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September, 2004 Vol. 29 No. 3
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Department of Mechanical Engineering

Published September 2004

Where Medicine Meets Engineering

Yan can bring biomedical engineering to UH

Yuling Yan, headshot Yuling Yan
by Arlene Abiang

Yuling Yan stands firmly where engineering intersects with medicine. It’s not a crossroads so much as merging paths on the road to better healthcare.

Yan is a Mānoa Department of Mechanical Engineering biomedical engineer. She applies concepts from engineering, medicine and biophysics to diagnosis and treatment of human health problems. Her background (degrees in mathematics and mechanics, a doctorate in mechanical engineering and solid research training) allows her to see common underlying principals in the workings of biological and mechanical systems.

"What is exciting about these studies is the discovery of a synergy between engineering and biology research," Yan says. "The real reward is to see how my research, discoveries and inventions are used by health practitioners to improve lives and to share this knowledge with my students."

Since joining UH in 2002, Yan received a National Science Foundation award for $321,000. She collaborates with University of Wisconsin-Madison communicative disorders researcher Diane Bless and Michael Holtel, chief of otolaryngology at Tripler Army Medical Center. They are developing techniques to use high-speed imaging data of the larynx, or voice box, and vocal signals, such as acoustic data, to understand the mechanism of voice production and diagnose voice disorders like laryngeal cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

A new high-speed imaging system at Tripler, the first of its kind in the state, helps analyze patients’ disorders. It will lead to devices for real-time endoscopic examination of patients and diagnosis from remote sites using telemedicine communication.

Yan also works with husband Gerard Marriott, a University of Wisconsin-Madison physiologist, on a National Institutes of Health­funded project to develop new imaging technologies to investigate heart disease.

While UH has no formal program in biomedical engineering, the College of Engineering is working on a strategic plan. Dean Wai Fah Chen hired new faculty members John Allen, Weilin Qu, Lily Laiho and Peter Berkelman this fall to create what he calls "a cluster of quality for rapid growth in biomedical engineering research." The college will collaborate with the John A. Burns School of Medicine on innovative ways to diagnose disease and monitor the human body. "Miniaturized medicine is the future of patient care and will have an enormous impact," says JABSOM Dean Ed Cadman.

Mānoa has great potential to become a leader in the field, Yan says, siting "exciting developments under way at Kakaʻako," where the university is building new medical school, cancer center and biomedical research facilties. "The state will see tremendous growth in biomedical research that will require a new generation of researcher-educators to train students, conduct cutting-edge interdisciplinary research and promote an innovative environment that leads to spin-off companies and the growth of a biotechnology industry in the state."

Arlene Abiang (BA ’01 Mānoa) is an External Affairs and University Relations public information officer.


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