An exponential experience


The Biomedical Engineering Center at the University of Navarra, or how the cooperation between teams involved in different disciplines may generate value.


Some authors state that biomedical engineering exists from the very first time that solutions for the specific problems of a human being were developed. For example, a prosthesis for a big toe was discovered in an Egyptian sarcophagus belonging to the 500-1000 BC period. 

From then on, knowledge has been generated and innovations have been promoted based on the extremely valuable degree to which Technology and Biomedicine are intertwined: anatomical drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci and his approaches to lever arms, or the work by Luigi Galvani on electric conduction in live beings.


Galvani’s explanations refuted Descartes’ previous theories on nerves being just fluid transporting-pipes, and proved the nervous system to be an extremely efficient electric device. 

Biomedical Engineering is a discipline that holds Engineering (along with its basic sciences) and Biomedicine together towards improving prevention, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis of human diseases. 

Biomedical Engineering Center at the Uniersity of Navarra

The Biomedical Engineering Center at the University of Navarra is fostered by the Clínica Universidad de Navarra (a private hospital associated to the University of Navarra) located in Pamplona; along with TECNUN, Escuela Superior de Ingenieros de la Universidad de Navarra (Higher College of Engineering at the University of Navarra) and the Centro de Estudios e Investigaciones Técnicas, CEIT (Center of Studies and Technical Research), both of them located in San Sebastián (Guipúzcoa).  

This is a distributed, open center devoted to working on the development and discovery of solutions to improve prevention, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis of diseases by generating knowledge in the biomedical engineering field. 

In the 1990s decade, as well as at the beginning of the 21st century, a natural synergy between the activities in the campuses in San Sebastián and Pamplona gradually took place. The aforementioned collaboration may be seen in the joint development of research lines and projects in biomedical areas such as bioinformatics, biosensors, micro-mechanics for implants, telemedicine, analysis and processing of medical images, etc. 

The synergy was greatly influenced by researchers’ drive, and by the creation of the Centro de Investigación Médica Aplicada, CIMA (Centre for Applied Medical Research) in the Pamplona campus. The expansion of the San Sebastián campus facilities that took place in 2003 ?a 7800 m2 building devoted to cutting-edge technologies in the communications, electronics and micro and nano systems areas? also helped. 

Finally, the Center for Biomedical Engineering was opened at the beginning of the 2013-2014 term. Scientific coordination of the center is taken care of by Manuel Manrique, MD, PhD, and Ángel Rubio, MEng, PhD. 

Research Lines:

Research is currently developed in 4 areas: 

  • Telemedicine: communication and information technologies are applied to Otolaryngology in an innovative manner, which opens up a wide range of opportunities for the development of new hardware to provide patients with higher added value
  • Diagnosis and therapy: developments focus on image processing, surgery planning and the generation of new diagnostic tools that provide information of clinical value through which better treatments for patients may be obtained
  • Nanotechnology and BIOMEMS: Beside design, manufacturing and biofunctionalization of sensors, lab/organ on a chip in general for several medical applications, a project is being undertaken in this research line with the aim to develop nanotransporters for antitumoral drugs that may drive the cytostatic drugs to the right place and favour their monitored, progressive release. Drug nanoencapsulation technologies are combined with microfluidic structure manufacturing techniques that make it possible to evaluate their therapeutic efficiency in several cell lines under optimal working conditions. 
  • Systems Biology: teams in this area focus on pathologies with a high metabolic component. Work is being done on several metabolic profile models for cancer subtypes, as well as on metabolite identification (biomarkers) that make it possible to differentiate several cancer subtypes non-invasively. 

This research line is working on the discovery of new metabolic targets and the generation of new hypothesis for drug repositioning. 

One of the most relevant applied-science projects currently being undertaken in collaboration with the business world is a “Comprehensive and automated solution for invasive interventions in spinal column”. 

Its goal is to develop an integrated and automated solution for minimally invasive interventions in the spinal column. In order to achieve this goal, three technologies will come together: 

  • Virtual planning of the intervention: a software programme that may gather information from the patient’s medical record in the clinic/hospital PACS system, reconstruct a virtual model of the patient based on available ACT images that make it possible for the surgeon to plan the intervention in his/her office. Once the planning step is over, this will be sent to the operating room. 
  • Navigation/tracking system: a device installed in an operating room that may monitor the patient’s real position in real time, so that a correlation between the real patient’s situation and the virtual, reconstructed model (obtained using the planning software) may be established. 
  • Automated collaboration Assistant (COBOT) to assist in the surgical procedure: an automated system that may receive information from the planning software. The robot may configure active movement restrictions (fixture) and work cooperatively with the surgeon (COllaborative roBOT) to facilitate the intervention, along with limiting movement to prevent access to risk zones.

Because of the market potential offered by fusion interventions, solution design will be based on fusion interventions arranged with transpedicular screws; the concept will be transferable to other types of interventions such as lateral intersomatic arthrodesis ALIF or TLIF. 

The outcome of the project will be a universal automated device that may lead such interventions from a hands-on point of view (acting as the surgeon’s guide) and a second, more advanced one, that may endure “mechanic” tasks from a haptic point of view. 

By Gustavo Pego