Biomedical Engineering - An Introduction

Posted by Health Entrepreneur 01/15/2016

Advancement in healthcare, including quicker diagnostics, newer treatments, and better equipment can be indisputably attributed to biomedical engineering. It designs and constructs innovative devices such as prosthetic limbs and organs, machinery required for imaging techniques, and upgrade the processes involved in genomic testing, in the manufacturing  or administration of drugs etc., thereby enhancing the medical care to the patients.




Tailoring treatments aka “personalized medicine” is the holy grail of medical science delivered using Biomedical Engineering. The concept of design and application of engineering sciences to healthcare  has revolutionized the way we perceive science and has led to the discovery of a new branch of science called "Biomedical Engineering." This branch aims at improving the human health care through integration of engineering principles with biomedical sciences and clinical practice.


What do Biomedical Engineers (BME) do?


BMEs design and construct innovative devices such as prosthetic limbs and organs, machinery required for imaging techniques, and upgrade the processes involved in genomic testing, in the manufacturing  or administration of drugs etc., thereby enhancing the medical care to the patients.


Specialties in Biomedical Engineering


The BMEs focus on the following fields:


a) Biomedical electronics: This branch involves association of BMEs with the physicians and other paramedical staff who use electronic devices in modern medical practice. BMEs advise and assist the hospital staff with the safe operation of the technical equipment, because devices such as CT and MRI imaging systems, ICU and CCU monitoring and telemetry systems, heart lung bypass machines, dialysis machines may be complex to operate. However, their assistance is not required while using simple equipments such as electronic thermometers, infusion pumps, and nerve stimulators.


b) Biomechatronics: This branch of science involves the integration of mechanical, electrical, and biological sciences. It also includes the fields of robotics and neurosciences. The main intent of this branch  is to manufacture devices that interact with muscle, skeleton, and nervous system of the body hoping that it may help the individuals who have lost their motor control due to trauma, disease or congenital defects.


c) Bioinstrumentation: It is the application of electronics and measurement principles used to develop medical devices, which aid in the diagnosis and treatment of the disease. Computers play a crucial role in bioinstrumentation, wherein a microprocessor performs a variety of small tasks and a microcomputer processes large amounts of information in the medical imaging system.


d) Biomaterials: These are living or artificial substances used for implantation into the human body.  However, making the right choice of the material for a right individual is very difficult and the biggest trial for an BME. Biomaterials must be non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, chemically inert, stable, and mechanically strong enough to withstand the repeated forces of a lifetime.  So far, metal alloys ceramics, polymers, and composites have been used as implantable materials. New biomaterials include incorporation of living cells, which act as a perfect biological and mechanical match for the living tissue.


e) Biomechanics: The application of the conventional principles of mechanics such as statics, dynamics, fluids, solids, thermodynamics, and continuum mechanics etc. to clinical problems is called biomechanics. The study of movement and deformation of the materials, its flow within the body and in devices, and transport of chemical constituents across biological and synthetic media and membranes can be performed using this branch of science. Advancements in the field of biomechanics has led to the evolution of artificial heart and heart valves, artificial joint replacements and has also offered a better insight of the functioning of components like heart, lung, blood vessels and capillaries, bone, cartilage, intervertebral discs, ligaments and tendons of the musculoskeletal system.


f) Bionics: The application of natural biological principles and systems in studying and designing the engineering systems and the latest technology is called bionics.


g) Cellular, Tissue, and Genetic Engineering: This area of science believes in the treatment of an ailment by targeting the disease at its cellular or molecular level. This requires application of anatomy, biochemistry and mechanics of cellular and sub-cellular structures in order to understand the disease process and to facilitate intervention at specific sites. With these capabilities, miniature devices deliver compounds that can stimulate or inhibit cellular processes at required target sites to promote healing or inhibit disease initiation and progression.


h) Clinical Engineering: The application of technology to health care is called clinical engineering. The clinical engineer is an integral part of the health care team and is accountable for the development and maintenance of computer databases of medical instrumentation and equipment records, and for the purchase and use of sophisticated medical instruments. Some physicians seek their help to adapt instrumentation to their specific needs or for the hospital.


i) Medical Imaging: Integration of physical phenomena such as sound, radiation, magnetism etc. with high speed electronic data processing, analysis and display to generate an image is called medical imaging. This invention produces images with minimal or no invasion, making them less painful and more readily repeatable than invasive techniques.


k) Orthopedic bioengineering: Exercising engineering and computational mechanics to understand the functioning of bones, joints and muscles, and for the design of artificial joint replacements is called orthopedic bioengineering. Orthopedic bioengineers have the following functions:

  • Pursue fundamental studies on cellular function, and mechanosignal transduction.

  • Perform stress analysis of the musculoskeletal system.

  • Develop artificial biomaterials (biologic and synthetic) for replacement of bones, cartilages, ligaments, tendons, meniscus and intervertebral discs.

  • Perform gait and motion analyses for sports performance and patient outcome following surgical procedures.


l) Rehabilitation engineering: The only objective of rehabilitation engineers is to improve the quality of life of patients with physical and cognitive disabilities.

  • They construct prosthetics.

  • Provide assistive technology that enhances seating, positioning, mobility, and communication.

  • Provide cognitive aids for those with cognitive dysfunction.


m) Systems physiology: The use of engineering strategies, techniques and tools to gain understand the functioning of living organisms ranging from bacteria to humans is called systems physiology. It may include computer modeling that deals with description of the physiological events using mathematical descriptions.


n) Bionanotechnology: This area uses nanotechnology in biomedical research. The developments of nanobiotechnology include

  • Nanoscale

  • Nanodevices

  • Nanoparticles

This technical approach to biology enables the scientists to imagine and create systems used for biological research.


o) Neural engineering: This discipline uses engineering techniques to understand, mend, substitute, improve, or exploit the properties of neural systems. Neural engineers are competent enough to solve design problems at the interface of living neural tissue and non-living constructs.


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