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Engineering itself is an innovative field, the origin of ideas leading to everything from automobiles to aerospace, skyscrapers to sonar. Some new fields have begun to rise in the last few years, with one of them being biomedical engineering. You might have seen some articles about the most recent biomedical discoveries or found new university programs with similar names. But what exactly is biomedical engineering? What do biomedical engineers do? 

A Multidisciplinary Subject


As can be seen within the discipline name, it is a type of engineering primarily involved with medicine and biology. It is a multidisciplinary subject that focuses on the advances that improve human health and health care at all levels. Biomedical engineers differ from other engineering disciplines that have an influence on human health in that biomedical engineers use and apply an intimate knowledge of modern biological principles in their engineering design process. Many aspects of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, materials science, chemistry, mathematics, and computer science and engineering are all integrated with human biology in biomedical engineering to improve human health, whether it be an advanced prosthetic limb or a breakthrough in identifying proteins within cells. 

What do Biomedical Engineers do?


As biomedical engineers have knowledge over an array of different disciplines, there are many fields they are capable of, including and not limited to: 

    • design and develop medical devices such as artificial hearts and kidneys, pacemakers, artificial hips, surgical lasers, automated patient monitors and blood chemistry sensors

    • design and develop engineered therapies (for example, neural-integrated prostheses)

    • adapt computer hardware or software for medical science or health care applications (for example, develop expert systems that assist in diagnosing diseases, medical imaging systems, models of different aspects of human physiology or medical data management)

    • conduct research to test and modify known theories and develop new theories

    • ensure the safety of equipment used for diagnosis, treatment and monitoring

    • investigate medical equipment failures and provide advice about the purchase and installation of new equipment

    • develop and evaluate quantitative models of biological processes and systems

Biomedical engineers may also work primarily in one or a combination of the following fields:

    • bioinformatics – developing and using computer tools to collect and analyze data

    • bioinstrumentation – applying electronic and measurement techniques

    • biomaterials – developing durable materials that are compatible with a biological environment

    • biomechanics – applying knowledge of mechanics to biological or medical problems

    • bio-nano-engineering – developing novel structures of nanometer dimensions for application to biology, drug delivery, molecular diagnostics, microsystems and nanosystems

    • biophotonics – applying and manipulating light, usually laser light, for sensing or imaging properties of biological tissue

    • cellular and tissue engineering – studying the anatomy, biochemistry and mechanics of cellular and subcellular structures, developing technology to repair, replace or regenerate living tissues and developing methods for controlling cell and tissue growth in the laboratory

    • clinical engineering – applying the latest technology to health care and health care systems in hospitals

    • genomics and genetic engineering – mapping, sequencing and analyzing genomes (DNA), and applying molecular biology methods to manipulate the genetic material of cells, viruses and organisms

    • medical or biological imaging – combining knowledge of a physical phenomenon (for example, sound, radiation or magnetism) with electronic processing, analysis and display

    • molecular bioengineering – designing molecules for biomedical purposes and applying computational methods for simulating biomolecular interactions

    • systems physiology – studying how systems function in living organisms

    • therapeutic engineering – developing and discovering drugs and advanced materials and techniques for delivering drugs to local tissues with minimized side effects

Innovations in the Biomedical Field


As medical and drug delivery devices grow increasingly complex, it becomes more common for other engineering specialties, such as biomedical engineering, to intersect with the mechanical development of a device.

Engineers in this specialty are responsible for countless medical advancements. Commonly used biomedical engineering inventions, such as X-ray machines and ECGs, have made it easier for medical professionals to be able to detect complications and abnormalities, leading to better patient care. More recent advancements, such as bionic body parts, have been monumental in improving the lives of individuals who do not have standard use of their hands, legs, or other body parts. 

 

Some examples of biomedical engineering inventions and innovations include:

Prosthetics, from dentures to artificial limbs

Bionic contact lenses

Bionic exoskeleton

Robotic and laser instruments to assist in surgeries

Medical imaging, such as X-ray and MRI machines

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)

Bioprinting

Genome editing

Surgical robotics

Nanorobots

Medical virtual reality

How to Become a Biomedical Engineer?


It may now be your interest to become a biomedical engineer. But how? You will find some basic requirements below, but be sure to check out more resources before finalizing your decisions – as it does require hard work and dedication! 

Universities usually require students of interest to have studied physics, calculus, chemistry and biology in preparation for a bachelor’s degree. For job requirements, the necessary requirements according to the Government of Canada website are as follows: 

    • A bachelor’s degree in an appropriate engineering discipline is required.

    • A master’s degree or doctorate in a related engineering discipline may be required.

    • Licensing by a provincial or territorial association of professional engineers is required to approve engineering drawings and reports, and to practice as a Professional Engineer (P.Eng.)

Some Last Thoughts


Personally, I find this profession and field of engineering very interesting. It is a new type of study that perhaps is not a recent invention but certainly takes more importance nowadays. The field provides us with an opportunity to put biology into practice with physics and chemistry, and make huge contributions to the advancement of medical studies – especially when it comes to the prolongation and protection of human health. With rising attention paid to this field of study, we should be able to see more inventions to come that serve and benefit us. 

 

The business of biomedical research is mostly about failure. Few projects we commission will ultimately result in success. But every study we do contributes to the body of knowledge that brings science and society closer to a solution. — Kenneth Frazier

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