A Biomedical engineer with global impact
Velazquez '86

Adriana Velazquez Berumen, ‘86, the medical device expert for WHO, will deliver the keynote address at the Engineers Week Reception Feb. 28

Adriana Velazquez Berumen, MS ’86, knew she wanted to follow her father and her two grandfathers into engineering. But she also wanted to work in hospitals. She wanted to help patients and to improve healthcare in developing nations like her native Mexico.

A master’s degree in biomedical engineering from the Case School of Engineering launched her into a pioneering career.

As the lead engineer for medical devices at the World Health Organization, Velazquez Berumen is a biomedical engineer with global impact. She directs efforts to identify safe, effective and affordable medical devices and make them available in communities and cultures throughout the world.

Her aim: To improve the delivery of healthcare in every nation on earth.

Velazquez '86To speed her work, she founded the Global Forum on Medical Devices, which annually convenes health ministers and biomedical engineers from around world to share technology and discuss best practices. 

In 2017, the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) honored her with its Humanitarian Award, in recognition of her efforts to promote biomedical engineering and broad access to quality healthcare.

Velazquez Berumen, 58, sees the two pursuits as intertwined.

“I am a big promoter of biomedical engineering because I firmly believe in it,” she said. “I don’t think that quality healthcare can be delivered without it.”

As rapid advances in technology change medicine, the biomedical engineer has become more critical, she believes.

“We know a little bit of everything. We know a little bit about medicine and a little bit about technology. We’re the ones who can explain to physicians the best use of the devices,” she said.

“With biomedical engineering, we can discover diseases sooner and treat them more effectively,” she added. “That will increase the quality of life for all people in all parts of the world. We have an important role to play in the well-being of people.”

‘A bio what?’

Her engineering career did not begin well. After graduating from the prestigious Universidad Iberoamericana Mexico in 1982 with a degree in biomedical engineering, a young Adriana Velazquez presented herself to one of the top private hospitals in Mexico City.

“They said, ‘A bio what? You cannot work here. Engineers are men,” she recalls.

So she flew north one January day, and stepped out into a winter colder than she ever imagined, to begin studying at the Case Institute of Technology. On Case Quad, she met classmates and professors who would inspire her for life.

“I really went to a place with a lot of expertise,” she said. “It was so close to the hospitals and to the clinical environment. Case gave me many more tools to come back to Mexico and start to work.”

She returned to the same Mexico City hospital with a master’s degree and this time was greeted warmly.

She became an advisor to Mexico’s Ministry of Health, responsible for orchestrating better use of medical imaging technology throughout the nation, and was the founding director of Mexico's National Center for Health Technology Excellence.

She began collaborating with WHO, a United Nations’ agency that addresses international public health. In 2008, she joined the agency as a technical officer and rose to become one of its top engineers.Velazquez '86

As Senior Advisor and Focal Point for Medical Devices, she has a global view of medical instruments and how they can be used most effectively in different communities and cultures.

Sometimes, she observes, it's the simple technology that works wonders. For example, there’s a universal need for blood pressure monitoring devices that people can use themselves. Velazquez Berumen is excited about a smartphone app that measures blood pressure by the light of a mobile phone.

“People will say, ‘This is not big science.’ But making technology simpler can make a big difference,” she said.

Reconnecting with Case

Her work takes her to clinics and conferences all over the world. In January 2017, she was attending a biomedical engineering conference in Kampala, Uganda, when she heard there was a Case team at the forum. Excited, she sought them out.

That’s how she met Andrew Rollins, PhD, a Case Professor of Biomedical Engineering, who was there with students. He invited her to come back to the Case School of Engineering one day to share her insight. He said saw a chance to bring to campus someone who knows the global impact of biomedical engineering.

“She’s right in the thick of it,” Rollins said.

The Kampala encounter resulted in her agreeing to address the 2019 Engineers Week Reception February 28 at Tinkham Veale University Center. Velazquez Berumen, who is based in Geneva, Switzerland, is flying to Cleveland with her husband. The couple’s son and daughter, recent college graduates working in America, plan to meet them here. It will be a family reunion rolled into a college homecoming.

Velazquez Berumen said she’s excited to speak to students, to address young people whom she suspects are as excited about the power of engineering as she was.

Her message is hard-earned and evidence based: They can change the world, she said, one innovation at a time.

The Engineers Week Reception begins at 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, in the ballroom of the Tinkham Veale University Center. For tickets and more information, go to www.casealum.org/engineers-week-2019