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Create and innovate: what you could invent as a biomedical engineer

Ryan Matthews

Considering a graduate career in science or health? Find out what innovations biomedical engineers have created to improve health outcomes for society.
A prosthetic arm

We’ve previously written about the life-changing world of biomedical engineering, showing you the types of innovative creations coming from this field. In this article, we look at some of the recent developments and trends to see what you could invent as a biomedical engineer.

What could you invent as a biomedical engineer?

The world of biomedical engineering is producing so many incredible inventions that make a real difference to people’s lives. Many of them even save lives. Whether it be devices providing more mobility for the disabled, or revolutionary ways of diagnosing and treating illness, biomedical engineers are changing the world for the better.

Genome Editing

Genome editing refers to the process of deliberately altering selected DNA sequences in living cells. Scientists can essentially cut strands of DNA and let the body repair them naturally. The process can be used to completely delete sections of DNA or alter the way a gene functions. In terms of practical uses, this process could change parts of DNA which are susceptible to disease and replace it with a gene that functions correctly.

DNA is cut using a certain set of proteins which have actually been known about since the 1960’s, though scientists didn’t have the ability to make use of them until around 2005. The most common genome editing method is known as CRISPR-Cas9, which refers to the system used for locating DNA targets, and the Cas9 protein used to cut it.

As DNA is in all living things, genome editing has practical uses in agriculture, chemical and fuel production, biomedicine and reproduction. The laws around genome editing are different from country to country, but supporters of the technology point to its almost limitless possibilities in disease management as a reason to continue the research. With a career as a biomedical engineer, you could be part of genome editing that cures cancer, for example.

Camera Pill

We’ve all seen cartoons where a mad scientist shrinks themselves in order to travel around inside a human body. In the real world, biomedical engineers have invented a pill-sized camera used in the diagnosis of internal medical problems.

This electronic device is no bigger than a normal capsule you might take for a headache, but the potential benefits are incredible. The technology, known as capsule endoscopy, can take high-quality photos in confined spaces. This allows early diagnosis of a range of medical problems such as esophageal cancer. It can also be digested through the gastrointestinal system and capture images inside the small intestine. With this technology, doctors can identify cancer, inflammation or ulcers. This was an area previously out of reach using normal colonoscopy procedures. 

As a non-invasive way of detecting disease, the camera pill has been a significant breakthrough in the area of medical diagnosis. If you embark on a career as a biomedical engineer, you could be inventing life-saving technology just like the camera pill. 

Bionic contact lens

It might seem like something out of a futuristic science fiction film, but companies are already working on making the bionic contact lense a reality. The practical use for humans isn’t clear just yet, but the technology is coming and is set to revolutionise daily life.

In simple terms, the idea would be to show images to the wearer, all as part of their real-world view. For example, rather than looking at the GPS in your car, you may see the entire road ahead of you illuminated in a certain colour to take you to your location. You might get important reminders popping up right before your eyes. How about looking at a restaurant across the road and having their menu flash clearly into view? 

Google is already working on a lens that can read your blood-sugar levels through your tears, and provide an instant notification. This sort of technology could remove the need for diabetics to ever check their glucose levels the old fashioned way. Samsung and Sony are creating a bionic lens that allows the user to take photos and video simply by blinking their eyes. 

Once the initial devices are released, there’s no telling how far this technology could go. As a biomedical engineer, you could be part of its further development.

Technology-fueled medicine

Medications are an integral part of many people’s health and well-being. The biggest problem though, especially for those requiring a number of medications, is remembering to take them. Biomedical engineers have made considerable advancements in this area with a range of technologies. Companies have developed apps to remind users to take medication, and some even send reminders to family and friends if the patient forgets.

Physicians can now use a technology called Smart Pills, which a patient takes and wears a data receiver around their neck for a period. The pill reacts inside the body and delivers data to the receiver, which physicians can see, such as a patient’s blood pressure, pH and temperature. Some medications even come with an accompanying tablet with a small microchip. This can send information via Bluetooth informing a patient what dosage has been taken and when the next one is due. For people suffering memory issues, this kind of technology can have great impacts on their life and health management. 

Bionic prosthetics

The world of prosthetics is advancing rapidly, and long-gone are the days of non-functional limbs which were for appearance only. The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab is currently trialling a bionic arm which is completely controlled by the mind. The device uses neural activity in the brain to create movement, which also gives the user a sense of touch they had previously lost.

Biomedical company Berkeley Bionics has introduced the eLegs Exoskeleton, which is a bionic mechanism paraplegics can wear easily. It enables them to stand, walk and even climb stairs. 

Innovator Elon Musk has posed the question of how far we can go with bionics, and whether we will effectively need to merge with machines in order to overcome the physical limitations we have as humans. As a biomedical engineer, could you be part of this revolution?

As you can see, the possibilities are endless when it comes to biomedical engineering. From research through to implementation, the work of a biomedical engineer changes lives for the better. To find out more about biomedical engineering, or any type of engineering speciality, check out GradAustralia’s STEM Guide, where you will find everything you need to know about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.