMC’s dean of the faculties of health sciences and medicine, gave the opening address. He discussed the rich history of bioengineering and biomedical engineering over the past century and the promise of emerging fields of research, including tissue engineering, microfluidics, nanoinstrumentation, and bioinformatics.

Chemical Engineering Professor Jingyue Ju joined Noémie Elhadad, associate professor of biomedical informatics, and Andrea Califano, professor and chair of chemical systems biology and director of the Sulzberger Columbia Genome Center, to discuss how using data impacts their work. Computer Science Professor Kathleen McKeown, director of Columbia’s Data Science Institute, moderated a Q&A on how the rise of sophisticated data analytics is advancing knowledge and treatments on both the individual and public health scales.

Illustrating the importance of imaging in human health, Elisa E. Konofagou, professor of biomedical engineering and of radiology, and Elizabeth Hillman, associate professor of biomedical engineering and of radiology, discussed their research in new elasticity imaging techniques and therapeutic ultrasound methods, and advanced in vivo optical imaging techniques, respectively. Andrew F. Laine, professor and chair of biomedical engineering and a professor of radiology, led a discussion on how groundbreaking imaging techniques enable more precisely tailored treatments for a variety of ailments.

Regenerative medicine and tissue engineering were at the center of presentations delivered by Biomedical Engineering Professor Helen H. Lu; Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, Mikati Foundation Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Medical Sciences; and Matthew Bacchetta, associate professor of surgery.

An in-depth look at the cutting edge of neuroscience was provided by Paul Sajda, professor of biomedical engineering, electrical engineering, and radiology; Kenneth Shepard, Lau Family Professor of Electrical Engineering and professor of biomedical engineering; and Joshua Jacobs, assistant professor of biomedical engineering. In individual talks and then a Q&A moderated by Sajda, they addressed innovative research including reverse-engineering cortical networks underlying perceptual and cognitive processes, interfacing advanced integrated circuits with biological systems for a variety of applications, and charting the neural basis for human navigation and memory using recordings from surgically implanted electrodes in the brains of epilepsy patients.

“Engineering is about transforming lives,” Boyce said. “Grand societal challenges provide a focus and a framework for research bringing a public visibility to the importance and impact of engineering and the applied sciences in shaping our world for the better.”