From Chemical & Biological Engineering to Biomedical Engineering

Dr. Ezra Kwok during one of his surgical missions.

Dr. Ezra Kwok during one of his surgical missions.

An interdisciplinary approach to solving real-world problems is a central attribute of the Biomedical Engineering Program – a program established in 2006 by Professor Ezra Kwok for the Faculty of Applied Science. Biomedical Engineering is the application of engineering techniques and technologies to medical and healthcare problems. This specialty program at UBC has grown from a few students to over 50 graduate students within the past few years. One of Dr. Kwok’s goals is to create better engineering-based solutions for improving the quality and delivery of our healthcare. He knows well the benefits of the clinical environment firsthand. An engineering professor in our department since 1995, Dr. Kwok took a leave of absence in 2001 to pursue an MD at McMaster University. When he returned to UBC in 2004, he finished his family medicine residency training and helped create the program as the inaugural Program Director.

Although having stepped down from the directorship in 2010, Dr. Kwok continues his teaching and research in biomedical engineering. One could consider his work an extension of chemical and biological engineering because it encompasses some fundamental components of traditional chemical engineering. He has been a pioneer in the development of a Type II diabetic model for the assessment of patient conditions. The model is based on classic chemical engineering principles. The results are applicable to patients who require optimizations of their treatment strategies including blood glucose control with insulin injections. Another research area is his development of a laser-based glucose sensor that is small enough to be implanted in a blood vessel and accurate enough to measure blood glucose in the physiological range. In the summer of 2011 at the 5th World Congress on Bioengineering, an award-winning paper on the Clinical Modeling of Urinary Stress Incontinence was presented by Dr. Kwok’s graduate student Clare Yip. For the first-time in biomechanics, research work has shown conclusively using a biomechanical model and human data that the correction of pelvic floor muscle to reduce the symptoms of female urinary stress incontinence can be achieved by simple pelvic floor muscle exercise.

Dr. Kwok continues with on-going research in several other clinical areas such as synovial fluid properties for osteoporosis, prosthetic device assessment for amputees, and optimization for pharmaceutical design. Because of his many contributions in biomedical engineering, he was named the Outstanding Canadian Biomedical Engineer in 2011 by the Canadian Medical and Biological Engineering Society. This award is based on achievements in the field of biomedical engineering in the form of scientific or technical developments as well as a broadspectrum of areas such as leadership, services and organizational skills that contribute to the improvement of health care delivery nationally and internationally.

Besides being a professor in Chemical and Biological Engineering, Dr. Kwok continues his practice and teaching in Family Medicine. He is also an active member of overseas surgical missions bringing hope to patients who cannot afford to see a doctor. One of his personal goals as a global citizen, in addition to his research and teaching, is to improve the quality and delivery of healthcare to those most in need.

To read the rest of the Spring 2012 Newsletter, The Exchanger, click here.

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