Biomedical engineering is a highly interdisciplinary field that integrates knowledge from physics and chemistry to solve biological problems. Although it is becoming an extremely popular field and biomedical jobs are expected to increase substantially, due to its diverse research topics, many people do not fully understand what it comprises. This article concludes a series that explains the different subject matters within biomedical engineering, including neural engineering, microfluidic diagnostics, biomaterials, bioimaging, and biomechanics. Through this series, I hope to improve public understanding of this field, and potentially help students who are choosing majors and contemplating graduate education make their decisions. This article will both summarize biomedical engineering at a high level and briefly encapsulate further subfields within it.
By now you hopefully realize that biomedical engineering is, indeed, a highly interdisciplinary field. For instance, neural engineering research uses microfluidic devices and nanoparticles, which are also useful for diagnostics. In areas like biomaterials, the physical properties of the materials influence integration with host tissue, and chemical techniques are often employed to enhance the biocompatibility of the biomaterials.
Is that all biomedical engineering has to offer?
Of course not! There are other biomedical engineering subfields that are beyond my expertise to thoroughly cover. However, I will introduce some of them to you here.
This research area aims to control cellular processes such as proliferation and differentiation, and cellular functions to enhance the therapeutic benefits of cells. Cell transplantation is being used for several medical treatments, such as injection of stem cells to reverse retina degeneration, beta cells to restore glucose level regulation by the pancreas, and very recently, T-lymphocytes for immunotherapy against cancer. Cellular engineering is highly related to biomaterials, where the composition of the extracellular matrix is modified to improve cellular survival during transplantation.
As the name suggests, in this research area scientists apply biomolecular tools such as CRISPR cas9 to modify the genome of their target cells. Genetic engineering has been extremely useful in helping scientists produce model organisms to study diseases through the amplification or knockout of essential genes. Furthermore, many reagents currently used in medicine and research, such as hormones and antibodies, can also be synthesized by genetically modified organisms such as E.coli and HEK cells.
One currently hot research focus is genetically modifying probiotics to treat/diagnose gut diseases. For instance, the Chang group in the National University of Singapore recently engineered a probiotic E.coli that could help eliminate gut infections. With stronger evidence of the impact of microbiome on the brain, this area of research is expected to grow.
This field incorporates the use of software to analyze biological data, and also falls under big data management. It is used to study the relations of genes, proteins, and even metabolites to diseases. It is an extremely powerful tool that has also been applied to study structures of biological entities such as proteins and membrane lipids, and for image processing such as enhancing contrast of images taken with MRI.
Many universities have established biomedical engineering departments, and by analyzing the faculty lists, you will see that most of the professors are affiliated with other departments, such as medicine, neuroscience, and electrical engineering. That illustrates how diverse biomedical engineering research truly is!
With an aging population and rising rates of chronic diseases worldwide, the need for translational biomedical research becomes more urgent and important. As a biomedical engineer, one can help generate knowledge to better understand diseases and create valuable technologies to understand, diagnose, and treat them.
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Andy Tay is a graduate student in the University of California, Los Angeles and an instructor in the National University of Singapore. His research focuses on magnetic neural stimulation and magnetotactic bacteria. He enjoys science communication and using the gym in his free time.