IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Magazine

Volume: 24  Issue: 1, May/June 2005 pages 7-11, 17

 

 

Biomedical Engineering in Vietnam Today

 

Vo Van Toi1, Dudley Childress2, Robert Jaeger3, David Kaplan1, Murray H. Loew4, Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic5 and John G. Webster6

 

1Tufts University, Medford, MA

2Northwestern University, Chicago, IL

3National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD

4George Washington University, Washington DC

5Harvard - MIT, Cambridge, MA

6University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI

 

Correspondence address:

Vo Van Toi

Tufts University

Biomedical Engineering Department

Medford, MA 02155

 

 

Abstract

 

Interest in Biomedical Engineering activities has grown considerably in Vietnam. The high quality researchers possess a firm willingness to focus on emerging technologies that provide an appropriate programmatic structure. The traditions, environment and conditions within the country offer unique research opportunities. The Vietnamese government and policymakers at the universities are aware of the importance of the biomedical engineering field. They are putting forth great effort toward developing this field and are actively looking for international support, particularly from the United States. In this article, Vietnamese institutional activities related to Biomedical Engineering are described. These government operated establishments are devoted to research, education, or providing services. The information in this article contributes to the understanding of the current state of development of Biomedical Engineering in Vietnam thus useful for international researchers and educators who desire to propose coherent joint projects with Vietnamese scientific communities and to advise Vietnamese policymakers about effective approaches for future development.

 

 

I. Introduction

 

Biomedical Engineering activities in research, education, and industry have been steadily growing in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam; Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), formerly Saigon; and to a lesser extent, in Can Tho, in the south of Vietnam. These activities include biomedical instrumentation, biomaterials, rehabilitation engineering, biotechnology, and bioinformatics. The policy makers in the central government, as well as in the local governments, are aware of the important potential contributions of Biomedical Engineering in the development of the country. A considerable amount of money has been invested in the universities, and the Vietnamese Prime Minister ratified the national

policy on medical equipment for the period of 2002-2010. One of the proposed directions in the policy was an increase in manpower to satisfy the needs of the country. Retaining

the workforce in public establishments is an important issue. For example, in HCMC, the Health Department stopped subsidizing the training of technicians because the well-educated ones prefer working in the private sector where they earn higher salaries than in the public hospitals.

 

 

In education, Biomedical Instrumentation is the core theme at Hanoi University of Technology and at HCMC University of Technology. In these institutions there are formal biomedical engineering undergraduate degrees but no graduate degrees. The biomedical engineering activities at Hanoi University of Technology are strengthened by the contribution of the Faculty of Electronics and Telecommunication. At HCMC University of Technology, the Faculty of Applied Physics strengthens biomedical engineering activities; and at Can Tho University the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering strengthens them. Students in these institutions have internship opportunities in the local industry, hospitals, or research and development establishments. Thus Vietnam has an appropriate basic platform to educate much needed biomedical engineers.

 

In research, some Vietnamese scientists are on the cutting edge of their specialized fields, and some laboratories are as well equipped as any advanced research laboratories in the United States. In Hanoi, HCMC, and Can Tho there are well-established schools of medicine, dental medicine and pharmacy with exceptional equipment and personnel. These establishments are important elements in the development of research in Biomedical Engineering. International researchers would find adequate facilities and high quality collaborators to conduct joint projects. Currently, many of the projects are replicas of those that are well-established elsewhere. Some, however, are focused on Vietnamese-specific aspects. These are unexplored and unique research topics, which may offer good research opportunities for international investigators. One of the research topics in Vietnam that is quite advanced is the application of lasers in acupuncture. Therefore, Vietnam has great potential for creating new research opportunities so that researchers can work on the frontier of their discipline.

