A Walk into the world of biomedical engineering
“The value of life is not in its duration, but in its donation. You are not important because of how long you live, you are important because of how effective you live”- Myles Munroe.
One definition of biomedical engineering (BME) would be anything that combines biology and medicine on one hand with one of the engineering disciplines on the other.
Biomedical engineering is technically the application of engineering principles and design concepts to medicine and biology for healthcare purposes (e.g. therapeutic or diagnostic). This field seeks to close the gap between engineering and medicine, combining the design and problem solving skills of engineering with medicine and biological sciences to advance health.
Biomedical engineering is multidisciplinary, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, materials science, chemistry, mathematics and computer science are all combined with human biology to improve health sometimes in the form of an advanced prosthetic limb or a breakthrough that identifies proteins within cells.
“The body actually has engineering principles built into it already. It’s just a question of uncovering them”, says Dominique Durand.
Biomedical engineers use their knowledge of mechanical and electrical engineering to install, maintain or provide technical support for biomedical equipment. They train technicians and other personnel on the proper use of medical equipments. They respond to societal needs and provide unique healthcare solutions.
Biomedical engineers design electrical circuits, develop software to run medical equipments and computer simulations to test new drug therapies. Biomedical engineers help translate complex human organs such as the heart or brain into thousands of mathematical equations and millions of data points, which then run as computer simulations. The result is a visual simulation that looks and behaves much like the real organ it mimics.
These engineers are also working to develop wireless technology that will allow patients and doctors to communicate over long distances. Many biomedical engineers are involved in rehabilitation works, designing better walkers, exercise equipments, robots, and therapeutic devices to improve human performance. They are also solving problems at the cellular and molecular level, developing nanotechnology and micro-machines to repair damages inside the cell and alter gene function. Biomedical engineers are also working to develop three-dimensional simulations that apply physical laws to the movements of tissues and fluids. The resulting models can be invaluable in understanding how tissues work, and how a prosthetic replacement, for example, might work under the same conditions.
There is no “one” path to a career in Biomedical Engineering, there are many ways to chart your academic career in this exciting field. The sub-fields listed below are by no means a thorough list of the various career paths biomedical engineering offers, but are a summary that gives a quick insight:
Bioinstrumentation – involves the design of devices that can be used to measure biological signals that provides information on whether body processes are working the way they should.
Biomaterials – involves the study of naturally occurring or man-made (laboratory-designed) materials used to direct, supplement or replace the function of a living tissue of the human body. Biomedical engineers who specialize in biomaterials develop materials that can be safely implanted in the body.
Biomechanics – involves the study of mechanics, material deformation and fluid flow to develop artificial hearts, prosthetic limbs, etc.
Neural Engineering – uses engineering techniques to understand, repair, replace, enhance or otherwise exploit the properties of neural systems. A thorough understanding of the nervous system is required in this field.
Stem Cell Engineering – involves the understanding of how biophysics and biochemical cues in the cell’s surrounding regulate cell fate and differentiation and how this processes can be harnessed for the development of new approaches to change or adjust the behaviors of stem cell. It is a field that intersects stem cell biology, engineering and regenerative medicine.
Tissue Engineering – involves the combination of cells, engineering and materials methods, and suitable biochemical and physiochemical factors to improve or replace biological tissues.
Genetic Engineering–a set of technologies used to change the genetic makeup of cells, including the transfer of genes within and across species boundaries to produce improved or novel organisms. It involves the direct manipulation of an organism’s genome using biotechnology.
Rehabilitation Engineering– involves the study of engineering and computer science to develop devices that assist individuals with physical and cognitive impairments.
Medical Imaging–involves the development of techniques and processes to collect and analyze data related to medicine and biology. The use of imaging can reduce the need for invasive tests such as biopsy.
System Physiology – uses engineering tools to understand how systems within living organisms function and respond to changes in their environment.
Cardiac Bioengineering: Cardiovascular diseases represent the foremost healthcare problem in the industrialized world. Cardiac bioengineering uses imaging, quantitative systems analysis, and molecular and nanotechnologies to advance our understanding of cardiovascular systems.
Aspiring students need a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering or bioengineering from an accredited program in order to enter the occupation. After this, the biomedical engineer may assume an entry level engineering position in a medical device or pharmaceutical company, a clinical engineering position in a hospital, or even a sales position for a biomaterials or biotechnology company. Alternatively, they can get a bachelor’s degree in a different field of engineering and then either choose biological science electives or get a graduate degree in biomedical engineering.
Biomedical engineers work in a variety of settings, depending on what they do. Some engineers choose to improve their education by pursuing a graduate degree in business, eventually to help run a business, some work in laboratories where research is carried out, others work in manufacturing settings where they design biomedical engineering products while others manage healthcare technology for hospitals.
Some engineers go on to medical school and dental school following completion of their bachelor’s degree. Some even choose to enter law school, planning to work with patent law and intellectual property related to biomedical inventions.
A biomedical engineer can work with patients and in teams with other professionals. Therefore, where and how they work is often determined by others’ specific needs. Opportunities are greatest for students with industry or clinical design experience. You can begin to gain this kind of experience through an internship, summer job, industrial training, clinical focused senior design project, or with solid laboratory or computer experiences and skills.
Current breakthroughs in BME include the development of a cigarette-smoking robot for lung disease research, a wrist-wearable ECG monitor to track emotions, genetically modified grains, programmable surgical robots, advent of MR-PET which can combine structural and functional information such as detailed fibre tracking of the nerves from MRI with the molecular and metabolic information from PET images, tissue and stem cell engineers are working towards artificial recreation of human organs for transplant.
Although BME is still in its embryonic stage in Nigeria, in the sense that we’ve not gone into research and construction, we are still a consuming country. Some tertiary institutions in Nigeria that offer BME programme include: Bells University of Technology, Federal University of Technology, Ondo , University of Ilorin , among others. University of Ilorin being the only institution in Nigeria that awards the certificate of B.Eng.to students who successfully graduate from the institution after studying biomedical engineering, others award B.Tech.
Relevant national bodies in Nigeria for biomedical engineering include: Nigerian Institute for Biomedical Engineering (NIBE) and The Association of Biomedical Engineers and Technologist of Nigeria (NABET). International associations include: Biomedical Engineering Association (BMES), The Biomedical Engineering Association (BmEA), Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS), etc.
As biomedical engineers struggle to make contributions to all fields that affects human health, it is believed that this discipline will be supported and promoted substantially to optimize design, do research and come up with better and safer ways to manage health.
Indeed biomedical engineers are making impossibilities possible!
Raji, Aisha Olaitan
400level Biomedical Engineering Department,
University of Ilorin.