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Minute bridge-like structures that can repair damaged hearts, cancer-killing “smart bombs” and surgery techniques that don’t leave scars on a patient’s body.

To most of us non-science types, it sounds like futuristic science fiction, but engineers, physicians and scientists at the University of California, San Diego believe such innovations will transform the medical world in the foreseeable future.

The university today announced the launch of the Institute of Engineering in Medicine, a research unit that will bring a diverse team of researchers together to collaborate on the next-generation of therapies, technologies and medicines.

Basically, the idea is to have scientists with varied expertise pool their knowledge so that creative ideas and research can be moved to the next phase — cutting-edge clinical medicines and products that can be used at patients’ bedsides. A dean at the university’s School of Medicine said the effort would “expand the toolbox” for preventing, diagnosing and treating disease and injury.

Some collaborative projects are already underway at the university. Last week, for example, I wrote about the smart bomb, a customized nanoparticle — a microscopic-sized unit made of tiny molecules strung in long, repeating chains — that is engineered to recognize and hone in on spreading cancer. When the smart bomb reaches that target, it drops its drug load and kills it, while sparing healthy body parts.

University research teams have also identified cells that may be able to regenerate damaged or lost heart muscle in patients with various forms of heart disease. Minimally invasive devices are being developed to make scarless surgery a reality. Therapies that increase or reduce blood flow, depending on what is needed to treat a specific disease and ways to control the body’s responses to injury and disease are all under investigation.

It’s all very promising, but the formalized collaboration effort is still in its formative stage and there’s no way to predict how quickly new therapies will be ready to be used with real, live, human patients.

I’ll keep you posted on the research happening at the new institute.

— DARRYN BENNETT

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