Examples and Explanations of BME

What is a Biomedical Engineer?

Biomedical engineers bridge the medical and engineering disciplines providing an overall enhancement of health care. Biomedical engineers design and build innovative devices (artificial limbs and organs, new-generation imaging machines, advanced prosthetics and more) and improve processes for genomic testing, or making and administering drugs.

What are the Areas BMEs Focus?

Biomedical Electronics - involves working closely with nurses, technicians, physicians and other hospital staff who use the wide range of electronic devices in modern medical practice. BMEs advise and assist the hospital staff with the safe operation of the technical equipment. These devices range in complexity from the simple, such as nerve stimulators, infusion pumps and electronic thermometers, to the very complex, such as CT and MRI imaging systems, cardiac catherization suites, ICU and CCU monitoring and telemetry systems, surgical lasers, heart lung bypass machines, dialysis machines and many others.
Biomechatronics - is an applied interdisciplinary science aiming to integrate mechanical elements, electronics and parts of biological organisms. Biomechatronics includes aspects of biology, mechanics and electronics.  It also encompasses the fields of robotics and neuroscience. The goal of these experiments is to make devices interact with human muscle, skeleton, and nervous systems. The end result is the devices will help with human motor control lost or impaired by trauma, disease or birth defects.
Bioinstrumentation - is the application of electronics and measurement techniques to develop devices used in diagnosis and treatment of disease. Computers are an essential part of bioinstrumentation, from the microprocessor in a single-purpose instrument used to do a variety of small tasks to the microcomputer needed to process the large amount of information in a medical imaging system.
Biomaterials - include both living tissue and artificial materials used for implantation. Understanding the properties and behavior of living material is vital in the design of implant materials. The selection of an appropriate material to place in the human body may be one of the most difficult tasks faced by the biomedical engineer. Certain metal alloys, ceramics, polymers, and composites have been used as implantable materials. Biomaterials must be non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, chemically inert, stable, and mechanically strong enough to withstand the repeated forces of a lifetime. Newer biomaterials even incorporate living cells in order to provide a true biological and mechanical match for the living tissue.
Biomechanics - applies classical mechanics (statics, dynamics, fluids, solids, thermodynamics, and continuum mechanics) to biological or medical problems. It includes the study of motion, material deformation, flow within the body and in devices, and transport of chemical constituents across biological and synthetic media and membranes. Progress in biomechanics has led to the development of the artificial heart and heart valves, artificial joint replacements, as well as a better understanding of the function of the heart and lung, blood vessels and capillaries, and bone, cartilage, intervertebral discs, ligaments and tendons of the musculoskeletal systems.
Bionics - is the application of biological methods and systems found in nature to the study and design of engineering systems and modern technology.
Cellular, Tissue, and Genetic Engineering - involves more recent attempts to attack biomedical problems at the microscopic level. These areas utilize the anatomy, biochemistry and mechanics of cellular and sub-cellular structures in order to understand disease processes and to be able to intervene at very specific sites. With these capabilities, miniature devices deliver compounds that can stimulate or inhibit cellular processes at precise target locations to promote healing or inhibit disease formation and progression.
Clinical Engineering - is the application of technology to health care in hospitals. The clinical engineer is a member of the health care team along with physicians, nurses and other hospital staff. Clinical engineers are responsible for developing and maintaining computer databases of medical instrumentation and equipment records and for the purchase and use of sophisticated medical instruments. They may also work with physicians to adapt instrumentation to the specific needs of the physician and the hospital. This often involves the interface of instruments with computer systems and customized software for instrument control and data acquisition and analysis. Clinical engineers are involved with the application of the latest technology to health care.
Medical Imaging - combines knowledge of a unique physical phenomenon (sound, radiation, magnetism, etc.) with high speed electronic data processing, analysis and display to generate an image. Often, these images can be obtained with minimal or completely noninvasive procedures, making them less painful and more readily repeatable than invasive techniques.
Orthopaedic Bioengineering - is the specialty methods of engineering and computational mechanics are applied to understanding the function of bones, joints and muscles, and for the design of artificial joint replacements. Orthopaedic bioengineers analyze the friction, lubrication and wear characteristics of natural and artificial joints; they perform stress analysis of the musculoskeletal system; and develop artificial biomaterials (biologic and synthetic) for replacement of bones, cartilages, ligaments, tendons, meniscus and intervertebral discs. They often perform gait and motion analyses for sports performance and patient outcome following surgical procedures. Orthopaedic bioengineers also pursue fundamental studies on cellular function, and mechano-signal transduction.
Rehabilitation Engineering - is a growing specialty area of biomedical engineering. Rehabilitation engineers enhance the capabilities and improve the quality of life for individuals with physical and cognitive impairments. They are involved in prosthetics, the development of home, workplace and transportation modifications and the design of assistive technology enhancing seating and positioning, mobility, and communication. Rehabilitation engineers are also developing hardware and software computer adaptations and cognitive aids to assist people with cognitive difficulties.
Systems Physiology - describes the aspect of biomedical engineering in which engineering strategies, techniques and tools are used to gain a comprehensive and integrated understanding of the function of living organisms ranging from bacteria to humans. Computer modeling is used in the analysis of experimental data and in formulating mathematical descriptions of physiological events. In research, predictor models are used in designing new experiments to refine our knowledge. Living systems have highly regulated feedback control systems that can be examined with state-of-the-art techniques. Examples are the biochemistry of metabolism and the control of limb movements.
Bionanotechnology - This discipline indicates the merger of biological research with various fields of nanotechnology. Concepts enhanced through nanobiology include: nanodevicesnanoparticles, and nanoscale phenomena occurring within the disciple of nanotechnology. This technical approach to biology allows scientists to imagine and create systems used for biological research. Biologically-inspired nanotechnology uses biological systems as the inspirations for technologies not yet created. We can learn from the eons of evolution resulting in elegant systems naturally created.
Neural Engineering - uses engineering techniques to understand, repair, replace, enhance, or otherwise exploit the properties of neural systems. Neural engineers are uniquely qualified to solve design problems at the interface of living neural tissue and non-living constructs.

