Biomedical engineering is a relatively new, interdisciplinary, and exciting field. Sitting at the cross-section of medicine, biological science, and engineering, biomedical engineers design the advances in equipment, devices, computer systems, and/or software used to improve human health. Biomedical engineers are the professionals behind improving prosthetic limbs, medicine delivery technology, tissue and stem cell research, biomedical signal processing, and a wide range of other technologies that improve human health.
Already creating technology that improves countless lives, bioengineers are engaging in cutting-edge research, restructuring the way we move and live in this world.
Since 1979, transdermal patches for pharmaceutical delivery have opened up new possibility to improve human health. Both patches and their applications are evolving quickly, and Dr. Chen Peng and his team at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, are using these developments to tackle the obesity epidemic. The patch design is novel, and enables Dr. Peng’s team to deliver the anti-obesity compounds painlessly and bloodlessy. Dr. Peng and his team believe that with time and continued research, these findings could be applied to the human obesity epidemic. The cost of materials production is low and side effects are reduced because less drug is needed when administered through the patch; also, the method can lower the barriers to access by enabling long-term, home-based treatment.
Joseph Wang, a professor of Nanotechnology and the director of the Center for Wearable Sensors at the University of California San Diego, is leading a team to develop technology that takes us one step closer to a stillsuit. In a project known as Adaptive Textiles Technology with Active Cooling and Heating (ATTACH), Wang’s team’s goal is to create a personal heating/cooling system that responds to changes in ambient temperature, to changes in the individual’s body temperature, and to commands for on-demand heating and cooling. This marvel of bioengineering requires an impressive array of technologies working together to create the desired output of individualized temperature control. To keep the wearer at a comfortable 93 degrees fahrenheit, the ATTACH system comprises two textile systems: passive and active. Wang is hopeful that the fabric will help reduce the cost of heating buildings. By enabling wearers to keep temperature regulated on an individual level, buildings using HVAC systems for heating and cooling may be able to reduce costs by up to 15 percent. Beyond cost-savings, future uses could also include relief for those with temperature-related joint and other systemic pain.
Helping people regain movement through brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) is already a reality. By capturing and translating electrical signals from the brain, remnant muscle fiber, or the spinal cord, BCIs are already helping those with missing limbs to regain some measure of mobility. Eva Dyer, a neuroscientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is aiming to reduce the amount of time it takes to program a BCI for movement. Dyer and her team are using a cryptography-inspired strategy, developing an algorithm for neural decoding that relies on translating brain activity into movement at the level of the pattern. Currently running testing on monkeys, Dyer and her team have been able to use collected movement data to create an algorithm for BCIs that is predictive and shows great promise. While Dyer notes that this cryptographic strategy is not yet producing algorithms that can compete with existing cutting edge decoder technology, it could be strengthened with more robust neural and movement data. If this method can reproduce the smooth, complex movements of biological limbs, this feat of bioengineering could lower the cost of BCIs to make them more accessible to those in need.
Nanorobots are machines that can manipulate environments and biological matter at an atomic level. With enormous implications for the future how diseases are treated, scientists in the nanorobotics field are looking to expand our capacity to respond to disease by asking, "How can we use robots to more effectively fight disease?" Ajay Vikram Singh, a researcher in the Physical Intelligence Department of the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, is studying potential theranostic applications of mobile microbots—untethered microrobots that can move within the body autonomously or through remote-controlled systems. With an army of microrobots comes the capacity for targeted drug delivery systems (TTDS), methods that deliver pharmaceutical agents directly to the site where they're needed.