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Health Engineers: From therapeutic chips to high-precision surgery

The University of Navarra will introduce its Master's Degree in Biomedical Engineering with the help of the University of California

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Drs. Carlos Ortiz de Solórzano, Tejal Desai and Elena de Juan. FOTO: Manuel Castells
01/06/07 11:44 Mª Pilar Huarte

In a joint initiative of its Pamplona and San Sebastián Campus, the University of Navarra will introduce in the upcoming academic year 2007-08 its new Master's Degree in Biomedical Engineering. This is a program directed by the School of Engineering in collaboration with other centers of the same University: the Schools of Medicine, Sciences and Pharmacy, the University of Navarra Hospital, the Center for Applied Medical Research (CIMA) and the Center for Technical Studies and Research of Gipuzkoa (CEIT).

In the startup and initial execution of the project, the Department of Bioengineering of the University of California in Berkeley will also participate. In addition, Spanish and international businesses in the biomedical technologies sector will participate in teaching and will offer internships.

Dr. Carlos Ortiz de Solórzano, an engineer and the Director of the Master's Degree, explained some applications of Biomedical Engineering: "The techniques of engineering of tissues based on adult stem cells are already shortening the process of bone tissue or connective tissue regeneration after surgery. In addition, they improve the prognosis for recuperation in coronary disorders.

Another area is related to the techniques for acquisition and analyses of images, which contribute in a decisive manner to the diagnosis and treatment of complex ailments such as Parkinson's Disease and Alzheimer's Disease. In the case of assisted surgery, it provides more precision to the surgical instructions. In addition, nanotechnologies permit the implantation of chips in the human body in order to replace lost functions in the organs or tissues."

An approach to an artificial pancreas for diabetics

The Director of the Master's Degree worked 8 years in Berkeley before joining the School of Engineering and the CIMA of the University of Navarra. After his return to Spain, Carlos Ortiz de Solórzano highlighted the conditions of "this scientific environment with a mission for the integration of knowledge. As we perform our research for curing diseases, we want to apply our advances in areas as diverse as materials engineering, mechanics and electronics, which offer innovative and effective alternatives to the traditional methods of diagnosis and treatment of diseases."

For the presentation of the new Master's Degree, Dr. Tejal Desai, Director of Laboratory of Therapeutic Micro and Nanotechnologies of the University of California in San Francisco, traveled to Pamplona. His team works in the design of capsules with pancreatic cells, invisible to the immune system, which can be inserted into the pancreas of diabetic patients in order to produce insulin. As the researcher affirmed, "in 10 or 15 years this technique may be available for Type 1 diabetics, who need the administration of insulin. This advance will permit them to improve their quality of life and regenerate all or part of their pancreas."invisibles al sistema inmune, que se podrán insertar en el páncreas de pacientes diabéticos para producir insulina. Según afirma la investigadora, "en 10 ó 15 años esta técnica podrá estar disponible para los diabéticos de tipo 1, los que deben administrarse insulina. Este avance les permitiría mejorar su calidad de vida y regenerar una parte o la totalidad de su páncreas".

Another example of the innovative research developed by the team of Dr. Tejal consists in the fabrication of molds which permit the appropriate growth of bone cells which are implantable in surfaces or artificial scaffoldings which are surgically insertable in fractures or decalcified osseous zones. "This process can be applied, in addition, to the soft tissues which tend to form fibroses. The idea consists in implanting a gel with cellular regenerative factors which aid in the recuperation of the damaged tissue," clarified the specialist.

Dr. Elena de Juan, an engineer and also a Director of the Master's Degree, has joined the University of Navarra after a stay at the Max-Planck Institute in Munich (Germany) and is currently performing research in Berkeley. She explained that, while it is open to a wide range of licentiate graduates, the Master's Degree is particularly oriented to those who are new to the area of biomedicine, such as engineers, computer specialists, physicists and mathematicians.

The teaching staff includes nearly 100 professionals from all the areas involved: doctors, biologists, physicists, chemists, engineers, pharmacists, biochemists, etc. All of these professionals works in the development of their basic and applied research in areas of knowledge related to medicine.

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