NTHU's plan to add a department of medicine has generated lots of discussion in the medical community. In presenting the plan, Senior Vice President of academic affairs Chen Sinn-wen stated that the training of medical personnel is actually nothing new at NTHU, since over the years lots of practicing doctors have come to NTHU for graduate degrees relating to such areas as artificial intelligence (AI), big data, nanomedicine, rapid test kits, target drugs, and artificial organs.
Amongst the researchers at the lab of Prof. Cheng Chao-min(鄭兆珉) of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering are four doctors currently doing graduate study at NTHU, including a young physician licensed in both Western and Chinese medicine.
New weapons for fighting illness and disease
Specializing in nanomedicine and rapid testing procedures, Cheng has recently developed the world’s first covid-19 rapid test kit, and he has previously developed rapid test kits for determining sperm vitality and bacterial infection. Over the years, his laboratory has trained and cooperated with more than 20 physicians.
Cheng said that in the treatment of intractable diseases, front-line doctors are comparable to seasoned soldiers who understand the enemy and how to fight, but sometimes lack suitable weapons; while researchers are like the engineers who develop weapons, and the lab is like a big armory stocked with all sorts of weapons. He also emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary research, especially in the medical field.
Amongst Cheng’s research students is Dr. Hsu Min-yen(許閔彥) of the Ophthalmology Department at the Chung Shan Medical University Hospital. After graduating from the Department of Medicine at National Taiwan University, he did his residency in clinical medicine at the Taipei Veterans General Hospital, and in 2016 he completed a Ph.D. at NTHU’s Institute of NanoEngineering and MicroSystems (iNEMS). Earlier this year he became the first clinical physician to receive the Ministry of Science and Technology’s Columbus Award.
Hsu said that in order to detect ocular lesions, it is necessary to extract some fluid from the anterior chamber of the patient’s eyes for analysis. This presents a problem, however, since removing as little as 0.2 cc can cause the eye to collapse. Thus in his research at NTHU he is using nano-engineering to develop a way to measure this fluid.
Hsu said that what attracted him to Tsinghua is its world-class faculty, including Prof. Cheng, who did his postdoctoral research at Harvard University, and Associate Prof. Chen Chih-chen(陳致真) of the Department of Power Mechanical Engineering, an associate of the highly rated Massachusetts General Hospital in the USA. In his acceptance speech for the Columbus Award, Hsu said that if not for NTHU, he could have never received the Columbus Award.
With support provided by the Chung Shan Medical University and the Columbus Award, Hsu has set up his own research lab and has begun to mentor research students. He is also a firm believer in the interdisciplinary approach to medical research.
Enhanced procedure for treating chronic infections
Another member of Cheng’s laboratory is Dr. Wu Yu-feng(吳俞鋒) of the Department of Plastic Surgery at National Taiwan University Hospital, Hsinchu Branch. When Wu graduated from the Department of Medicine of National Taiwan University nine years ago, keen on upgrading his ability to deal with challenging trauma reconstruction cases, he decided to return to NTHU and pursue a Ph.D. at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering.
Wu displayed a photo of a patient’s heel affected by chronic osteonecrosis and said that in his clinical practice he sees quite a few chronic wounds affected by bacterial infections and biofilms, for which surgery is often ineffective. Thus he is currently working with Dr. Cheng Nai-chen(鄭乃禎) of the Department of Plastic Surgery at National Taiwan University Hospital to develop a procedure that can detect a biofilm on a chronic wound in just two minutes, and determine whether the biofilm has made the wound impervious to medication.
Wu’s quick screening procedure will increase the efficiency of surgeons and a number of hospitals have already expressed interest in using it.
A stitch in time saves nine
Another member of Cheng’s research team is Dr. Chen Cheng-han(陳正翰) of the Emergency Department at Taipei Veterans General Hospital. Chen said that the exigencies of the emergency room make it necessary to perform a quick examination and triage, so as to begin treatment as soon as possible. With this in mind, he is currently developing a rapid procedure for detecting bacteria in urine and blood samples.
Dr. Chen, who graduated from Kaohsiung Medical University nine years ago, said that the methods used in medical treatment tend to advance quickly, and the need to keep abreast of the latest developments in clinical medicine led him to NTHU, where his contact with various teachers and students with a background in engineering has inspired him in his endeavor to develop better methods of dealing with challenging clinical issues.