 

In industry, the Vietnamese people are ingenious and resourceful; characteristics that have allowed them to reach their current level of expertise in spite of poor working conditions. Regional industry varies from isolated inventors or handicraft artists (who develop innovative pieces of equipment to satisfy local demands), to secluded machine shops in hospitals or universities (which replicate missing parts that are either too costly or scarce), to more organized industries that represent foreign medical companies. Nevertheless, many research and educational institutions have successfully developed and manufactured high quality medical devices and equipment that are largely distributed in the national and regional markets. With the privatization of the medical device industry, existing companies will have the freedom to expand their activities and import new devices. New companies will be created because of the large market Vietnam represents. As a consequence, local companies, which develop and manufacture their own devices, will face fierce competition. This will create a demand for education in entrepreneurship and leadership in Biomedical Engineering, as well as in technology transfer mechanisms.

 

 

 

The U.S delegation in front of Hanoi University of Technology (HUT).

 

 

From left to right: Dudley Childress (Northwestern University), Vo Van Toi (Tufts University), Murray Loew (George Washington University), Nguyen Phan Kien (HUT), Bruce Ehrenberg (Tufts University), Clarissa Ceruti (Tufts University), Robert Jaeger (National Institutes of Health), Le Quang Xang (Can Tho University), Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic (Massachusetts Institute of Technology),  John G. Webster (University of Wisconsin), Lu Hung (companion), David Kaplan (Tufts University), Tran Anh Vu (HUT)

 

 

In the following we describe in more detail the institutions that have biomedical engineering related activities. Note that the descriptions of the activities of these institutions are not exhaustive, nor are they the only ones in Vietnam devoted to Biomedical Engineering. The information in this article contributes to the understanding of the current state of development of Biomedical Engineering in Vietnam, thus useful for international researchers and educators who desire to propose coherent joint projects with Vietnamese scientific communities and to advise Vietnamese policymakers about effective approaches for future development.

 

II. Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology (VAST)

 

Founded in 1993 as the National Center for Natural Science and Technology, it changed to the VAST in January 2004. The VAST activities focus in research and development in natural science and technology. However, it will establish its own M.S. and Ph.D. education curricula in the near future. Throughout the country, it has under its jurisdiction 18 research institutes, 9 sub institutes, and 16 scientific and technological enterprises. The Biomedical Engineering activities are conducted in different institutions including the Institute of Biotechnology (in Hanoi), the Institute of Information Technology (in Ho Chi Minh City) and the Institute of Tropical Biology (in Ho Chi Minh City).

 

1. Institute of Biotechnology

 

The Institute is well equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, and materials and supplies, which are equal to those used in university laboratories in the U.S. It appears that regular servicing and maintenance of the equipment, as well as training for its use, are in place. In particular, a strong genomics and proteomics capability is evident and growing in importance. A strong capability is also evident in microbial systems and the production of recombinant proteins. The laboratory has good equipment to support these needs with an expanding program (as a new Key Laboratory) in areas of genome characterization and proteomics using mass spectroscopy.

 

It houses a highly trained and capable staff that lead different research projects, including the characterization of gene profiles of the various ethnic groups in Vietnam, the mapping of novel animals and plants in Vietnam at both genomic and proteomic levels, and the isolation and characterization of novel protein therapeutics from native species of animals and plants in Vietnam. These issues can have a great impact on the selective therapeutic strategies on the population in comparison to other populations around the world, and the production of novel biomaterials and therapeutics based on the flora and fauna in Vietnam. Overall this institute offers a great environment for joint scientific research projects with the international community. 

 

2. Institute of Information Technology (IOIT-HCMC)

 

The activities of the Institute focus on technology transfer and the integration of applied mathematics, applied technology and science, and basic science in information technology. The biomedical engineering focal areas include biomedical information and bioinformatics where investigators are establishing a database of selected natural products in tropical areas (e.g., rice, basa fish, black tiger shrimp and Anopheles gambiae), and developing specific software for this effort.

