Anyone remember RoboCop, the movie set in 2028 Detroit, USA, about a cop who is critically injured and gets a mechanised body to fight crime? While not (exactly) creating cyborgs, students of bioengineering have to often work on interesting projects to create artificial parts for the human body to replace organs etc damaged in accidents or destroyed by illness.
Saylee Jangam, first-year student in a graduate programme in bioengineering in the University of Sheffield, UK, was group leader in a research project in a recent technical event in which her team won the second prize in the first year category. The research, titled ‘Can we rebuild you?’ explored the capacity to which the human body can be rebuilt using technology available today and predicted breakthroughs for the future.
“It was an assessment as part of a module I study called introduction to bioengineering. All first-year students in my degree course need to do this project in teams,” says Jangam, who completed her IGCSE and A levels from RIMS International School, Pune.
The group was given six options to choose from, each option belonging to a different area of bioengineering from biomedical engineering, tissue engineering and medical devices. Jangam and her team first did research on parts and percentage of the human body that could be replaced. “Our project was to first understand what could be replaced, then answer the question as to what extent we could say the statement ‘We can rebuild you’ is true. The main task of this project was to make an academic poster and then present this as a team to the rest of our class (bioengineering and medical physics students) and our professors”.
As the appointed team leader, Jangam delegated tasks to her team members and set weekly deadlines. They worked on the poster over some weeks. One of their creative ideas was to create a body map of all the organs that could be replaced. Another idea they had was calculating how much percentage mass of the total body mass could be replaced and they found that approximately 60% could be replaced.
The ideas were interesting: artificial bladders and blood vessels created by 3D printing, bionic limbs being made to work by neurons intertwining with graft neurons which receive the voltages produced naturally in the body when the signal for muscle contraction is sent. Skin cells from the patient grown on a biomaterial scaffold which are then put back on the patient. “We won second place in the contest which was thrilling because we worked extremely hard on our project,” she adds.
Talking about the programme, Professor John Haycock, course director for the BEng/MEng (Hons) bioengineering degree programme, University of Sheffield, said, “The bioengineering degree has a number of strengths. It is structured to give students a good grounding in a broad range of engineering disciplines – from mechanical engineering and electrical engineering to chemical engineering and materials science. This ensures our graduates are able to enter industry and straightaway set about addressing the important issues around human healthcare and longevity of life.”