A Major advance in chemotherapy
Dr. Lin Hsin-yao(林新曜), a neurosurgeon at Mackay Memorial Hospital in Taipei, is currently studying for a Ph.D. at Institute of NanoEngineering and MicroSystems under the guidance of Prof. Wan Dehui(萬德輝) In the course of treating patients with brain tumors, due to the need to retain as many nerves as possible, brain tumors often cannot be completely removed, so that further drug treatment is typically required after surgery, but the hard pills placed in the brain easily get displaced. Thus he has developed a nano-hydrogel which stays in place while slowly doing its job. Animal experiments have confirmed that it has a good effect, and he is currently preparing an article for publication in an international journal.
Dr. Lin laments the lack of communication between clinical physicians and biomedical researchers in Taiwan, such that researchers are often unaware of what physicians need, and physicians are often unaware of the treatments being developed by researchers. A graduate of Yangming Medical College, as soon as he became an attending physician he decided to undertake interdisciplinary research at NTHU to help address this shortcoming.
AI in medical care
Dr. Hung Chen-ying(洪振瀛) is the director of the Department of Cardiology at the Veterans General Hospital, Hsinchu Branch, and a student of NTHU’s international doctoral program (iphD). Having previously used statistical methods to analyze health insurance data, in 2016, under the guidance of Prof. Jeremy Lee(李祈均) of the Department of Electrical Engineering, Hung began using AI, to enhence his analysis. The AI module he has developed can accurately predict the complications of gastrointestinal bleeding caused by the use of anticoagulant drugs in stroke patients.
Hung said that it’s not easy to go from traditional medicine to AI, but building AI analysis modules into hospital and health insurance databases would provide an early warning and help more patients.
A new treatment for osteoporosis
Dr. Chen Chun-chieh(陳俊傑) of the Orthopedics Department at the Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital completed a doctorate in chemical engineering at NTHU in February, 2020. After graduating from Chinese Medical University, he spent two years in the United States studying biopolymer materials. After returning to Taiwan he joined a research team led by Prof. Sung Hsing-wen(宋信文) who specializes in drug release and medical gases.
In his clinical practice Chen treated many patients with osteoporosis due to aging, which can be controlled by using drug treatment, but can’t be reversed. However, as a part of Sung’s research team, Chen helped to develop a method for stimulating bone growth by overcoming the short half-life of nitric oxide. Their research has been published in the top international journal Advanced MaterialsAdvanced Materials. They have also found that using nitric oxide can reduce the dose of radiotherapy in the treatment of soft tissue tumors, and increases the efficacy of the treatment.
The future of medicine
Senior Vice President Chen Sinn-wen said that NTHU already has a wealth of experience in training physicians in such fields as biomedicine, chemical engineering, and computer science, and that the next step is to recruit talented individuals with backgrounds in science and engineering for rigorous medical training in an interdisciplinary environment.
Chen said that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently established a medical school, the charter of which emphasizes the integration of engineering and advanced technology is going to play an increasingly important role in providing patients with more humane medical care, adding that this is also one of the guiding principles of NTHU’s future post-baccalaureate program in medicine, the emphasis of which will be on blazing an innovative path for the future of medicine.
The Ministry of Education has already approved the Smart Biomedicine and Precision Medicine programs as post-baccalaureate programs in medicine, both of which will start recruiting students in 2021. On a related note, the Health Policy and Management master’s program of the College of Technology Management will begin accepting applications in December.
Prof. Cheng Chao-min (鄭兆珉) (center) of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering with two members of his research team: Wu Yu-feng(吳俞鋒) (left) of the Department of Plastic Surgery at National Taiwan University Hospital, Hsinchu Branch; and Chen Cheng-han(陳正翰) of the Emergency Department at Taipei Veterans General Hospital.
Chen Cheng-han(陳正翰) is currently developing a rapid procedure for detecting bacteria in urine and blood samples.
Dr. Wu Yu-feng(吳俞鋒) is conducting research at NTHU relating to the development of a biofilm rapid testing procedure.
Dr. Hung Chen-ying(洪振瀛), director of the Department of Cardiology at the Veterans General Hospital, Hsinchu Branch, receiving the Outstanding Paper Award at the 2018 Engineering in Medicine and Biology conference organized by the IEEE.
Lin Hsin-yao(林新曜), a neurosurgeon at Mackay Memorial Hospital in Taipei, is conducting research at NTHU on a slow-acting nano-hydrogel for treating brain tumors.
Hsu Min-yen(許閔彥) of the Ophthalmology Department at the Chung Shan Medical University Hospital at work in the lab.