‘Soft’ side of bioengineering poised to make big impacts

There are more technically precise descriptions of what’s at the core of a growing trend broadening the horizons of biomedical engineering than “the soft, squishy side of bioengineering.”

But Karmella Haynes and Kaushal Rege still like the way that sums up what they and about 20 other Arizona State University faculty members are increasingly focusing on in their research and teaching.

The main thrust of biomedical engineering has long involved the hardware that the field produces — devices, tools, machines, electronics and prosthetic apparatuses.

Now the spotlight is rapidly being shared by engineers and scientists who are seeking to solve medical challenges through their increasing ability to manipulate cells, molecules, genes, proteins and neural systems — those so-called “soft,” pliant and sometimes living biomaterials.

So, about four years ago, “it really started to make sense to form a group to strategize about how we could grow this area at ASU,” both in the labs and the classrooms, says Haynes, a synthetic biologist and assistant professor of biomedical engineering in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

“We needed to start connecting with each other, to share knowledge and to collaborate to bring these new things happening in the biomedical field to the forefront here,” says Rege, a professor of chemical engineering in the Fulton Schools.

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