 

3. Institute of Tropical Biology (ITB)

 

Established in 1996, the goal of ITB is to promote scientific research in biotechnology, plant physiology and biochemistry, bio-organic chemistry, microbiology, ecology and bio-resources for socio-economic development of Vietnam. Its facility includes a research station with 10 laboratories in plant genetic engineering, plant cell technology, microbiology, bio-conversion technology, plant growth regeneration and bio-active compounds, animal biotechnology, ecological engineering and environmental quality management, terrestrial ecology, aquatic ecology, and herbarium.

 

The equipment available for research is scarce, old and inadequate. The laboratory has recently been awarded Key Laboratory status and is therefore expecting government funding equivalent to $3 million to upgrade equipment and hire researchers. The ITB has the potential for research in the production of pharmaceuticals (e.g. low cost vaccines), and transgenic plants such as banana. In addition, with their direct links to field stations, they would also be a valuable source for the collection of novel insects and plants for “bio-mining” relevant to new biomaterials.

 

III. Hanoi University of Technology

 

Hanoi University of Technology (HUT) was established in 1956 and is located in Hanoi. The university is the first educational and research engineering establishment of the country. Three institutions under its jurisdiction devoted to Biomedical Engineering activities include the Biomedical Electronics Center, International Training Institute for Materials Science and Biomedical Engineering Physics Department.

 

1. Biomedical Electronics Center (BEC)

 

The BEC was established in 1999 under the joint supervision of HUT and the Ministry of Health. Its facilities consist of the laboratories of Biomedical Signal Measurement, Biomedical Signal Processing Circuits, and Practical Biomedical Equipment. The Center bestows only a B.S. degree in Biomedical Electronics, which requires a 5-year study. The first class of Biomedical Electronics students (30) graduated in June 2002. Most of them are now working in medical companies or hospitals in Vietnam. The curriculum focuses mainly on medical instrumentation. Future plans are to add biomaterials, sensors, and rehabilitation to the curriculum.  The Center also conducts research on the applications of electronics in biomedical engineering and provides service in medical equipment to hospitals in the area.

 

2. International Training Institute for Materials Science (ITIMS)  

 

The ITIMS was established in 1992 with the support of the Netherlands. The ITIMS promotes research projects and educational programs in materials science, focusing on electronic materials fabrication and characterization. The Institute has an advanced analytical facility including a clean room, vapor deposition and sputtering equipment, photolithography, vacuum evaporation, and many of the required electrical, magnetic, computer, and associated systems. The Institute staff conducts research, trains M.S. and Ph.D. students, and provides services to local industry in electronics materials. Currently, it hosts several international researchers in the field. The current areas of study most relevant to Biomedical Engineering are in biosensors and electrochemical sensors. Various enzyme-based electrodes have been studied. In addition, there are studies on the formation of bio-composites, with a focus on natural fibers to improve mechanical properties of materials. In general, the Center has great potential to provide support to biomedical engineering research in the surface modification of materials to control biological interactions, the characterization of new composite materials, the development of novel devices based on new biomaterials, the characterization of materials on the nanoscale, and the production and utilization of novel biomaterials based on biopolymers derived from agricultural sources in Vietnam.

 

3. Biomedical Engineering Physics Department

 

The Department investigates new detoxification methods for chemicals such as dioxins, and characterization of novel materials from Vietnamese agricultural sources. These materials include semi-conducting polymers derived from natural sources and extracts from natural sources that bind and detoxify chemicals. Additional fields of study emphasized for the future included nano-biomedicine, biomedical optics and medical information technology. The Department trains about 7 students in medical physics each year. Other research activities include empirical efforts to investigate mechanistic insight of the porphyrin-dioxin complexes.

 

IV. Ho Chi Minh City–University of Technology (HCMC-UT)

 

HCMC-UT offers research and educational programs in different fields including Business Administration. Its activities in Biomedical Engineering are conducted in different institutions including the Biomedical Engineering Department and the Applied Physics Institute.

