Medicine meets engineering

Sandhya Prakash explains why Biomedical Engineering is more than a monetarily-rewarding career choice.

AT WORK : Tissue culture processing.

Medical science is rapidly incorporating the advances made in science and technology that combine to produce more accurate diagnoses, more effective treatments with fewer side effects, and improved ability to prevent disease and provide superior quality healthcare. A field central to this endeavour is Biomedical Engineering and Technology.

Biomedical Engineering is an interdisciplinary course that encompasses Engineering, Biology and Medicine. Being an integrating medium for two dynamic professions, Medicine and Engineering, this discipline has the broad objective of assisting in the struggle against illness and disease by providing tools and techniques for research, diagnosis and treatment.

The scope of the field is enormous — from cardiac monitors to clinical computing, artificial hearts to contact lenses, wheel chairs to artificial tendons, modelling dialysis therapy to modelling the cardiovascular system. The field also includes the management of technology in hospitals and healthcare delivery.

Speciality areas

There are many areas of specialisation in Biomedical Engineering. Some of them are:

Bioinstrumentation: It specialises in the application of electronics and measurement techniques to develop devices for diagnosis and treatment of diseases.

Biomaterials: It involves producing materials from both, living tissues and artificial materials, to replace diseased organs. Engineers make devices that are functionally-true copies of the organs which are to be replaced. They create growing organs from tissues and cells in the laboratory.

Tissue Engineering: Engineers in this field issue substitutes to restore or improve the functions of human tissues. This field deals with the development of artificial materials and tissue that are used for artificial blood vessels and organs, replacement of skin and bone.

Biomechanics: This involves the application of mechanics to biological or medical problems and the study of the flow of bodily fluids to decide the specifications for various devices such as artificial joint replacements, pacemakers, etc.

Clinical Engineering: Biomedical engineers also develop and maintain a database of medical instruments and equipment records in hospitals.

Orthopaedic Bioengineering: This field concerns itself with the function of bones, joints and muscles and the design of artificial joint replacements. It is upon these engineers to create technologies and materials that make up bones, joints and tooth implants which are almost as good as nature’s version.

One of their latest responsibilities include developing and looking after fully- programmed robots for use in operating rooms. The aim is to save vital organs that may get damaged permanently, due to human error.

Navigation systems: In this specialised branch, biomedical engineers use software tools and imaging equipment to create a digital picture of the insides of a human body. This helps surgeons determine the best approach for an operation. They help in developing new laser technologies for applications in routine and specialised operations, dental surgery, etc. Biomedical engineers also help in enhancing a machine’s capabilities.

Study route

An individual aspiring for a degree in Biomedical Engineering should do a Bachelor of Engineering (B.E) in Biomedical Engineering offered at select institutes in the country and abroad.

The eligibility criteria for enrolling for a B.E/ B.Tech in Biomedical Engineering is a Class 12 pass certificate (Science). One can also opt for any conventional branches of engineering like Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Computer Engineering, and pursue a postgraduation in Biomedical Engineering. An individual after completing his/her MBBS degree, can also opt for a postgraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering/ Medical Engineering/ Medical Technology.

Some add value to their career map with a postgraduate degree in Business to manage healthcare technology.

A Master’s or Doctoral degree offers the Biomedical Engineer greater opportunities in research and development, whether such work is in an industry, academic or government setting.

Some of the developing areas in the biomedical engineering field are BIOMEMS, genomics, micro and nanotechnology, proteomics, robotics in surgery, telemedicine etc.

Career prospects

Biomedical engineers are typically employed with companies which manufacture equipment to hospitals, diagnostic centres, research and development organisations, manufacturing, quality control institutes, testing units, installation, maintenance or sales and marketing departments.

They may also find work in large hospitals for selecting, handling and maintaining sophisticated equipments in addition to building customised devices for special needs. There are a few government agencies who employ Biomedical Engineers for product testing, safety and establishment of safety standards for devices. Some engineers are technical advisors in the marketing department of companies, and some in management positions.

There is a huge demand for Biomedical Engineers abroad. Clinical Engineers who monitor and maintain data bases of instrumentation and work with physicians to adapt instrumentation for the specific needs of the physicians and hospitals, are most sought after in hospitals abroad. Rehabilitation Engineers, who develop hardware and software computer adaptations provide cognitive aids to assist patients with memory impairment, are also much sought after.

In addition to a postgraduate degree, candidates may pursue a PhD and Post Doctoral Fellowship (PDF) in foreign universities or R&D centres, which is a highly paid and respected profession abroad.

Institutes offering the course

All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi
Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai
Anna University, Centre for Biotechnology
Bio Engineering Research Centre (BERC) — Navi Mumbai
Birla Institute of Technology & Science
Banaras Hindu University Institute of Technology, Varanasi
Dr B R Ambedkar Centre of Biomedical Research
Manipal Institute of Technology, Manipal, Karnataka

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