Biomedical engineering sounds like something you might hear in a Hollywood movie. It might bring to mind images of the X-Men or Alien, but it happens to be part of our reality today. This industry is vital to the success of the nation’s healthcare facilities, providing them with the tools and devices needed in order to treat patients.
Individuals in this field handle everything from gene splicing to crafting artificial organs, paving the way for the future of healthcare. They work behind the scenes to ensure medical professionals have the latest technology and gadgets to bring their patient’s back to optimal health. This article explains the finer aspects of what a biomedical engineer does, and why our world needs them.
What Is Biomedical Engineering?
Biomedical engineering is broken down into three parts. The first is the term bio, which refers to the principles found in the field of biology. The second is medical, pertaining to the principles found in the healthcare industry. These two terms are tied together by engineering, which is the application of engineering principles to both of these fields.
A biomedical engineer works with doctors, therapists, and researchers as they develop vital equipment for the healthcare industry. Their work is often life-enhancing, if not life-saving, and has provided patients with incredible benefits to their recovery.
Biotech is responsible for:
- Systems that monitor vital signs and blood chemistry
- Implants such as insulin pumps, pacemakers, and artificial organs
- Physical therapy devices in the form of both exercise equipment and wearable devices
- Radiation therapy
- Prosthetics/artificial limbs
- Surgical devices from robots to lasers
- Imaging methods like ultrasound, x-rays, and MRI machines
- Diagnostics systems
- Therapeutic devices ranging from kidney dialysis machines to electrical nerve stimulation
How Did Biotech Begin?
Biomedical science, despite being so advanced today, has a long history. The earliest prosthetic found by archaeologist dates back over 3,000 years ago to ancient Egypt. You could even consider ancient forms of crutches an engineered assistant in primitive healthcare.
Humans have always done their best to aid each other in times of need, but our ability to do so has only become greater as technology advances. As history marched on, biomedical advances began to diagnose and treat diseases, as well as rehabilitate the injured. Soon, we were able to create more elaborate devices and identify a number of conditions once shrugged of as something misunderstood.
Hearing aids were another major advancement, which looked like large horns until the mid-20th century. With the introduction of electrical devices, these engineered upgrades slowly turned into what we know them as today. Other great inventions include:
- The mechanical ventilator
- Artificial hip replacements
- Cochlear implants
- Artificial heart valves
- The exercise bike (for rehabilitation)
- And the stethoscope
How to Become a Biomedical Engineer
To practice biomedicine, individuals must gain an in-depth knowledge of operational equipment as well as the applications they can be used for. Electronic, mechanical, and biological devices are the three primary areas that a bioengineer works with.
For instance, building an artificial heart requires electrical and mechanical knowledge as well as an understanding of the cardiovascular system. Other systems need the knowledge of nanotechnology, materials science, and physiology. Education programs for biomedical research are extensive and require years of schooling to complete.
It is vital that bioengineers develop a well-rounded understanding of both engineering and specific areas of application, which could include studying everything from organic chemistry to computer science. After a degree is obtained, continuing education and training courses are required to keep up with today’s ever advancing technology.
How Much to Bioengineers Make?
With all those years of schooling, hard work, and life-saving research, you might think that bioengineers would be paid as much as a doctor. In reality, entry level graduates can expect to earn anywhere between $35,000 and $60,000 with a bachelor’s degree. Those who went on to receive their master’s, along with at least ten years of experience in the industry, stand to make up to $85,000 annually.
Senior engineers with either a master’s or doctorate can head upwards of the $100,000 a year mark but must have extensive time working in the industry. This field is one that requires its workers to move up the ladder, gaining valuable experience along the way.
What Careers Are There in the Industry?
A bioengineer can work in multiple disciplines within the industry, depending on where their interests lie. The creation of biomaterials, developing neuromodulation devices, and orthopedic care are just a few examples of where they can put their expertise to good use. Stem cell engineering is another promising field within the industry.
Usually, an engineer will find a company whose research they enjoy. They can then apply for a job and begin working on the latest project with the team when hired. Here are a few specialized areas that someone with a bachelor’s degree can work in.
This interdisciplinary field develops methods and software tools that interpret biological data. It combines computer science, mathematics, and engineering.
Bioengineers in this field of work focus heavily on computer programming and genomics. This allows them to better understand things like the genetic basis of diseases and desirable properties in agricultural species. At the same time, it can focus on protein sequences and other microscopic aspects that are vital to better understanding the world around us.
This line of work focuses specifically on applications for tissues and light. Combined, their research works to develop sensory imaging equipment, much like an ultrasound or MRI.
The engineering of tissues is a broad practice to work in, but mostly focuses on the creation of artificial organs. In recent years, researchers have grown solid jawbones, tracheas, and even artificial bladders from stem cells. Each of these applications has been successfully transplanted into the receiving patient.
The difference between tissue and genetic engineering is that the latter works with DNA. Gene splicing and genetic modifications are buzzwords within this sector, with researchers focusing on targeting specific genes.
Cloning is a possibility within this discipline, but recent research has put its efforts towards manufacturing synthetic insulin with modified bacteria to help fight diabetes. Tweaking genetic codes also allows for stronger, healthier crops.
Biomedical engineers in this field must acquire unique qualifications to solve design problems with interfaces in living neural tissue. They work with the delicate spinal cord and nerve endings of the body, finding aid for those with conditions like Parkinson’s or Glaucoma. This branch is extensive and highly experimental but shows a lot of promise for devices in years to come.
This interdisciplinary science incorporates drug engineering, chemical engineering, and pharmaceutical analysis as well as delivery. The goal is to develop better medicinal treatments for the public, offering relief from conditions or curing them altogether. Out of all the specific areas of research, pharmaceuticals is growing the fastest.
These are the individuals who create modern day prosthetics, medical imaging technology, implants, and bionics. Their work is responsible for everything from infusion pumps to hand-held surgical equipment, making them a valuable asset to the healthcare industry on an immediate level.
Clinical biomedical research takes over where device creation leaves off. Once these devices are created, clinical is responsible for their applications and implementation of the technologies found in hospitals. They handle aspects like cost analysis, determining what incremental levels to upgrade facilities, and operations research.
This branch of biomedical research contributes to aiding those with disabilities. That can include everything from hearing and vision to cognition. They may develop hearing aids, user-friendly walking devices, or instruments to help the disabled integrate into their communities.
What Does the Future Look Like?
The biomedical sector is expected to grow by over 25% from now until 2022, showing promise for job growth. With new advancements in technology and researchers coming closer to cures, the demand will be strong for biomedicine. The public’s growing awareness of the products this industry produces is also expected to increase demand for employment.
Changing the Future
Biomedical research is continually shaping the way we treat the sick and tend to the healthcare needs of the world. Without the dedication and hard work individuals in this field provide, we wouldn’t have the technology and applications we do today that help millions of people in their time of need.
You can become a part of this rapidly growing industry by starting a bachelor’s degree program today. With nearly 30% expected job growth in just a few years, there’s no better time to join in on the research that helps so many lives.
Feature image via World Informs