 

1. Biomedical Engineering Department (BME)

 

The Biomedical Engineering Department was established in 2003. It confers a B.S. degree in Biomedical Engineering. The curriculum focuses on biomedical instrumentation, bio-optics, and opto-acupuncture. They plan to add medical informatics, laser application and nano-biomedicine. Its teaching laboratories are appropriately equipped and contain an electrocardiographic monitor, an ECG simulator, and test equipment for calibration tests.

 

2. Applied Physics Institute

 

One of the main activities in biomedical engineering of this Institute is the design and applications of Laser acupuncture. Many low-power infrared semiconductor laser devices have been manufactured by the Institute and distributed in different Vietnamese Traditional Medicine centers across the South of Vietnam. They have been primarily used for the treatment of cerebral palsy, stroke rehabilitation and drug addiction for children and adults. Traditional acupuncture involves the placement of needles at acupuncture points to achieve therapeutic outcomes. Because of the concern over the transmission of HIV/AIDS using needles, laser in acupuncture has been proposed as a potential alternative. The use of lasers in acupuncture is hypothesized to deliver an effect comparable to needles at the acupuncture sites without penetrating the skin. So far the Institute has collected data on 5,000 patients for treatment of hemiplegia and spondylosis, 10,000 patients for the treatment of sinusitis and 51 patients for drug addiction. The success rate was above 75%. This research appears to be one area of biomedical engineering in which Vietnam is relatively advanced in comparison to other countries.

 

V. Tissue Center in Ho Chi Minh City University

 

Established in 1993, the Tissue Center is pursuing quality standards for cells and tissues in the country. Quality control, sterilization procedures, genetics, biodegradable synthetic polymers, and tissue and cell cultures are some of the focal areas at the Center. They have the capability for the collection and assessment of donor tissues, and tissue allografts including bone, cartilage, dura matter, pericardium, and amniotic membrane with the associated storage capabilities. Coral (xenograft) can also be used to form composite materials for surgical applications due to the current lack of sufficient types of bone for different surgical needs. Quality standards have been established, as have sterilization requirements (gamma irradiation). A central facility with the appropriate tissue matrices (autografts, allografts, and xenografts), and the critical quality control standards and ethical guidelines in place, can greatly facilitate the availability of materials for research and clinical programs throughout the country as well as the appropriate training. The Center can serve as a coordination point for promulgation of guidelines for the country by interactions with other countries and placing the information gained in the context of Vietnam in terms of cultural, religious and political inputs. Importantly, the Tissue Center has interest in expanding its research of biomaterials, and starting research programs in the areas of cell and tissue culture.

 

VI. Can Tho University

 

Founded in 1966, Can Tho University (CTU) is the largest state university in the Mekong Delta. In 2002, the CTU enrolled more than 17,000 full-time students at its campus in Can Tho, and more than 16,000 students in its satellite colleges in the Mekong Delta provinces. CTU does not offer an educational degree in Biomedical Engineering. Its research activities in this field have been conducted at the Biotechnology Research and Development Institute and the Mechanical Engineering Department.

 

1. Biotechnology Research and Development Institute

 

This Institute consists of 17 staff members and its research is focused in two areas:

 

  • Traditional fermentation and the improvement of the quality of local products.
  • Molecular biology with a focus on the use of PCR to develop new test kits and assessments of pathogens relevant to local agricultural needs.

 

Currently, there is no emphasis on biomedical engineering, but the molecular biology capabilities of the group are strong and would provide a useful component to a biomedical engineering program at the university.

 

2. Mechanical Engineering Department

 

Research being conducted by faculty in the department includes the use of computerized tomography (CT) data to fabricate a mold that will be used in the creation of a cranioplasty implants made of poly-methyl methacrylate (PMMA). The approach is expected to reduce intra-operative time and the cost of the PMMA implant. The rate of head injuries in Vietnam is alarming; a study indicated that in Ho Chi Minh City alone there were 979 emergency cases of head trauma during two days in January of 2000.

