Engineering the future of medicine: Johns Hopkins expert details vision for new era of biomedical engineering

Michael Miller outlines plan to hire 10 new BME faculty members in key disciplines in coming months

Video: Johns Hopkins Biomedical Engineering

Michael I. Miller, director of the Johns Hopkins Department of Biomedical Engineering, has a plan for a new era of biomedical science discovery to respond to the challenges of the 21st century. He unveiled this plan Wednesday during the 2017 Biomedical Engineering Society Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona.

Michael I. Miller

Image caption: Michael I. Miller

"The past century has been the Age of Physics, followed by the Information Age, where we saw vast engineering contributions to the mapping and control of our external world, from the rise of operational amplifiers and computer disks to GPS and the prospect of self-driving cars," Miller told the gathering of the world's top biomedical engineers at the Phoenix Convention Center. "This century will be about engineering our internal world: mapping, controlling, and engineering genes, tissues, organ systems, and ultimately the human brain."

He added: "As engineers, we take pride in our role as the creators of disruptive technologies—technologies that will change the future of not only biology, but of medicine as well."

Miller was named director of the Department of Biomedical Engineering in July after an exhaustive global search. He is an international leader in medical imaging and brain mapping, having pioneered the field of computational anatomy as a modern theory of human anatomical shape and form. He is the co-director of the Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute and the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Imaging Science.

In his address at BMES, Miller also unveiled a new vision for biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins. The discipline started at the university more than 50 years ago and laid the foundation for completely new areas of research such as bioinformatics, computational biology, medical imaging, and systems neuroscience. As part of the new program, which he termed BME 2.0, Miller's department will hire 10 new faculty members in four emergent research thrusts. These include:

  • Genomic-epigenomic engineering
  • Regenerative and immune engineering
  • Neuroengineering
  • Data-intensive biomedical science

As a reflection of Miller's commitment to excellence in education, the Johns Hopkins BME undergraduate program will offer tracks of study that align with the newly expanded research thrusts. Beyond the core program, Johns Hopkins also offers the nation's first undergraduate minor in the growing field of computational medicine, launched last year as an exciting addition to many BME degrees. To support student trajectories through the program, which is consistently ranked among the best in the world, a new Office of BME Undergraduate Affairs will also provide personalized, track-specific academic advising.

"The BME 2.0 undergraduate program will give students time and flexibility to pursue high-level course work, while also providing more opportunities for real-world research and design experience," Miller said.

Johns Hopkins BME is one of the only such departments nationwide that is centered in both a school of engineering and a school of medicine, and increased interaction between the two schools will be a cornerstone of BME 2.0. By building off of the strong community between clinicians and engineers at Johns Hopkins, Miller hopes to bridge the gap between research discoveries and clinical translation.

Miller's mission to put biomedical engineering at the center of modern medicine—from clinical diagnostics to disease treatment and patient care—fits nicely with the theme for the 2017 BMES Annual Meeting, "Engineering personalized medicine and therapies." The meeting, kicked off by Miller's welcome address, will include a career fair, social events, and more than 2,000 scientific presentations by both academic and industry leaders. He is also being honored at the event as a Class of 2017 BMES Fellow for his "exceptional achievements" in biomedical engineering.

As Miller puts it, "Johns Hopkins BME is engineering the future of medicine. And the future is happening now."