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Professor makes medicine personal


December 21, 2006

Biomedical science and engineering are taking humans toward their most personal connections with technology, and this close relationship can be seen emerging in research by Bruce Towe, a professor in the bioengineering department of the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering.

Bruce ToweIn projects supported by the National Institutes of Health, bioengineers, electrical engineers and biologists are collaborating on an array of practical applications for new microtechnology discoveries. Development of micro-scale implantable biosensor and bioelectronic devices that detect, monitor and treat an array of medical conditions is progressing at a rapid pace in the labs where Towe leads a small team of ASU colleagues.

Major advances in individually tailored heath care and treatment are expected to surface by harnessing tiny wireless biosensors and neural stimulators that use ultrasound and radio waves to ease pain or diagnose diseases and ailments.

Towe describes neurostimulation devices that can be implanted in the body to help physically disabled patients expand their range of movement, and instruments to do things such as monitoring blood pressure or working with implantable microsystems to perform automated medication delivery.

“We're achieving breakthroughs in the size of these devices and in the simplicity of their operation,” Towe says. “There's no doubt in my mind these things will be among the biggest waves of the future in personalized medicine.”

Implantable bioelectrical systems will allow people to assess conditions of their blood chemistry, as well as their heart and circulatory functions, to monitor overall stress levels, he says.

Towe and other ASU researchers are also developing small, simple “bioreporter” or “biosentinel” devices that maintain living biological cells in instrumented microfluidic systems for NASA. The devices are intended to provide immediate and detailed information about the physiological effects of outer space on astronauts.

“In space, the bioreporters are exposed to radiation, electromagnetic fields and microgravity and thus act as surrogates of the cells of the astronauts' bodies,” Towe explains. “The bioreporters help create a metabolic fingerprint of the cells of the astronauts' bodies. We want to get a picture of that fingerprint down to the molecular level, so we can see how the environment in space is affecting their cellular structures.”