 

VII. Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST)

 

Formerly the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment, the current MOST has many institutions under its jurisdiction. The activities of these institutions cover applied research and services in related areas.  For example, the National Center for Scientific and Technological Information manages the Vietnam Information Network for Science and Technology Advanced (VISTA) Network. VISTA is the largest Vietnamese science and technology database with diverse and unique resources on science and technology in Vietnam and elsewhere. The biomedical engineering activities are conducted at the National Center for Technological Progress (Nacentech) which includes the National Center for Laser Technology (Nacenlas) and the Center for Advanced Materials Technology (AMT).   

 

1. National Center for Laser Technology (Nacenlas)

 

Nacenlas was established in 1984 and its activities included:

 

  • Biomedical laser design and applications
  • Industrial laser applications
  • Laser for metrology and protecting the environment

 

 

The work force in biomedical engineering includes 4 Ph.D. fellows, 15 engineers and 4 M.D. The center has developed many laser-based instruments and placed them in hundreds of hospitals across the country.  Some have been exported to Indonesia, Laos and Cambodia. These instruments include CO2, He-Ne, and Diode lasers that are used in physiotherapy, cancer treatment, surgery, non-invasive destruction of kidney stones, and acupuncture. The devices have been used in different clinical research projects. Recently the Center has successfully developed a thermal imaging device to be used to screen people suspected of having SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).

 

2. Center for Advanced Materials Technology (AMT) 

 

The AMT was created in 2002 and its mission is to research the applications of materials technology in the life sciences. It has successfully applied composite carbon from Russia to create limb prostheses and other materials used in rehabilitation engineering. It has produced almost 20,000 prostheses, including more than 3,000 above-knee prostheses, almost 9,000 below-knee prostheses, 2,000 arms and 1,000 braces. These numbers however are still not enough to satisfy the demand of the country. It has also produced carbon fiber reinforced composite plates for bone joints and carbon composite implants for cranioplasty. Porous carbon and ceramics are the two materials that the center is currently interested in developing. Investigations have been conducted in collaboration with the Department of Traumatology and Orthopedics at Cho Ray Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.

 

VIII. Ministry of Health (MOH)

 

In biomedical engineering activities, the MOH has under its jurisdiction eight state-owned medical companies, which are referred to as the Vietnam Medical Equipment Corp (VINAMED).  According to a government plan in effect since 2000, by 2005 all companies under the VINAMED will be privatized. Currently, the activities of these companies are regulated, but after privatization, their presidents will be free to determine their own policies. As an example we introduce here the Vietnam Medical Equipment Company (VIMEC).

 

Vietnam Medical Equipment Company (VIMEC),

 

VIMEC, founded in 1976, is the Ministry of Health’s importer. The company supplies chemicals, medical instruments, and equipment; it also provides after-sale service (maintenance, calibration and repair) to governmental health care services and private industry, and to the food and fishing industries. Most of the equipment is imported from Europe, Japan and the United States. It also markets products developed by Vietnamese academic institutions.

 

VIMEC conducts training courses and seminars (often in collaboration with equipment manufacturers) for technicians from the provincial hospitals. The company employs 170 people, of whom 40 are electrical and electronics engineers. The company has invested more than $110,000 in test equipment for calibration and safety assurance. The company also provides translation of user and technical manuals from English (or other languages) into Vietnamese, and in some cases adjunct labeling of equipment in Vietnamese. By 2004 VIMEC will become a joint stock company.

 

 

Acknowledgements

 

This project was sponsored by the National Science Foundation (INT-0243803 to VVT). The authors would like to thank the Vietnamese and American authorities, Hanoi University of Technology, Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology, Can Tho University, and other institutions and people in Vietnam for their hospitalities, assistance and contributions. The authors formed a US delegation which visited Vietnam to assess the state of development of Biomedical Engineering there. For more information surf http://www.cs.tufts.edu/~vanvo/VN