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Biomedical engineer

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A JARVIK-7 artificial heart, an example of a biomedical engineering application of mechanical engineering with bio-compatible materials for cardiothoracic surgery using an artificial organ.

A biomedical engineer is a healthcare scientist that design and engineer medical instrumentation, prosthesis, artificial organs, medical information systems, and health management and care delivery systems. They do this by both applying engineering principles and techniques to the medical field, in an effort to help advance health care. They are trained and certified by a state or accrediting body and may work within a hospital, clinic, universities, or in an independent research laboratory.[1]

History

prosthetic toe from ancient Egypt. The big toe is carved from wood and is attached to the foot by a sewn leather wrapping.

Humans have been engineering human instrumentation and prosthesis for centuries, although under different names and using different methods, but it wasn't until recent times that training programs were developed and biomedical engineers began working in a formal setting. Recently, many new archaeological discoveries have led to the discovery of ancient biomedical engineering. In 2000, German archaeologist found a wooden prosthesis on a 3,000 year old mummy. In addition, Egyptians used hollow read to listen to the internal organs in the human body. From that the list goes continues. Throughout the years many more similar discoveries have been made, showing that biomedical engineering has been a positive influence in the advancement in medical technology.[2]

Generally, this career began back in 1848 when early developments in electrophysiology began. Due to this careers lack of visibility in the early stages of development, only one school offered a biomedical engineering program in 1921. For there it continued to advance into a growing career. However, it was not until 2000 when President Clinton signed a bill creating the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). From that point on, it increased exponentially due to the great medical need that surrounds this field of engineering. [2]

Required Schooling and Certification

The top engineering school in the world is Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)..

A bachelor's degree in engineering is required for almost all entry-level engineering jobs. Sometimes it is possible for a graduate with a degree in natural science or mathematics to qualify for some engineering jobs. Although it happens very little, there is always the possibility when the market is in need. Generally engineering programs involve a concentration of study in an engineering specialty, along with basic courses in both mathematics and the physical and life sciences. Graduate training is essential for engineering faculty positions, research and, development programs. However, it is not required for most entry level jobs. [3]

The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredits college and university programs in engineering and engineering technology. This accreditation process looks at the program's faculty, curriculum, and facilities; the achievement of a program's students; program improvements; and institutional commitment to specific principles of quality and ethics. Many jobs require the program from which you obtained a degree from to be ABET-accredited program, so one must pay close attention. Generally it takes between four to five years to complete a course in biomedical engineering. However, that number depends on the number of classes one is taking. [3]

Subdisciplines within biomedical engineering

Biomedical engineering is a very diverse field. Due to its nature, it has both a combination of engineering and medical principles. The great diversity within biomedical engineering creates ability for one to work within a specific subdivision. As a result, a U.S. organization has divided the areas as follows: [4]

  • Biomechatronics
  • Bioinstrumentation
  • Biomaterials
  • Biomechanics
  • Bionics
  • Cellular, Tissue, and Genetic Engineering
  • Clinical Engineering
  • Medical Imaging
  • Orthopaedic Bioengineering
  • Rehabilitation engineering
  • Systems Physiology
  • Bionanotechnology
  • Neural Engineering

Biomechatronics

Biomechatronics is an applied interdisciplinary science that includes biology, electronics, and mechanics. Through this subdivision its main purpose is to integrate mechanical elements, electronics and parts of biological organisms. In addition it also largely deals with the fields of robotics and neurosciences. [5]

Bioinstrumentation

Bioinstrumentation is the use electronics and measurement techniques to develop design devices used in diagnosis and treatment of disease. Technology plays a crucial role in this development process. However, one essential part is the use of computer to process the data that has been collected. [6]

Biomaterials

This process uses both living tissue and artificial materials for use in implantation. Due to the high requirements that the human body needs, placing artificial material in the human body processes one of the biggest challenges to biomedical engineers. Currently new biomaterials even incorporate living cells to provide an even more similar match to real human tissue. However, there are some guidelines that biomaterials must meet and that is for them to be nontoxic, non-carcinogenic (not cancer-causing), chemically inert, stable and mechanically strong to withstand the rigors of human life. In addition, these materials must be able to remain mechanically sound over a lifetime of a human.[6]

