Systems Physiology and Design


Stanford School of Engineering



Drawing on a range of medical subject areas, this course integrates the study of organ systems, biochemistry and bioengineering with a focus on case studies and the clinical setting.

Human physiology is the study of our interacting organ systems and how their mechanical, physical, bioelectrical, and biochemical functions support homeostasis. It is the foundation of modern medicine and the starting point for discussions of pathology in those systems. Recent bioengineering developments have allowed for new insights and greater understanding of both the human body and medical interventions. The fusion of engineering and biology is providing innovative ways of treating disease and teaching medicine. As an area of study, it lends itself to some of the most exciting interdisciplinary research in science.

This course brings these subjects together by introducing bioengineering tools that can probe and model the body’s physiological systems. Students will learn computational skills that not only enable simulation of these systems but also apply more broadly to biomedical data analysis. Medical case studies will be introduced during class and are structured like hospital rounds for medical school students with two complex multi-part case studies throughout the quarter. Students will be grouped and assigned a patient scenario with set amounts of time (usually 36-72 hours) to research and answer specific questions about diagnosis and treatment.

Assessment is based on participation, two exams and a variety of assignments - including problem sets that reinforce the quantitative analysis performed in class (e.g. “derive a set of equations that describe the spread of HIV”).


Stanford courses MATH42, CME102, PHYSICS41, BIO82 and BIO84; or their equivalents with instructor approval.

Many assignments will require knowledge of MATLAB or similar software.

Topics include

  • Clinical physiology
  • Diseases and interventions (also simulation, diagnosis, prevention)
  • Human microbiome, Aging, Stem Cells and Obesity
  • Physiological systems
  • Network physiology and system design/plasticity
  • New technologies including tissue engineering and optogenetics

Course Availability

The course schedule is displayed for planning purposes – courses can be modified, changed, or cancelled. Course availability will be considered finalized on the first day of open enrollment. For quarterly enrollment dates, please refer to our graduate education section.

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