In high school, Ashwin Kumar wrote an article about titanium bone implants and how best to treat them with lasers before they were implanted so they were less likely to be rejected. Until treatment, the surface of the implant looks like crumpled aluminum foil under the microscope. When Kumar saw images of post-laser smooth titanium, he believed what the data indicated: laser treatments work.
This fascination with the microscopic and its sometimes invisible influence on medicine led Kumar to pursue an emerging field: biomedical physics.
He began his doctoral studies last month, one of six students in the new biomedical physics program at Stanford School of Medicine. The field uses physics and engineering to solve clinical problems.
“The applicability of biomedical physics is staggering,” Kumar said. “You can develop engineering methods through this program and through the research you do to transcend traditional medical knowledge and improve patient care.”
The program, which emphasizes translational research from the bench to the bedside, follows a traditional five- to six-year doctoral track, but is “filled with more technology and flexibility than other biomedical programs”, said said Edward Graves, PhD, program director.
“This program is unique in that it emphasizes translational science and engineering and is designed to provide students with the tools they need to directly address issues that clinicians face in treating disease. humans,” said Graves, who is also an associate professor of radiation at Stanford Medicine. oncology.
There are about 50 similar programs accredited by the Committee on Accreditation of Medical Physics Education Programs in the United States. But Graves said he didn’t want to create just another medical physics program; he wanted to build one that emphasized technology and looked to the future.
“We wanted to look to the future, see where this field is going, and prepare students to lead in that direction,” Graves said.
He noted that Stanford Medicine has a strong reputation in technology used in biomedical physics, having pioneered the use of medical linear accelerators for cancer treatment and non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging.
The biomedical physics curriculum is similar to bioengineering and biophysics, but applies to clinical problems rather than basic science information. Most incoming students have undergraduate degrees in physics, engineering, or biology, ideally with experience in each.
The program will provide training in imaging sciences and radiation oncology as well as molecular imaging and diagnostics. Based on the courses given to residents of the radiology and radiation oncology departments, it is designed to be highly personalized, with only one compulsory course per term. The remaining courses are elective, covering a range of departments but mainly housed in radiology and radiation oncology.
Students also have quite a bit of freedom in choosing their doctoral research because of the large staff-to-student ratio, Graves said. About 50 professors are available as mentors for the program.
Students can research topics such as using machine learning to diagnose cancer from medical imaging. Or, like Kumar, they can learn about the advancement of neuroscience imaging and analysis for medical applications. Kumar imagines we’ll soon have augmented reality immersions, made possible by courses in biomedical physics — in which a person’s vision is superimposed on computer images — that will help tech companies understand personalized brain-computer interfaces.
After graduation, students will design imaging systems and equipment, quantify the amount of radiation to deliver to a patient, and pursue other careers that require knowledge of physics, according to Graves.
Graves anticipates that most students will work in clinics, for medical device or imaging companies, or in academia.
“We give students top-notch training in physics, engineering, biology and medicine as well as exposure to clinical settings,” Graves said. “We know they will have a big impact.”