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At Cornell

Linking Engineering, Life Sciences,
& Clinical Practice


Cornell’s Biomedical Engineering

Bridging the Miles for Innovations in Medical Technology
Michael Shuler

Michael Shuler, Chair, Biomedical Engineering

Biomedical engineering is an inherently interdisciplinary field linking engineering with the life sciences and clinical practice. Cornell formed the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) in 2004 with the distinct mission of providing a physical and intellectual home for such an interdisciplinary effort at Cornell. These connections enable medical schools to provide innovative educational approaches to their students and to succeed in “translational research,” the process by which laboratory discoveries are developed into technologies that help patients.

A persistent challenge to this mission at Cornell is the geographic separation of Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC) in Manhattan and the College of Engineering in Ithaca. We are committed, however, to bridging the 230 miles that separate the colleges and the distinct cultures of engineers and clinicians, and we are succeeding at it, because we must. WCMC and BME need each other to succeed at the highest levels in achieving new solutions to human health problems and patient care. The top 10 medical schools in the United States, with one exception, are associated with a top-ranked BME department. The converse is also true: top-ranked BME departments almost always have an affiliation with a strong medical college. Cornell’s campus-to-campus connection is critical for innovative research and the appropriate education of our students.

Orthopedic Implants, a Shining Model

A cornerstone of the BME mission is the commitment to the ideal that all BME faculty research has a tangible human health connection. This relationship with practicing clinicians at WCMC is a natural fit for the BME faculty, and we are proud that currently all of our faculty have joint research projects with WCMC faculty.

A shining, long-standing example of such an effort is the collaboration between Donald L. Bartel, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering/BME and Timothy M. Wright at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), which houses the orthopedics faculty of WCMC. In this collaboration that has spanned almost 30 years, Bartel and Wright have applied traditional methods of mechanical analysis to understanding the function of orthopedic implants. Using finite element modeling approaches to understand stress distributions in such devices, Bartel and Wright identified reasons that implants fail and ways to design more robust implants. They transformed the way hip and knee implants are designed. An estimated 500,000 people have implants that were designed using analysis techniques developed by Bartel and Wright.


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