BLOG 3 – INTERDISCIPLINARITY by Prof. Dr. Liesbet Geris of University of Leuven
Summer 2018 – by Liesbet Geris
Liesbet Geris is professor in Biomechanics and Computational Tissue Engineering at the universities of Liège and Leuven in Belgium. Her research focusses on the multi-scale and multi-physics modeling of biological processes.
Interdisciplinarity: the background check
Model, matrix, buffer
If you read these words and you see equations, neatly ordered numbers and computers, you most likely have an engineering or (applied) mathematics background. If, however, you spontaneously think of animals, collagen and chemical reactions, you most likely have been trained as a biologist or biomedical scientist. Imagine the confusion when you have two parties in a conversation, hearing the exact same words but each associating entirely different things with them. That right there is probably the biggest challenge of interdisciplinary research. Finding a common language that will make all parties think about the exact same thing when they hear a particular word is a continuous and active process that takes a lot of time and good will. The need to first establish a common language explains, in part, why interdisciplinary research is generally somewhat slower off the mark and in getting first results. But, when that common language is there, there is a unique opportunity to tackle some of the most complex problems that our society is facing. Challenges that cannot be taken on by any one discipline alone.
In Prosperos we aim to tackle such a complex problem – that of keeping an ageing society mobile by providing 3D printed patient-specific implants that will restore their mobility and independence. Designing and producing these patient-specific implants requires knowledge of the medical and biological issues as well as knowledge of the engineering and manufacturing technologies. These two worlds need to come together to make sure that the clinical problem is adequately characterized in a quantitative way, and, that the developed implants fit the need of the patient. Luckily, we don’t have to start from scratch. Prosperos’ PIs and companies have a long history of working at the interface between engineering and the life sciences. Therefore, the researchers hired to work on the Prosperos project are able to learn the common language much faster
Halfway through the project Prosperos is steadily growing towards meeting all the conditions for successful interdisciplinary research endeavor. It does not mean however that the Babylonian confusions can be avoided all together. It takes constant care and attention and regular meetings with various partners to make sure everyone stays on the same page. But the rewards are clear and go a long way to keep the Prosperos team on their A game.
Externally funded inderdisciplinary research projects such as Prosperos typically reach the peak of their efficiency after a couple of years, when all researchers have really found that common language and collaborations have hit it off. Let’s hope that when Prosperos ends, the consortium will be able to continue collaborating on a new project as there are many challenges yet to tackle in the field of personalized orthopaedic implants.