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The Division of Engineering in Medicine brings together a talented group of biomedical engineers. Immersed in the hospital environment, these bioengineers come from diverse scientific backgrounds and work across multiple disciplines, including materials science, nanotechnology, immunology, and biological sciences. This is the first in a series of stories about how these investigators translate understandings of biology into novel diagnostic materials, medical devices and therapies.
Natalie Artzi, PhD, a materials science engineer in the Engineering Division, is on a mission to develop engineering solutions for medical problems. And from her perspective, there’s no better place to do this than at the Brigham.
“We can collaborate with doctors and clinicians and have direct contact with patients,” said Artzi. “This kind of immersion allows us to design solutions that will be adopted by health care providers and, ultimately, have an impact on patient care.”
Artzi’s team is developing ways to monitor levels of certain molecules, or biomarkers, in real time, with the goal of creating a chip that could instantly sense progression toward disease, alert a physician and release medicine as needed.
“Our vision represents a shift from occasional health monitoring to the continuous and noninvasive monitoring of healthy individuals and, in some cases, prevention of some diseases,” said Artzi.
In 2018, the Brigham’s Cardiovascular Division announced that it would support Artzi’s vision through its One Brave Idea initiative. Artzi and her lab are currently designing a microchip that can be embedded under the skin to track biomarkers that can signal the development of cardiovascular disease in its early stages.
She hopes this technology will eventually be used to forecast which populations are susceptible to diseases. The chip could be programmed to track multiple biomarkers, including small molecules, proteins, nucleotides and cells.
“If sufficiently sensitive and accurate, the information captured by our chip could then be combined with other available information, including the heart’s rhythm, glucose levels, exercise routine, blood pressure and sleep patterns,” Artzi explained. “Such a holistic view of one’s health will better inform the management and prevention of disease.”
A comprehensive set of data across many individuals would also allow researchers to examine relationships between variables, such as exercise and sleep, heart health, diet, blood pressure and glucose levels. If a condition began to crop up, a clinician could detect it early and possibly prevent it.
“Collecting individualized data from many healthy people for years, even decades, would eventually enable long-term studies of correlations between many biomarkers. In 10-15 years, we should be able to forecast disease risk and help prevent the development of some cardiac diseases,” said Artzi.