Artificial organs, manufactured limbs and robotic surgery long ago moved from the realm of science fiction to become routine components of modern medical care. Researching and designing those devices, as well as creating the equipment that provides sophisticated diagnoses and treatment for a host of diseases, is one of the most exciting, creative and rewarding careers there is.
Biomedical engineering brings together the highly technical principles of engineering and medical science, but it also has a distinctly person-to-person element. Its practioners need to be excellent communicators as they collaborate with medical professionals and explain complex concepts to others who don’t share their specialized technical background.
As an engineering student considering a masters degree in this field, be aware that the best biomedical engineering schools require students to complete equivalent amounts of coursework in biology and engineering, often combining the two subject areas to apply engineering principles to biological problems. Elective courses on subjects such as material science, medical imaging and neural imaging offer the background necessary for specializing in specific areas of interest.
So what career path specializations can you pursue in biomedical engineering? Here are some of them:
Bioinstrumentation is the field of designing and developing tools and equipment used to diagnose and treat diseases. Biomedical devices combine traditional biology and chemistry with sensors, electronics, microcontrollers, computer programming, optics, mechanics and mathematics to create technologies for recording and transmitting physiological information. Advances in the field have been used in techniques such as DNA sequencing, microarray analysis and mass spectrometry and have led to the new fields of genomics and proteomics.
Biomaterial engineers design and develop implant materials that are safe and compatible for use in the human body. The goal is to create materials that are chemically stable and inert as well as structurally sound enough, in some applications, to last a lifetime. Working with both manmade compounds and living cells and tissues, the results of biomaterial engineering have included heart valves, hip joint replacements, dental and hearing loss implants, vascular stents, medical staples and sutures, dissolvable dressings, biosensors and systems that deliver drugs to disease targets within the body.
Biomechanical engineers focus on designing and developing products that assist with motion inside the body. It’s been described as mechanics applied to biology, and work in the field has provided the basis for enhanced rehabilitation therapy practices and the design and manufacture of medical implants and orthotic devices. Biomechanics is also a tool used in exercise and sports training and the design of exercise and sporting equipment as well as the study of causes, treatment and prevention of sports injuries.
Cellular, Tissue and Genetic Engineering
This field focuses on the microscopic level, concentrating on cellular activity to understand the progression of diseases and develop methods of remediating or stopping them before they advance. It also includes the study of platforms to expand, implant and mobilize stem cells for tissue repair and replacement as well as the means of stimulating and of generating new tissue for disease treatment.
The work of medical imaging engineers has led to the marvels of non-invasive diagnostic equipment such as the MRI, CT and PET scanners, ultrasound devices and other technologies that provide and record real-time views inside the human body for diagnosis and treatment of injuries and diseases.
Clinical engineers work alongside doctors, nurses and other medical professionals in hospitals and healthcare facilities to help them implement and operate new technologies. Patient care has become increasingly dependent on these advanced technologies, and the clinical engineer is an important bridge between modern medicine and the engineering that supports it.
Bioengineers in this specialty design and develop implants and other medical products that are used to augment or replace damaged or diseased bones, muscles, cartilage, discs, joints and ligaments.
Closely allied with orthopedic bioengineering, the primary focus of this field is to design and develop prosthetics that allow patients to regain function in damaged body parts or to replace them entirely.
This specialty uses the tools of engineering to understand how systems in living organisms function and respond to changes in their environment. It combines experimental, computational and theoretical studies to advance the understanding of of the physiology of humans and other living creatures.