Bioengineering is a fascinating discipline, blending traditional engineering with issues of health care. As outlined by an article from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, bioengineers work to help improve the lives of patients living with various conditions in a variety of ways, including through the design of new digital tools, software platforms, instruments and other devices. In essence, the practice of bioengineering refers to the design and creation of technologies that aid the health care process in some way. For example, commonplace medical devices that can be credited to the bioengineering field include MRI machines and dialysis machines. Innovation in this area of engineering will no doubt continue in accordance with the development of technology — improving health care and patient outcomes in the process.
Bioengineering as a profession has a wide scope, with innovations in a number of areas. This article will explore some of the most important areas in which bioengineering has made a positive impact on the health care industry so far. They include:
Biomechanics, according to an article published by Study.com, involves the study of the human body, how and why it moves, and how biological processes within the body respond to external pressures. The article noted that in the health care setting, biomedical research is concerned primarily with questions of how and why the musculoskeletal system behaves in the way that it does. Engineers in this field employ an array of principles to guide their study, including classical mechanics, physics and mathematics.
Given that this field of study is concerned primarily with how and why the human body moves in certain ways, biomechanical professionals tend to work in either research or the development of products, with an emphasis on sport and athletics, an article by the Houston Chronicle explained. Indeed, this field has greatly enhanced health care because biomechanics conduct research that can be used to help athletes and others who are physically active. For example, biomechanical research tends to inform the development of sports-related products, such as training devices, footwear and so on. Furthermore, the article detailed how biomechanics are also often recruited by professional athletes to study their movements and devise strategies for improvement. This research is crucial, not only to improve athletic performance, but also to reduce the risk of injury.
Research in this area involves the development of devices and platforms that can respond to and even be used within the human body, the Biomedical Engineering Society detailed. The objective of biomechatronics is to build devices that can improve the lives of patients who have some form of disability or illness, wherein certain functions are weakened or lost entirely. The biomechatronics lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, is working on the frontlines to enhance the health care industry, through the development of technologies that enable those with limited or lost mobility to begin moving again.
Although much of the work carried out by the lab remains in the design stages, examples of technologies that could improve the lives of many living with limited mobility include: Devices that allow neural control of prosthetics, implants that allow communication between prosthetic devices and the central nervous system and exoskeleton devices that can be used to improve running. Indeed, as the latter device demonstrates, research in this area has the capacity to not only help those living with disability, but also to enhance healthy physiological functions — improving running in athletics is a pertinent example.
Perhaps one of the most notable feats of biomechatronics so far, again courtesy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the biomechatronic leg joints, invented by Hugh Herr, the European Patent Office reported. The device, nicknamed the bionic knee, essentially allows amputees to return to a normal lifestyle, by allowing them to walk in a fully functional way. This occurs because the device is reliant on computer technology and sensors, which enable the device to replicate typical knee motions. While prosthetic technology has been around for a long time, this breakthrough is more sophisticated in that it removes all limitations from an amputee’s life in terms of movement. The article stressed that Herr’s device even allows amputees to compete athletically, should they so choose. With close to 200,000 amputations in the U.S. every year, this device, along with other biomechatronic inventions, will no doubt continue to make an enormously positive difference in the lives of patients living with various forms of limited mobility.
3. Biomedical electronics
Biomedical electronics is the branch of bioengineering dedicated to the development, design and maintenance of devices that are used in health care settings such as hospitals and clinics, an article by the Biomedical Engineering Society explained. Biomedical electronics, as a discipline, has enhanced the health care industry considerably, thanks to the development and introduction of devices that are widely relied upon today, such as intensive care unit monitoring systems, CT imaging systems, dialysis machines and surgical lasers. In fact, virtually every device designed to test or treat patients in a clinical setting falls under the remit of biomedical electronics. Professionals in this area of bioengineering will either work in a research capacity, working toward the development of new platforms, or in a maintenance capacity, helping repair biomedical electronic equipment and overseeing proper use.
4. Tissue engineering
A relatively fledgling practice, tissue engineering remains very much in the research stages, but it is widely agreed that the practice holds considerable promise in terms of the enhancement of future health care practices. As outlined by an article published by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, tissue engineering is essentially the development of synthetic or natural human tissue in a laboratory — tissue that can then be utilized to help patients with an array of medical conditions, from severe burns to failing organs. Tissues that have been successfully engineered include cartilage, skin and even liver and muscle tissue. The article stressed, however, that it is still rare for engineered tissue to be used on human patients.
As outlined in an article in Nature Magazine, however, tissue engineering holds enormous promise for the future of health care, thanks to large demand for alternative therapies for chronic conditions such as organ failure, severe tissue damage and so on.
Consider the University of California Riverside
If you’re looking to expand your career in the field of bioengineering, consider applying to the University of California Riverside’s online Master of Science in Engineering program, with a specialty in bioengineering. You can complete all work and requirements online, allowing you to study at a time that fits with your busy professional and personal schedule. To learn more, click here.