At the UBC School of Biomedical Engineering (SBME), researchers are building a remarkable facility. They hope it will become a hub where experts from a diverse array of disciplines will meet to make the kind of progress that can only be made when they come together.
“Biomedical engineering is an evolving discipline that brings together fundamentals in biology, technology, engineering, design, and mathematics to solve real world problems — whether it’s image analysis for better diagnostics, or rehabilitation to assist with head injuries, or the design of a cell to better target a cancer,” says Peter Zandstra, Director of the UBC School of Biomedical Engineering.
“And one of the really unique things about biomedical engineering at UBC is that we’re bringing solutions to these problems across scales, and we’re able to do that because of this partnership between engineering and medicine that has really catalyzed the creation of the School.”
Created in 2017, SBME became UBC’s first inter-faculty school, forging a partnership between the Faculties of Applied Science and Medicine. With that partnership and ties to industry and research-intensive hospitals, it became a Canadian model of convergent research and education.
“The new facility that the School of Biomedical Engineering is working on, and really rapidly building and establishing, is going to bring in a lot of power lines with different disciplines,” says Dena Shahriari, assistant professor at SBME.
“And that is really what makes biomedical engineering strong, where people have different backgrounds and different passion. And then you bring them together and they’re now in one unique place with state-of-the-art equipment.”
Bringing those people together in a collaborative space is incredibly important because it gives them a chance to talk — a key first step in finding ways to work together.
“Traditionally you found that engineers were over in one silo, biologists were over in another silo, and they really didn’t speak the same language,” says Kelly McNagny, professor at SBME.
“What SBME does is it brings these two groups together and they learn how to speak languages that they can each understand.”
In particular, McNagny is hoping SBME will attract collaborations with clinicians who understand the subtleties of the problems that engineers and biologists can help solve.
“Then I think you’re going to see technologies that help cure disease much more rapidly than we ever have seen in the past,” adds McNagny.
The facility being built to house SBME is intended to be a flagship building, both for UBC and for Canada.
“Whether you’re from industry and you want to interact with academia, or you’re with academia and you want to meet community members, this is the place where those collisions will happen,” adds Zandstra.
“So this is the interface between what we’re doing in the School and how that the impact of that comes out into society.”