31 May Science, technology and health care evolve
Do advances in health care technology amaze you? It would be hard not to be impressed. Advances that would have seemed like science fiction just a few years ago are now a part of routine care. That said, you should prepare yourself to be amazed again – and often.
In a Wisconsin Technology Network column in 2003, I described the role of engineering in health science and technology. Since then, there have been important developments in both technology and Wisconsin’s strategy to leverage knowledge the university creates.
A key piece of this strategy is the proposed $375 million Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. The public-private institute would occupy the entire 1200 and 1300 blocks of University Avenue and would become a massive interdisciplinary research center combining biology, bioinformatics, computer science, engineering, nanotechnology and other fields in one location. Modern facilities for interdisciplinary research will position Wisconsin to play a leadership role in the coming advances that will fundamentally transform health care.
No single technology will be responsible for this transformation; our ability to combine multiple disciplines will usher in this new era of health care delivery, devices and quality.
If the last 100 years were about breaking science and engineering into subdisciplines in order to understand them thoroughly, the next century will be about combining what we know in new and as yet untold ways.
Nanotechnology is an important component of this. Our researchers are creating and controlling materials and living systems on the atomic and molecular level (a nanometer is one billionth of a meter). Using nanotechnology, biologists and electrical and computer engineers recently discovered a new way to observe and control living systems on the molecular scale. Chemical and biological engineers are devising methods to deliver therapeutic DNA to cells. Biomedical engineers are realizing methods of drug delivery that monitor the body and adjust dosage in real time. We are amassing and using new information at an astounding rate.
How we handle that information points to another important area of innovation — medical informatics. Scientists and engineers at UW-Madison are working with colleagues nationwide to develop the national health information infrastructure. This infrastructure will provide consumers, patients and professionals access to information that can help them make more informed decisions about health and health care. The initiative also will provide the infrastructure needed to transmit information via a secure network.
Other researchers in industrial and systems engineering are working to improve long-term care and health systems by creating national and international performance measures and decision support systems. As the healthcare industry adopts new technologies and engineering systems solutions, our researchers are auditing its implementation to ensure a smooth, efficient and safe transition.
These examples just scratch the surface of what UW-Madison researchers are exploring. Together with partners in industry and Wisconsin’s many other complementary research and life-science programs, we will continue to improve the economy and health care in Wisconsin and around the world.