Interface Focus is publishing a two-part issue looking at bioengineering in women’s health. The first part, available online now, focuses on female health and pathology, while part 2, due to be published in August, will focus on pregnancy.

Bioengineering in women’s health is at the intersection of engineering and biology or biomedicine, and currently, the area is growing rapidly. These Interface Focus issues bring together papers from the interdisciplinary bioengineering field both concerning pregnancy and the non-pregnant patient, in order to start to establish the rough outlines of a fast-growing field.

Dr Michelle Oyen from East Carolina University, who organised the issue along with Dr Kristin Miller and Dr Kristin Myers, tells us more

What is women’s health and why is it important?

There has been growing awareness that there are issues that make the health of women a particular challenge to address. Women’s health is a broad category encompassing many biomedical topics, including female physiology, sex-associated pathology (including gynecologic cancers), normal and abnormal pregnancy, and the after-effects of difficult childbirth.

The topic can also be considered in the broader society context of addressing underserved populations and incorporating issues that are not unique to women, but that affect women disproportionately, such as breast cancer.



What is the aim of this Interface Focus issue? 

At the intersection of engineering and biology or biomedicine lies the area of bioengineering in women’s health, an area currently seeing rapid growth of interest within the scientific community. Bioengineers use tools and techniques from traditional engineering fields and apply them to topics within medicine, physiology, and biology.

The work is thus intrinsically interdisciplinary, and linked closely to the basic premise of all of engineering, using quantitative tools for creative problem solving. It is always good to remember that the root of the word ‘engineer’ is the same as that of the word ‘ingenuity’ (and not engine, as many people erroneously believe!).

The aim of this issue was to bring together papers from the interdisciplinary bioengineering field both concerning pregnancy and the non-pregnant patient, in order to start to establish the rough outlines of a fast-growing field.

Many of the researchers working in this area are young investigators, while some have come to work on the subject after established careers working in more traditional fields. Thus, there is an aim to raise awareness that this topic is demanding scientific attention, and is the subject of increasing amounts of research activity, to help establish the nucleus of a community of researchers working in the field.

What are the challenges with bioengineering in women’s health?

For researchers, this is a relatively new field compared with some more traditional and well-established areas of bioengineering and biomechanics, such as orthopaedic research and cardiovascular research. Whenever a new field emerges, it does so without an established research community, lacking dedicated journals, conferences, and funding streams.

What is the future of bioengineering in women’s health?

There seems to be growing recognition of this topic as an emerging field within the larger bioengineering research community, as part of a broader interest in using bioengineering techniques in aid to populations underserved by the traditional medical paradigm. I know of planned special sessions at upcoming meetings, including 2019 BMES Annual Meeting in Philadelphia in October.

As the community grows and coalesces, it will become easier for young researchers to dedicate their careers to working in this relatively new area.  And more importantly, aside from the research community, there is the potential impact we can have on women’s health in the real world.

Maternal mortality has been increasing around the globe, even as medical technology advances. Breast cancer has become startlingly common. Topics that were once considered taboo, such as urinary incontinence following childbirth, are being discussed more openly. The potential impact of this research area is on half the world’s population, so it is not an exaggeration to say the work has the potential to impact billions of lives.

How will the upcoming Interface Focus issue in August differ from this issue?

The invitation to participate in the special issue(s) was sent out to a number of researchers in women’s health, and the submitted papers were split into those on the non-pregnant patient (volume 1) and and those having to do with pregnancy and childbirth (volume 2).

Keep up to date with the latest issues of Interface Focus by signing up for article alerts, and browse previous theme issues on the journal website.

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