From ideas to applications: DLSU Institute of Biomedical Engineering & Health Technologies

Driven by advancements in technologies, the field of Biomedical Engineering, which deals with the application of Engineering principles to areas such as Biology and Health Sciences, has taken leaps and strides since its establishment. What started as a specialization for BS in Manufacturing Engineering and Management (MEM) students has now grown more prominent through the years among members of the community. 

Initially proposed as a biomedical devices innovation hub in the Philippines, the DLSU Institute of Biomedical Engineering & Health Technologies (IBEHT) was officially established last December 2018 with support from the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD). IBEHT was founded by MEM Full Professor Dr. Nilo Bugtai, who also became its director, with the assistance of Engr. Paul Dominick Baniqued (MS-MFGE, ’16) and MEM Department Assistant Professor Engr. Michael Manguerra—their endeavor being the first step in imprinting the field of Biomedical Engineering in the country. 

Through the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, led by Dr. Raymond Girard Tan, the institute temporarily holds office and research activities at room LS160 of St. La Salle Hall in the Manila Campus, but its main research facility can be found at the third floor of the Richard L. Lee Technology Block in Laguna. 

At its core

IBEHT’s objectives are founded on addressing the identified needs and issues involved in doing research in Biomedical Engineering and similar fields. Among these issues, according to Bugtai, include the lack of service facilities and specialized centers that can perform testing, measurement, and calibration of biomedical devices and equipment; the absence of platforms for medical experts to provide immediate feedback to developers of biomedical devices and health technologies; and the rising demand for Biomedical Engineering researchers to help vitalize the industry in the Philippines.

“IBEHT’s main goal is to pave [a] way in accelerating the development of biomedical devices and technologies by providing state-of-the-art facilities and services to universities and research institutions, enabling them to transform their ideas into market-ready products,” Bugtai emphasizes.

Staying true to their objective, the institute offers a number of services. These include supporting and providing information on biomedical devices and equipment, as well as health technologies research across the country, which Bugtai justifies can “[accelerate] the product development process by providing specialized equipment and facility services to the researchers.” Furthermore, IBEHT also helps furnish lab-to-market road maps for research and development projects under the priority areas of the National Unified Health Research Agenda, which is in charge of summarizing “health research and development directions of the country for a six-year period.”

Additionally, capacity building initiatives are also facilitated by the institute, which include application processes for foreign MSc and PhD scholarships on Biomedical Engineering programs funded by the DOST-Science Education Institute; trainings and workshops; seminars; and similar events.

Upon approval, IBEHT was bannered by its two main component projects: TAYO, which developed a prototype for robotic rehabilitation of the trunk and lower limbs of the body; and PADAYON, which focused on capacity building for Science and Technology personnel of the institute. 

Like all of IBEHT’s projects, TAYO and PADAYON involve participating graduate and undergraduate students, as well as faculty members from different departments of the University. Through these, students are given the opportunity to pursue research projects, which can simultaneously serve as their thesis projects as well. “We provide them space to conduct research and develop their prototype, give access to highly specialized tools, and [facilitate] interactions with other researchers and faculty to give expert opinions and in depth technical support to further their research,” Bugtai supplements.

Extending its doors

While the IBEHT does serve members of the Lasallian community as a native institute within the University, it is considered a national institute for Biomedical Engineering and Health research across the country. “[It] caters to scientists, medical doctors, clinicians, engineers, industry practitioners, and innovators…as well as to other universities and institutions in the country who are interested to do research in this field,” says Bugtai. According to the IBEHT Director, some of the local collaborating institutions include De La Salle Medical and Health Sciences Institute (DLSMHSI), DOST-PCHRD, University of the Philippines Manila-Philippines General Hospital (UPM-PGH), Isabela State University, St. Luke’s Medical Center-BGC, the Philippine Biomedical Devices Innovation Consortium, and Silver Verified, Inc.

Currently, a number of program proposals have been prepared to establish thematic centers under IBEHT to be submitted to DOST-PCHRD this April, including the establishment of the Center for Robotic Surgical Devices; Center for Neurorobotics Technology; Center for Medical Imaging, Diagnosis & Therapy; Center for Calibration & Safety Testing Center; and the Health Technology Commercialization Center. With the wide array of specializations, these centers will provide opportunities for industry practitioners and innovators to partake in collaborative interdisciplinary projects. Bugtai also clarifies that all research projects handled by their institute are in fact interdisciplinary, reasoning that they “need knowledge and information from different areas.”

Their efforts do not stop within the confines of the country, however, as the institute has also partnered and collaborated with universities and institutions abroad—one of which is the Auckland Bioengineering Institute of the University of Auckland in New Zealand. In an interview with The LaSallian, University of Auckland Associate Professor Dr. Justin Fernandez shares his experience with visiting DLSU, “I first came here [to the Philippines] three years ago…I found that DLSU [was] more advanced compared to the other local universities, primarily because of the work going on in [IBEHT] led by Prof. Bugtai. That encouraged me to [return].”

“This institute is just getting started…They can partner with our institute in New Zealand, and we can have student exchanges and collaborative projects. It’s exciting,” Fernandez remarks. 

Hand in hand

Joining in the University’s efforts to provide aid to frontliners and hospitals, IBEHT has teamed up with Gokongwei College of Engineering (GCOE) faculty members—led by GCOE Dean Dr. Jonathan Dungca and MEM Chair Dr. Elmer Dadios, together with the Mechanical, Industrial, and the Electronic and Communications Departments—according to Bugtai. 

The first of these efforts is the 3D printing of face shields, which the team currently distributes to military and medical frontliners. “[This] was in response to the request of our research partners of our projects with GCOE, IBEHT, UPM-PGH, and DLSMHSI,” the IBEHT Director states. Currently, their second initiative is being developed: Arrow Vent, which will produce a “portable and easy-to-build ventilator”. “It was inspired [by] the work done by engineers of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Right now, the team is building up and solidifying the concepts needed that would create and further improve the MIT design,” Bugtai shares.

In future undertakings, Bugtai adds that the team is also eyeing the development of a design of Ambu bags, which are handheld bags that facilitate manual ventilation of patients who have difficulty breathing, “to help several hospitals lacking in ventilators.” Bugtai furthers, “[Cleantech Foundation] is asking our help to improve the available design from GTECH Company in the United Kingdom. My team at IBEHT were informed about the request and are willing to engage with this project.” 

At this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the roles of researchers, scientists, and doctors in the field of Health and Medical Sciences have grown ever important. While national institutions and agencies are trying to hold the line, the University’s IBEHT teams have been helping in their own ways by equipping our frontliners—an act worthy of acknowledgement. 

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