Biomedical engineers play a vital role in taking patient care to new levels. In their diverse work streams, they develop innovative technologies, improve diagnostic capabilities, enhance patient mobility, contribute to regenerative medicine, enable remote monitoring and ensure the safety and efficacy of medical devices. Biomedical engineering directly impacts patient care by improving diagnostics, treatment outcomes and quality of life for patients around the world. As the cost of healthcare rises and the overall number of patients continues to grow, the need for more and better solutions–and the professionals trained to develop them–becomes more pressing than ever.
Are you the type of person who might be a fit in the field of biomedical engineering? Ask yourself: Am I curious? Do I enjoy problem-solving? Where others get stuck, is my instinct to troubleshoot? Do I consider new perspectives, find new paths and create efficiencies in the world around me? If the answer to any or all of these is yes, and if you have a passion for healthcare and science, you may be the perfect candidate to become a biomedical engineer. Keep reading to discover the areas where biomedical engineers can make an impact in patient care–and how you can begin taking steps toward a career in the field.
Biomechatronics and Diagnostics Imaging Technologies
Combining principles from biology, mechanics, electronics and computer science, biomechatronics is an interdisciplinary field in which biomedical engineers develop devices and systems that integrate with the human body. The goals: enhancing human capabilities, restoring lost functions and improving the quality of life for people with physical disabilities or impairments. Biomechatronic devices often involve the use of sensors (for detecting and measuring physiological signals or movements), actuators (which produce a motion or response by converting energy and signal inputs) and embedded electronics or microprocessors (to control and coordinate these interactions).
Biomechatronics are probably most closely associated with prosthetics, exoskeletons and neuroprosthetics, which are designed to mimic natural movements and enhance strength or mobility in affected patients. But they also include diagnostic imaging technologies (such as MRI and CAT scan machines), miniaturized tech (to reduce the invasiveness of surgeries and expedite patient recovery times), wireless systems and more. Most mechanisms, electronics and computer technologies that are directly involved in patient care fall under the category of biomechatronics. Innovations in this area can yield some of the most dramatic results in healthcare–from medical devices that can provide early detection of cancer cells and ultimately save a life to robotic exoskeletons that empower people with paralysis to walk again.
Tissue Engineering and Artificial Organs
One of the more exciting and promising subsets of biomedical engineering is tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Although the science is still in its early stages, the potential behind tissue engineering and regeneration has led to the development of FDA-approved artificial tissue and cartilage, and ultimately could open the door to the creation of biologically functional, lab-created organs.
By introducing human cells and biologically active molecules to “scaffolds” made from biomaterials, biomedical engineers have the ability to develop living tissue that mimics the properties of the area of introduction. Although for now those successes are limited to small arteries, skin grafts and cartilage, biomedical engineers have also created a supplemental bladder and a full trachea.1 In the meantime, although heart, lung and liver tissue have yet to be successfully recreated and utilized outside a lab setting, those breakthroughs contribute to vital research and development, and even reduce the number of animals used for testing.
If the rate of innovation through the earliest years of biomedical engineering is any indication, those developments will be followed by many more. The first artificial heart arrived only 40 years ago, and its inventor–Willem Kolff–introduced the first dialysis machine soon thereafter.2 In 2017, researchers introduced the world’s first artificial womb. The expectation is that biomedical engineers will soon be able to create complex organ tissues to be used in patient care settings. And, given the continued advances in bioprinting technologies, the development of fully formed bioengineered organs–and their integration in transplant patients–is anticipated to follow.
Drug Delivery Systems
Pharmacologists and support staff appear to be on the precipice of significantly accelerating the time-to-market arc of new pharmaceuticals, through developments in areas such as artificial intelligence and functional genomics.3 No less revolutionary or consequential, however, is the work being done by biomedical engineers to improve the delivery systems of many of those treatments to patients.
Consider the insulin pump. The evolution of the device–from the creation of the earliest prototype, in 1963, to current iterations–is remarkable. Smaller, wearable and far less invasive, modern insulin pumps are just as effective as former versions, but no longer come with the risk of kinking and tube disconnections, or the discomfort for patients.4 Consider these examples of drug delivery systems that are helping clinicians achieve more successful results and patients experience less pain and fewer complications:
If you’re familiar with a nicotine patch, you have a basic understanding of transdermal patches. These wearables adhere to the patient’s skin, which absorbs prescribed dosages of medication–sometimes in layers that allow for steady drug administration. They are an easy-to-use, non-invasive medication-delivery system. Gels and microneedle patches are additional transdermal solutions that are similarly user-friendly.
Chemotherapy and radiation are examples of harsh treatments in which the cure can sometimes be as harmful as the disease. Biomedical engineers have spent years working to perfect new systems that carry therapies (some of which may be damaging to healthy cells and tissue) directly to an affected area. Microbubbles–miniscule, gas-filled particles that are injected into the body and strategically disrupted with an ultrasound beam–can do precisely that.
Similar to microbubbles in their delivery accuracy, nanorobots are tiny biological machines that can enter the bloodstream, seek out a particular protein found only in tumors and release cancer-fighting medication on target. Nanorobotics is an emerging technology that seems to have great potential to help treat a number of patient conditions.
Information Technology and Computational Modeling
Hospitals are complex, multi-disciplinary and often enormous organizations, which sometimes combine with other units to create even more elaborate networks. The processing, storage and sharing of information from these organizational systems can be critical to patient care, including clinical accuracy and response times. At least some of the responsibility of developing, maintaining and troubleshooting these systems falls on biomedical engineers.
Increasingly, professionals in the field are also being employed in research and lab settings to put their math and science skills to use in the computational modeling of biological systems.5 In these roles, biomedical engineers are able to investigate hypotheses, test theories and develop treatments using burgeoning technologies such as artificial intelligence. The building blocks of countless pioneering clinical tools and treatments in the future will likely come from the work of computational modeling.
Become a Leader in Innovative Patient Care
As the patient population grows and the expectations of care in clinical settings continue to rise, biomedical engineers will play a leading role in equipping healthcare organizations with the innovations needed to keep pace. With an online MS in Biomedical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University, you can begin exploring areas of study in competencies such as those above.
Better yet, you can advance on this journey through a fully online program. The curriculum is specially designed to simulate lab settings and prepare graduate students for their initial steps toward a career in biomedical engineering,6 and our expert faculty are active participants in the field who bring their experiences to bear in the classroom setting. To learn more, schedule a call with one of our admissions outreach advisors today.
- Retrieved on June 17, 2023, from nibib.nih.gov/science-education/science-topics/tissue-engineering-and-regenerative-medicine
- Retrieved on June 17, 2023, from aabme.asme.org/posts/innovations-in-artificial-organs
- Retrieved on June 17, 2023, from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1299137/
- Retrieved on June 17, 2023, from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7261311/
- Retrieved on June 17, 2023, from nsf.gov/bio/pubs/reports/mobs/mobs.htm
- Retrieved on June 17, 2023, from online-engineering.case.edu/blog/how-important-is-biomedical-engineering-today