in Medicine and Biology Magazine
Volume: 24 Issue: 1, May/June
2005 pages 7-11, 17
Engineering in Vietnam
Vo Van Toi1, Dudley Childress2, Robert Jaeger3, David Kaplan1,
Murray H. Loew4,
Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic5 and John G. Webster6
1Tufts University, Medford,
University, Chicago, IL
3National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD
5Harvard - MIT, Cambridge, MA
6University of Wisconsin,
Vo Van Toi
Biomedical Engineering Department
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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).
Institute of Biotechnology
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.
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
Overall this institute offers a great environment for joint scientific research
projects with the international community.
Institute of Information Technology (IOIT-HCMC)
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.
Institute of Tropical Biology (ITB)
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.
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
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)
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.
International Training Institute for Materials Science (ITIMS)
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.
Biomedical Engineering Physics Department
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
IV. Ho Chi Minh City–University of
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.
Biomedical Engineering Department (BME)
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.
Applied Physics Institute
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.
Center in Ho Chi Minh City University
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
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.
Biotechnology Research and Development Institute
Institute consists of 17 staff members and its research is focused in two
- 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.
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.
Mechanical Engineering Department
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)
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).
National Center for Laser Technology (Nacenlas)
was established in 1984 and its activities included:
- Biomedical laser design and
- Industrial laser
- Laser for metrology and
protecting the environment
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
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
in Ho Chi Minh City.
VIII. Ministry of Health (MOH)
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
Medical Equipment Company (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.
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
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