People are living longer than ever before, and that means the healthcare field is expanding accordingly. The Census Bureau reports that the nation's median age increased nearly three years between 2000 and 2016.1 The number of residents ages 65 and older grew from 35 million to 49.2 million in the same time period.1 With the baby boom generation getting older, the demand for healthcare innovations continues to rise.
Biomedical engineering is leading the charge for technological developments in the areas of prosthetics, surgical devices, diagnostics and imaging methods. Around 1,500 new biomedical engineering positions are expected to be added between 2016 and 2026 in the U.S.2 Here are five trends in biomedical engineering to watch for in 2018:
Surgery can be stressful for both patients and those performing it. Human error and fatigue can create costly mistakes that present fatal dangers. In surgery, where precision is vital, robots can help. An exemplary robotic surgical system, da Vinci, is controlled by a human surgeon but utilizes robotic mechanics to make tiny precise movements inside the body.3
Robots are also helping with rehabilitation and therapy. Patients with limb motor dysfunction caused by issues like stroke, brain injury or multiple sclerosis can get limb-reaching training from robotic systems.4 Walking-assistive robots can help the elderly improve their mobility. The development of electronic skin, which makes robots more sensitive to how they physically interact with people, has also been used to make prosthetic limbs for humans feel more life-like.5
2. Technology-Fueled Medicine and Smart Drugs
Medicine helps alleviate medical issues, but only when you remember to take it. Smart drug technology is already available to help with exactly that. In 2017, a smart pill was introduced that alerts patients via an iPad that it's time to take the medicine.6 If a patch the patient wears on the abdomen fails to pick up a signal that the pill has been taken, the patient receives an alert.
Another new smart pill is currently in development that can be used to diagnose and treat disease, as it is trackable on its journey throughout the body.7 This microdevice could monitor brain, blood and gastrointestinal tract activity, measuring factors like temperature and pH levels and delivering that information to doctors.
3. Cloud Computing, Big Data and the Internet of Things
Data gathered from channels including imaging, pathology, genomics and electrophysiology can be used to gain deeper insights into diseases. Harnessing data allows biomedical researchers to identify trends and improve healthcare decisions. Several big data healthcare applications in the biomedical field, such as Hadoop and MapReduce, can be used to synthesize large amounts of data and derive actionable insights based on trends.8
Big data can also be applied to wearable devices and Internet of Things (IoT) products to make them work more intelligently for the user. One such biomedical development currently in the works is the creation of IoT solutions that will incorporate surgical data for training and feedback purposes to improve surgical mastery for surgeons in residency.9
4. Medical Virtual Reality
Although we think of virtual reality as an application best suited for video games, it is also being implemented in areas as diverse as clinical skills training, physical rehabilitation and mental health. Biomedical engineers are working on creating realistic virtual reality environments to help patients recover from post-traumatic stress disorder, to prepare surgeons for difficult surgeries and to promote relaxation in patients before anxiety-causing medical procedures.10
Virtual reality also helps patients speed up recovery time for physical ailments. For example, a program called MindMotionPro allows patients with traumatized nervous systems to practice limb movement in a virtual environment.11 Real-time multisensory feedback allows patients to monitor their performance so that they can strive to improve.
5. Neural Technology and Brain Tools
The brain is the body's most complex organ and powers bodily functions, so it's understandably one of the most researched topics in biomedical engineering. Neural technology has major implications for overall health. Developments like implantable devices give greater insight into neurological functioning and disease. Brain-machine interfacing, where electrical impulses from the brain control a connected machine, has been used to develop a “bionic arm.” The LUKE Arm from Mobius Bionics is is one such machine and provides gripping capabilities.12
In addition to giving patients more power, neural technology developments by biomedical engineers can also help prevent health crises before they occur. For example, the NeuroPace RNS System is a medical device that detects brain activity to normalize brainwaves before the onset of a seizure.13 Another exciting biomedical engineering development in neural technology is a vision-restoration prosthesis that can restore sight to someone who is blind.14
Learn More About Biomedical Engineering at CWRU
If working in biomedical engineering in areas like robotics, smart drugs, big data, virtual reality and neural technology interests you, a Master of Science (MS) in Biomedical Engineering can help you obtain a meaningful career. Learn more about Case Western Reserve University’s online MS in Biomedical Engineering program.
1. Retrieved on February 13, 2018, from census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2017/cb17-100.html
2. Retrieved on February 13, 2018, from www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/biomedical-engineers.htm
3. Retrieved on February 13, 2018, from davincisurgery.com/
4. Retrieved on February 13, 2018, from hindawi.com/journals/jhe/2017/1610372/
5. Retrieved on February 13, 2018, from livescience.com/61740-electronic-skin-robots.html
6. Retrieved on February 13, 2018, from modernhealthcare.com/article/20170607/NEWS/170609929
7. Retrieved on February 13, 2018, from caltech.edu/news/medicine-future-new-microchip-technology-could-be-used-track-smart-pills-79601
8. Retrieved on February 13, 2018, from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4720168/
9. Retrieved on February 13, 2018, from ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/7998399/?reload=true
10. Retrieved on February 13, 2018, from nbcnews.com/mach/science/3-ways-virtual-reality-transforming-medical-care-ncna794871
11. Retrieved on February 13, 2018, from mindmaze.com/mindmotion/
12. Retrieved on February 13, 2018, from mobiusbionics.com/luke-arm/
13. Retrieved on February 13, 2018, from neuropace.com/
14. Retrieved on February 13, 2018, from asme.org/engineering-topics/articles/bioengineering/three-lifechanging-areas-neural-technology