[heading style=”2″] KEY AREAS [/heading]
Physiology and System Modeling incorporates understanding of a living organism at the molecular, cellular and organ level. This knowledge is utilized to develop a working mathematical model of the whole system which has advantages in research. For example a neuron fires an action potential which is how it communicates with other neurons. Action potential model was developed by Hodgkin and Huxley in 1952, who used squid axon to understand the phenomena. It is extensively studied and used by physiologists even today to understand the working of the brain. System models can be used to predict the outcome of a new experiment even before performing the experiment. There is an increase in new techniques that are developed for physiological measurements along with an increase in the tools for analysis of experimental data. Initially these mathematical models were used solely for research purposes but now with advancement in control systems theory, they are being used for diagnosis of diseases.
Biomedical Instrumentation is the application of electronics and transducers for the measurement and processing of different physiological signals. These signals are used for diagnosis, patient monitoring and treatment of diseases. The human body is a source of numerous signals which can be sensed from the body surface or inside the body. After picking up signals from the body using electrodes and transducers, they need to be processed and presented for analysis. This is done using microcontrollers, computers and a variety of softwares. A common example is seen in any ICU where patient monitoring systems display parameters like heart rate, blood pressure, ECG, respiratory functions. Medical imaging has seen exceptional progress resulting in development of X-ray, CT, MRI, ultrasonic scanners. Therapeutic instruments are used in physiotherapy and also in cases of emergencies. These are mainly pacemakers and defibrillators.
Biomechanics is the science that includes working of everything from a cell to movement produced by muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments. It applies mechanics to biological or medical problems. It includes the study of motion, of material deformation, of flow within the body and in devices, and transport of chemical constituents across biological and synthetic media and membranes. Efforts in biomechanics have resulted in the development of the artificial heart and replacement heart valves, the artificial kidney and the artificial hip, to name a few.
Biomaterials could be naturally occurring or synthesized to be used for implantation in a living tissue. A non-functioning part or a defect in the human body can be replaced by an appropriate biomaterial. Nowadays there is a huge demand for aesthetic biomaterials as well. The selection of an appropriate biomaterial is the most difficult task faced by a biomedical engineer. Biomaterials have to be compatible with the living tissue and hence must be nontoxic, inert, stable and non-carcinogenic. Also depending on the application it should either be mechanically strong or allow normal body tissue to grow around the implant without causing an infection. Certain metal alloys, ceramics, polymers have been used as implantable materials. Biomaterials have applications in load bearing prosthetics, joint replacements and orthodontic (dental) implants, plates and dentures. Polymer scaffolds are being used for wound healing and drug delivery inside the body. There is research being undertaken to grow artificial skin which can help burn victims and others with skin related diseases. When one of the four heart valves malfunctions, we can now replace it using an artificial valve made from carbon and Dacron.
Clinical engineering is the application of technology and managerial skills to health care in hospitals. The clinical engineer is a member of the health care team who has to interact with physicians, nurses and other hospital staff. They are responsible for training and supervising the use of medical equipment, maintaining a database for all the hospital instruments, working for hospital inspection and audit. They may also get involved with R&D of instruments, since a clinical engineer knows the needs of a physician and also any shortcomings, improvements of the current technology. Clinical engineering often involves the interface of instruments with computer systems and customized software for instrument control and data analysis. It also involves planning different departments in a hospital and looking after the safety issues.
Tissue Engineering will definitely revolutionize the ways we improve the health and quality of life for millions of people worldwide by restoring, maintaining, or enhancing tissue and organ function and can safely be termed as an emerging multidisciplinary field involving biology, medicine, and engineering. It uses biomaterials and cells to produce new tissues. Stem cells have infused great excitement in the field as a potentially powerful cell source to rebuild tissues. In addition to having a therapeutic application, where the tissue is either grown in a patient or outside the patient and transplanted, tissue engineering also has diagnostic applications where the tissue is made in vitro and used for testing drug metabolism and uptake, toxicity, and pathogenicity. The foundation of tissue engineering/regenerative medicine for either therapeutic or diagnostic applications is the ability to exploit living cells in a variety of ways. Since so many tissues and organs are strong candidates for engineering reconstruction—including bone, cartilage, liver, pancreas, skin, blood vessel, and peripheral nerve—tissue engineering can help meet critical health care needs related to tissue and organ replacement. Tissue engineering systems also are being used as model systems to study cell behavior. Scientific advances in biomaterials, stem cells, growth and differentiation factors, and biomimetic environments have created unique opportunities to fabricate tissues in the laboratory from combinations of engineered extracellular matrices (“scaffolds”), cells, and biologically active molecules. Among the major challenges now facing tissue engineering is the need for more complex functionality, as well as both functional and biomechanical stability in laboratory-grown tissues destined for transplantation. The continued success of tissue engineering, and the eventual development of true human replacement parts, will grow from the convergence of engineering and basic research advances in tissue, matrix, growth factor, stem cell, and developmental biology, as well as materials science and bio informatics.
Bioinformatics is the field of science in which biology, computer science, and information technology merge to form a single discipline. It is the application of computer technology to the management of biological information. Computers help to gather, store, analyze and integrate biological and genetic information which can then be used for gene-based drug discovery and development. This field aims to enable the discovery of new biological insights as well as to create a global perspective from which unifying principles in biology can be distinguished. A bioinformatics concern at the beginning of the “genomic revolution” was the creation and maintenance of a database to store biological information, such as nucleotide and amino acid sequences. Development of this type of database involved not only design issues but the development of complex interfaces whereby researchers could both access existing data as well as submit new or revised data. But, the developments in the field of bioinformatics has helped to uncover the wealth of biological information hidden in the mass of sequence, structure, literature and other biological data and obtain a clearer insight into the fundamental biology of organisms and to use this information to enhance the standard of life for mankind.
