The Crump Institute for Medical Engineering was established at UCLA in October of 1980 as a research center based on sophisticated technology and medical applications. Projects were conducted through close collaboration among faculty and other researchers in the engineering, medical, biological, physical and behavioral sciences. The Institute’s two-fold goal was to bring the disciplines of medicine and engineering together, and to bridge the gap between the University and industry, with emphasis on the discovery of useful techniques and instruments to advance the quality of the nation’s health care.
The original impetus and support for the Institute stemmed from Ralph and Marjorie Crump of Shelton, Connecticut. A 1950 UCLA engineering alumnus and former San Fernando Valley engineer, Crump developed his cryogenic inventions into the successful Frigitronics, Inc. The Institute’s director, F. Eugene Yates, says “the real challenge is to discover something useful for health care, and then get it into use…that’s why we’re an engineering institute.”
Where engineering meets medicine, innovation often arises. Perhaps the first such recorded example involved the efforts of a young French physician who in 1816 was attempting to diagnose the heart problem for an obese female patient. He first considered placing his ear against her chest, but her weight and sensitivity dissuaded him, until he remembered a simple acoustic principle. Several sheets of paper were quickly rolled into a cylinder, and he placed one end on the woman’s chest and the other next to his ear. The woman’s heart sounds came through clearly – Rene Theophile Hyacinthe Laennec had just invented the stethoscope.
A number of innovative projects were carried out at the Crump Institute in the early 1980s, including:
- Development of a sensitive monitoring system for an infant’s crib and a “breathing teddy bear” to help infants stabilize respiration and sleeping rhythms early in life. Many developmental disorders appear to be related to irregularities in these rhythms.
- Development of a method for remote monitoring (by telephone hookup) of a sleep disorder patient’s sleep cycles. Sensitive monitors beneath bedding register patterns that are transmitted to a computer for later analysis.
- A study to determine how the body’s many organs set their internal time clock.
- Understanding the body’s multiple “time clocks” may change the treatment of diseases and lead to major advances in preventive medicine.
- Depending on timely dosing of drugs can often be ineffective, so researchers examine a rate-controlled delivery system that involves binding a drug to an agent that gradually erodes in the body, releasing the drug at a pre-programmed rate.
- Research into the diagnosis and treatment of neuromuscular disorders and the replacement of lost or damaged body parts leads to work on the development of robotics technology to aid the movement of weakened limbs.
In addition, a wide range of theoretical studies are conducted by the Complex Systems Group, an interdisciplinary team of researchers, many from the computer science department, who are focusing on the study of complex systems, especially living systems.