Biomedical Engineering – the Bridging of the Engineering and Medical Disciplines


It was inevitable. Engineers are inherently innovative and are the gurus when solutions are required. This natural pairing has resulted in another; the pairing of the sciences of medicine and engineering, called biomedical engineering. It involves the application of engineering principles and design concepts to medicine and biology, with the explicit aim of enhancing health care.

Although a fairly new science, the term ‘new’ should be used judiciously. Engineers and technicians have been medically involved for some lengthy time, but a little more indirectly previously. Medical machinery, for example, will have had engineering design at its heart. 

An article in a 2013 EIT newsletter provides another example – one based on an incident that occurred back in the early 1980s. A doctor who had contracted AIDS from a needle stick injury was subsequently scathing of engineers during an interview. He complained that they were insensitive and unresponsive to the daily dangers faced in frontline health care. In response, Thomas J Shaw, a mechanical and structural engineer, got to work.

Shaw spent twelve months developing preliminary design concepts for an automated retraction syringe which he did eventually patent. It involves a friction ring mechanism which causes the contaminated needle to retract automatically from the patient into the barrel of the device, a feature which also prevents reuse. 

A newly designated field of engineering is exciting and offers students more choice. Furthermore, it promises to be extensive in its scope; biomechatronics, bioinstrumentation, cellular, tissue and genetic engineering are just a few of the many topics that it includes. Biomedical engineers will increasingly find themselves in demand as populations grow and medicine advances.

Engineers and technicians who are already specialists in their various fields should not despair, however. The transition to biomedical engineering need not be difficult. As already mentioned above; engineering principles and concepts are merely applied to the discipline of medicine. 

New information will need to be acquired, certainly, but then learning throughout our lives keeps us vital. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “The knowledge of all things is possible”. And from Sophocles, “A man, though wise, should never be ashamed of learning more, and must unbend his mind.” Biomedical engineering study options are available with EIT.

Thanks to Martha Kent and SciNotions for the image.