The University of Arizona Logo
A biomedial engineering graduate student in the Philip Gutruf Lab inspects a wearable sensor.

Tucson’s Biotech Industry Seeks out Big Ideas from Biomedical

Time to read
1 minute
Read so far

Tucson’s Biotech Industry Seeks out Big Ideas from Biomedical

Nov. 7, 2023
BME’s latest innovations in leadership, research and diversity move the needle in Tucson’s biotechnology industry.

It can’t be easy handling the kind of work Mario Romero-Ortega does daily.

As the newly hired head of the UA biomedical engineering department, Romero-Ortega is already saddled with at least three major projects:

One is establishing a new brain imaging center that will feature an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) system that can image both the brain and the body.

Another is a set of digital health initiatives involving the development of wearable sensors allowing patients to monitor health indicators at home.

Finally, Romero-Ortega is heading up a bold new cancer engineering program that involves the creation of engineered tumor models using advanced technologies like 3D bioprinting, molecular insights and cutting-edge imaging to study how cancer cells interact with normal cells and how tumors develop.

Mario Romero-Ortega poses for a headshot photo
Mario Romero-Ortega, head of the UA biomedical engineering department

“Biomedical engineering is unique because we integrate multiple disciplines,” Romero-Ortega said.

“Whereas in electrical engineering, there’s kind of a monolithic approach: You’re doing an electrical circuit, pretty much disconnected from other things. But in biomedical engineering, we integrate electrical, mechanical and chemical engineering, as well as materials science and computer science, with human biology.

“Right now, in the type of work we’re doing, it requires an integration of everyone from the get-go,” he added. “So that’s something that all the departments are aware of, and we’re very happy to integrate all students in making them interdisciplinary teams to be able to create those very complex solutions.”

It only makes sense, then, that the biotech field would welcome the ideas, designs and discoveries from a diverse pool of problem solvers who can bring novel perspectives to the table. While biomedical engineering is notable for its gender parity — 44% of bachelor’s degrees in the field are awarded to women, according to recent studies — the field has been accelerating efforts to become less homogenous in terms of race and ethnicity.

That drive to diversify is also happening in the business sector, which crucially collaborates with the academic to supply the funding and resources that bring those big ideas into the real world.

“When we join forces, when we collaborate, when we are open to listening to new approaches and understanding the other, that’s when exciting things happen,” added Romero-Ortega. “That has been what’s very unique about the biomedical engineering community here, and incredibly motivating.”