Biomechanics

This includes the study of biological or medical problems in respect to motion, material deformation, flow within the body, and transport of material. Generally, mechanical engineering principal are used to solve these diverse medical problems. In addition to basic mechanical engineering, one must also be familiar with the biology of the organism. Many things such as an artificial heart and hip joint were created based on the uses of biomechanics.[6]

Bionics

This is both the use of electronics or mechanical devices to imitate living things. Often time these things are used to make artificial eyes, ears, and limbs. However, the list does not end here, but continues to grow as the rate of technology advances.[7]

Cellular, Tissue, and Genetic Engineering

This division is greatly complex due to the fact that it mainly solves problems at the microscopic level. Many things are used to understand disease processes and how to control them on every level. Generally do to the cellular and sub-cellular structures being examined, one must be able to understand the anatomy and biochemistry. As these are some of the main things used within this subdivision.[6]

Clinical Engineering

Unlike the others this subdivision uses clinical engineers for maintain and developing medical equipment. Often time they work solely on computer databases, organizing medical instruments and equipment. They also help the physical get used to the new medical equipment and instrumentation, since they often present the latest technology to physical and health care officials. [6]

Medical Imaging

This is used to generate an image based on the uses of sound radiation and magnetism. In addition both the processing and analysis of this information is necessary to produce these images. This is one of the most important fields because through this physicians are able to diagnose and treat patients without performing any invasive procedures. In addition to diagnosis, surgeons are using this technology to guide their surgeries. [6]

Orthopaedic Bioengineering

This division is used for the understanding of joints, bones and muscles and the development and designing of artificial joints. Throughout this division biomedical engineers focus on artificial joint. They begin to test and analyze the ability of an artificial joint to be used in replacement. Often times they are looking for the friction, lubrication, and wear characteristics of any joint. In addition to just developing artificial joint, they also develop replacement for bones, ligaments, tendons, meniscus, and intervertebral discs. [6]

Rehabilitation engineering

These engineers focus on the rehabilitation of patients. Often these patients have either a physical or cognitive impairment, greatly limiting their quality of life. However, these engineers provide cognitive aids and other assistive technology to help provide an ease of living. Not only do they help provide aid to them during a clinical visit, they also modify homes, workplaces, and transportation in order to reduce the hassle of life. [6]

Systems Physiology

This division is used to gain a full understanding of the function of a living organism. Generally engineering techniques are used in order to integrate the information and compile it into easy understood data. These techniques are used in order to further define our understanding of the human body. [6]

Bionanotechnology

This is the study of microscopic biological components in incorporation with engineering guidelines. This field in quite large since it encompasses many different fields. Generally, this field is used with any biological process, whether that be humans, plants or animals. [8]

Neural Engineering

This subdivision directly relates to the brain and the nervous system. This field has a few functions, one of which is to restore lost sensory and motor abilities. Second is to study the brain to help further clarify our understanding of how it works. The third is development of both robotic arms controlled by the brain and brain implantable microelectronics used for high computing power. [6]

Outlook and Wages

A Soldier demonstrates advanced technology in prosthetics due to the work of biomedical engineers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the estimated average yearly income for a full time employed biomedical engineer is $78,860. [9] The job outlook for biomedical engineers is very good, much like the rest of the health care industry. Due to the high demand in the medical industry and the aging of people, Biomedical engineers are expected to have employment growth of 72 percent over the projections decade. In addition the need for cost effective methods in developing and producing biomedical components help further increase this projected employment growth. However, due to the great amount of interest in the field of biomedical engineering, an increased number of degrees have been handed out. In order for one to work in a research laboratory, one must posses a graduate degree. [3]

References

  1. Engineers Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition.
  2. 2.0 2.1 A History of Biomedical Engineering by The Whitaker Foundation. Updated May, 2002.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 [1] 17-2031 Biomedical Engineers Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition. Updated December 17, 2009.
  4. Subdisciplines by engineerstopics.com. Updated March, 7 2011.
  5. Biomechatronics by betterworldbooks.com.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 6.9 Biomedical engineering subdivisions by aboutbioscience.org.
  7. Bionics by encyclopedia.farlex.com. Updated 2009.
  8. Bionanotechnology by By Michael Berger. March 15, 2010.
  9. Biomedical Engineers Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2009.