Neural Engineering has not only generated a lot of excitement for the development of interfaces between the brain and computers but for its mostly untapped potential to develop treatment for patients with neurological disorders such as strokes or epilepsy. Neural engineering’s emergence can be attributed to the recognition that engineers, neuroscientists and clinicians should be working together to address the problems associated with the complexity of the nervous system. Neural engineers are interested in understanding, interfacing with and manipulating the nervous system. Computer models of neural systems down to the level of single neurons are being created by computational neuroscientists. Scientists are also exploring how neurons communicate with one another by taking recordings from actual neurons and having those recordings “interact” with recordings from other neurons. As a field, neural engineering involves electronic and mechanical systems, informatics, imaging, prosthetics, biological and artificial circuits, control systems, tissue engineering and regeneration, modeling and computation pertinent to the nervous system. Much current research is focused on understanding the coding and processing of information in the sensory and motor systems, quantifying how this processing is altered in the pathological state, and how it can be manipulated through interactions with artificial devices including brain-computer interfaces and neuroprosthetics. One of the most striking examples of neural engineering—specifically brain-machine interfaces—is the bionic arm.
BioRobotics is also known as Biomimetic Robotics and Biologically Inspired Robotics. It brings biology and robots together and can be looked upon as a style of research in which the life sciences play an important role in the development of a robot. Engineers having an understanding of biomechanics can develop biologically-inspired robots with improved and enhanced capabilities over traditional robots. Greater mobility and flexibility than traditional robots and often possessing sensory abilities are some of the highlights of biologically-inspired robots. Biorobotics encompasses a diverse array of disciplines with a myriad of applications. Human-Robot Interaction & Coordination (HRI&C) has emerged as a sub-discipline that focuses on the behavior and place of robots in society with the increasing sophistication of robots.
Rehabilitation Engineering refers to the development, design, and application of rehabilitation technology. Creating methods and technologies to help patients regain cognitive and/or motor function is the main job of rehabilitation engineers. Engineers that work within this field attempt to find ways to assist disabled people by providing a technological solution to everyday problems. Customized rehabilitation equipment — including specialized walkers, hearing aids, and other devices — are generally created by rehabilitation engineers.
Telemedicine is a rapidly developing application of clinical medicine in which medical information is transferred through the phone or the internet and sometimes other networks for the purpose of consulting, and sometimes remote medical procedures or examinations. Telemedicine includes a growing variety of applications and services using two‐way video, email, wireless phones and other forms of telecommunications technology. Starting out over forty years ago with demonstrations of hospitals extending care to patients in remote areas, the use of telemedicine has spread rapidly and is now becoming integrated into the ongoing operations of hospitals, specialty departments, home health agencies, private physician offices as well as consumer’s homes and workplaces. Telemedicine continues to become more sophisticated and more widely accepted. This means that patient data must be transmitted and received both reliably and timely. To make this possible, biomedical engineers are involved in the development of communication technologies, relevant applications and their integration as well as the adaptation and transformation of operating rooms and other medical settings. Telemedicine is real time which means that the patient and healthcare specialist are required to be present at the same time for immediate exchange of information via videoconferencing. Sometimes specialists from different countries or regions can videoconference to discuss case details or also to perform surgeries. Patients who need daily and continuous monitoring of ECG, heart rate, blood pressure or glucose levels need not be present at the hospital. These can be measured and monitored remotely with the help of telemedicine.
Biomedical Imaging uses state-of-the-art technology to provide 2- or 3-dimensional images of the living body. Imaging studies can diagnose disease or dysfunction from outside the body, providing information without exploratory surgery or other invasive and possibly dangerous diagnostic techniques. It concentrates on the capture of images for both diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. Snapshots of in vivo physiology and physiological processes can be garnered through advanced sensors and computer technology. Biomedical imaging technologies utilize either x-rays (CT scans), sound (ultrasound), magnetism (MRI), radioactive pharmaceuticals (nuclear medicine: SPECT, PET) or light (endoscopy, OCT) to assess the current condition of an organ or tissue and can monitor a patient over time over time for diagnostic and treatment evaluation. As a discipline and in its widest sense, it is part of biological imaging and incorporates radiology (in the wider sense), nuclear medicine, investigative radiological sciences, endoscopy, (medical) thermography, medical photography, and microscopy (e.g. for human pathological investigations). Digital imaging gave rise to the CT scanner and allows physicians to watch real-time x-rays on a monitor—a technique known as x-ray fluoroscopy—to help guide invasive procedures such as angiograms and biopsies. Depending on the imaging technique and what diagnosis is being considered, image processing and analysis can be used to determine the diameter, volume and vasculature of a tumor or organ; flow parameters of blood or other fluids and microscopic changes that have yet to raise any otherwise discernible flags.
Biosensors are analytical devices which convert a biological response into an electrical signal. Data gathered using biosensors are then processed using biomedical signal processing techniques as a first step toward facilitating human or automated interpretation. There are several applications of biosensors in food analysis. In food industry optic coated with antibodies are commonly used to detect pathogens and food toxins. The light system in these biosensors has been fluorescence, since this type of optical measurement can greatly amplify the signal. Biosensor technology incorporates a wide range of devices, from the basic stethoscope, thermometer and blood pressure cuff to sophisticated PET scanners, MRI and ultrasound machines. Biosensors find applications in fields such as food analysis, study of biomolecules and their interaction, drug development, crime detection, medical diagnosis (both clinical and laboratory use), environmental field monitoring, quality control, industrial process control, detection systems for biological warfare agents, manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and replacement organs.