Examples of BME Projects

  • Artificial organs (hearing aids, cardiac pacemakers, artificial kidneys and hearts, blood oxygenators, synthetic blood vessels, joints, arms, and legs).
  • Automated patient monitoring (during surgery or in intensive care, healthy persons in unusual environments, such as astronauts in space or underwater divers at great depth).
  • Blood chemistry sensors (potassium, sodium, O2, CO2, and pH).
  • Advanced therapeutic and surgical devices (laser system for eye surgery, automated delivery of insulin, etc.).
  • Application of expert systems and artificial intelligence to clinical decision making (computer-based systems for diagnosing diseases).
  • Design of optimal clinical laboratories (computerized analyzer for blood samples, cardiac catheterization laboratory, etc.).
  • Medical imaging systems (ultrasound, computer assisted tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography, etc.).
  • Computer modeling of physiologic systems (blood pressure control, renal function, visual and auditory nervous circuits, etc.).
  • Biomaterials design (mechanical, transport and biocompatibility properties of implantable artificial materials).
  • Biomechanics of injury and wound healing (gait analysis, application of growth factors, etc.).
  • Sports medicine (rehabilitation, external support devices, etc.).

Where do Biomedical Engineers Work?

Biomedical engineers are employed in universities, industry, hospitals, research facilities, in academia, and government agencies. Their education and experience allow them to bridge the engineering and medical fields.

What is the Future Demand?

In 2011 the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s list of fastest growing occupations listed Biomedical Engineering as number one.  The report, explained in a New York Times article, indicated a perceived 72% growth in BME positions (or 12,000 new jobs) by 2012.  This information is in line with a similar report from the BoL in 2009 which noted  the aging of the population and a growing focus on health issues will drive demand for better medical devices and equipment designed by biomedical engineers. Along with the demand for more sophisticated medical equipment and procedures, an increased concern for cost-effectiveness will boost demand for biomedical engineers, particularly in pharmaceutical manufacturing and related industries. Median annual earnings of biomedical engineers was $82,550 in the 2011 report, up from $78,860 in 2009.

How Can I Reach a Biomedical Engineer to Discuss Career Options?

Individuals interested in a career in biomedical engineering should contact the program director or faculty member at a nearby college or university with a program in biomedical engineering. The American Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET) is the official accreditation body for biomedical engineering programs in the United States.  A list of accredited academic programs is available at http://main.abet.org/aps/AccreditedProgramSearch.aspx/AccreditationSearch.aspx

How Should I Prepare for a Career in Biomedical Engineering?

A biomedical engineering student should first become an engineer an acquire a working understanding of the life sciences and BME terminology. Good communication skills are also important as biomedical engineers provide vital links to professionals having medical, technical, and other backgrounds.

How Do I Select a Biomedical Engineering Academic Program?

Biomedical engineering students may begin their search by first looking into programs in their own state or region. Due to the growth of academic programs in this profession, many individuals can find a good program nearby.  For a list of programs, please visit: http://main.abet.org/aps/AccreditedProgramSearch.aspx/AccreditationSearch.aspx