Posted September 22nd, 2017 by Luke Ng

Addressing unique patient needs with technology: U of T offers engineering training to medical students

  • Jason Jaewoon Park

    Jason Jaewoon Park is one of seven U of T medical students in the first cohort to pair their MD education with medical device training. (Photo courtesy Jason Jaewoo Park)

Jason Jaewoo Park wants to be a doctor who can impact patient outcomes with technology.

“When I entered medical school, I wanted to learn more about medical devices that are essential for providing high-quality care,” said Park, a second-year MD student at the University of Toronto. “As a future physician, I want to help find solutions to shortcomings in the technology we use to provide the best possible care for our patients.”

Starting this fall, Park will be among the first cohort of seven U of T MD students to pair their full-time medical education with training in biomedical device design through a part-time Master of Engineering (MEng) program offered by the University’s Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering (IBBME).

The MD-oriented version of this program, developed by IBBME professors Julie Audet, Christopher Yip and the Faculty of Medicine’s Dr. Marcus Law, enables medical students to learn more about how biomedical devices are created and brought to market through a series of courses in biomedical sciences, engineering technology and commercialization. It also includes an applied internship on a schedule that compliments the MD curriculum.

Some of the proposed projects for internships include evaluating mechanical compression of live tissue in minimally-invasive surgery, and the development of a 3D heart tissue model microfluidic platform for cardiovascular health research.

“With a focus on the design and commercialization of biomedical devices, our MD students will engage in applied design challenges to tackle medically relevant issues and gain first-hand experience of the industry,” said Law, an associate professor of family medicine and the director of foundations for the MD program at U of T.  “This experience is extremely enriching for our students, and open the doors for future career options in advancing health care.”

Park agrees. He started his internship earlier this year at 3D4MD, a Toronto-based firm that makes 3D-printed medical tools such as surgical instruments that can be fabricated on site. This is particularly useful for challenging locations in the world, such as disaster zones or remote sites, and for space applications to treat ill or injured astronauts.

“The projects I’m working on are aimed at helping patients with disabilities whose therapy needs are not addressed by current products,” said Park. “Additionally, we hope to help patients who are not able to access suitable assistive devices because they are too expensive by developing a more cost-effective, 3D-printed alternative.”

The program also fosters collaboration between engineering and medical professionals.

“There is a unique opportunity to have both engineering and medical students in the same classroom to share complimentary perspectives that will help to identify and address unmet health-care needs,” said Audet, who is also the vice-dean of graduate studies for the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. “I am grateful to be a part of the development team for this interdisciplinary initiative that will help advance care for unique human health challenges.”