41 : UTC reveals its Research Road-Map to 2023

By the end of year 2016, the HCERES will have assessed all the UTC laboratories for the 5 year period, 2012-2017. The University is taking this opportunity to update its scientific research policy for the forthcoming contract (2018-2023). Interactions zooms in for its readers discovering the major orientations and how they will be implemented in the UTC research units.

41 : UTC reveals its Research Road-Map to 2023

BMBI: repairing and connecting humans

For the next few years, UTC’s BMBI Laboratory (Bio-mechanics and Bio-engineering) has set itself two main priorities: substitute bio-artefacts to compensate for functional failure and connected biomedical devices and tools. Among the principal assets that help innovate in these id fields, BMBI offers a double set of skills combining life sciences and engineering sciences.

Repairing and connecting humans are the two major societal challenges that constitute together the core of the research programme project propose by UTC-BMBI for the forthcoming 5 year contract. The first challenge is not new. The research scientists and engineers have been working for some time now on artificial devices or bio-artefacts (liver, bones tissues, nerves …) designed to compensate for functional deficiencies and they intend to pursue research is this promising area. The second challenge is more recent. UTC-BMBI had previously developed certain biomedical tools, notably for diagnose or functional re-education. As we move into an era of the Internet of Things, we must also be able to design connected tools that enable remote monitoring of patients, for example, allowing the latter to stay at home. Two years ago, the BMBI Laboratory set up an “e-Biomed” academic Chair to begin exploring this new research field and the scientists involved also intend to pursue and consolidate their investigations here.


Seeking to understand to implement better

Faced with its two chosen challenges, UTC-BMBI has some rare, advantageous assets to conduct research activities in relation to health technologies. “Our scope for research covers both muscle-skeleton and cardiovascular systems and this allow us to investigate a wide range of pathologies”, explains Cécile Legallais, Deputy Director of the UTC-BMBI Lab. “Moreover, we have a dual set of skills. Over and beyond the engineering science researchers, our teams include biologists and biomechanical experts, who can work on gaining a better understanding of living matter at various scales, viz., from single molecules to the whole human body. This is a strong feature for BMBI inasmuch as we can use our increasing knowledge about living matter to study associate, innovative technological systems”.

By combining both levels of expertise, UTC-BMBI can notably design connected objects that offer a real added value. Today, the laboratory, for instance, is working on a serious games approach to arm and foot functional re-education protocols, unique in that they are based on muscle-skeleton models developed by the biomechanics experts. They enable the patient to re-educate at home between two session of kinesiotherapy guided for this by an “app” to make the right movements, with the kinesiotherapist adjusting the exercises remotely.

When they wish to rebuild bones, muscles or tendons, for example, the specialists start with the mechanical properties of living tissue and design a bio-hybrid system (coupling a bio-material with living cells) which gives the best functional fit possible. “Our challenge – for these bio-mimetic or bio-inspired systems is to systematize our interdisciplinarity approach”, underscores Marie-Christine Ho Ba Tho, Director of the UTC-BMBI Lab. “And to do this, we formalized more accurately the to-and-fro enquiries between our knowledge of living matter with that acquired for and with bio-artefacts in our projects and we the implemented a transverse programme of research that combined both levels of expertise.”


Implement in order to understand better

This approach should allow UTC-BMBI to tackle even more complex systems. ‘Défi Interfaces’ is the “flagship” project of this transverse programme which aims at building a bio-hybrid system of systems that will include not only bones, tendons and muscles but also the interfaces of these three ingredients. The postulate is that the crucial points of the muscle-skeleton system extends beyond the ingredients named above to include their interfaces. “In order to mime these parts using a bio-hybrid system, we need to be able to characterize them much more accurately in living systems”, explains Cécile Legallais. “But, in reverse and thanks to the bio-artificial devices we shall assemble, we shall more certainly progress in our knowledge base about living matter, since we shall be able to model some features that are impossible to measure in human beings, viz., and to illustrate this, as an example, the effects of degenerative decline or of a muscular effect on a tendon”.

To encourage synergy between life sciences and engineering sciences, while providing a greater degree of visibility to its two main areas of expertise, UTC-BMBI has also grouped together some tools that previously had been spread with various teams into two thematic meta-platforms. The first goes by the name of Carmod, groups the living matter/systems modelling and metrology capacity, while the second, called Ingesysbio, groups together all the equipment needed for engineering work on reconstructed bio-systems.


An increasingly rich partnership-intensive ecosystem

In order to face these two challenges, UTC-BMBI will also pursue its policy of collaboration with clinical practitioners and with other research units (inside or outside UTC). The programme “Défi Interfaces” also has the support of the MS2T Labex (Control of systems of systems), thereby federating the efforts of three UTC laboratories, viz., UTC-BMBI, UTC-Roberval (mechanical engineering who will provide their expertise of material and material sciences and engineering) and UTC-Heudiasyc (with their specialist knowledge and know-how expertise in ICTs). Also and increasingly, UTC-BMBI scientists is working with colleagues at UTC-Costech (a UTC research unit specialized in social sciences and humanities). “When you study repaired and connected humans, you necessarily raise questions of ethics and acceptability”, observes Prof. Marie-Christine Ho Ba Tho. “Moreover, UTC-Costech is developing a research priority on Health care Technologies (cf. p.xx) and this will doubtless lead to building stronger links with them”.

Lastly, UTC-BMBI has two special platforms at its disposal at the university’s Daniel Thomas Innovation Centre, accessible by the laboratory’s partners and seen as key supports for its project work. The first platform, called ‘Technologies, Sports and Health’ integrates some up-to-date equipment already used to study human movement and a sports room which also has its specific measurement units. Bio-mechanics experts can accommodate persons with a variety of profiles (sports fans, medical patients …) to study their movements/gestures and to advance their knowledge about living matter – movement here seen as a biomarker for the healthy or otherwise status of the muscle-skeleton system.

The second platform is a model for a future connected bio-medical equipped home and is none of the antennae of the project to install an e-health Living lab in the (formerly called) Picardie Region. This platform will enable BMBI research scientists and engineers to experiment with e-health tool demonstrators with real users, and under regular life-style conditions. The objective here is to work in close partnerships with the users, with social science and humanities scientists, with healthy sector actors and with relevant enterprises in order to best adapt the tools to meet the needs, to encourage their acceptability and the associate technology transfers.

[1] MS2T : Maîtrise des systèmes de systèmes technologiques