Biomedical Engineering- Science At Its Best


Advancement in healthcare, including quicker diagnostics, newer treatments, and better equipment can be indisputably attributed to biomedical engineering. The biomedical innovations have revolutionized the way diseases are diagnosed and treated. From the artificial heart to the artificial hip, and from decoding the detailed genetic sequence to analyzing the brain electrical activity, bioengineering has impacted the health care in many ways. With many more innovations in the pipeline, the time is not very far, when every disease will have a cure, and every disability will be manageable.

At a Glance

1. Introduction

2. What do biomedical engineers do?

3. Specialties in biomedical engineering

4. Starting a biomedical engineering company

5. Risks associated with starting a bioengineering company

6. Reputed universities offering biomedical courses

7. Current workforce involved: Bureau Of Labor Statistics

8. Potential market size

9. Strength in human capital

10.  Typical salaries

11. Ultimate biomedical engineering innovations that revolutionized healthcare

12. Successful pharmaceutical industries with their biomedical innovations 13. Biomedical engineering and the future of medicine


The concept of design and application of engineering sciences to biological sciences has revolutionized the way we perceive science and has led to the discovery of a new branch of science called “Biomedical Engineering.” This branch aims at improving the human health care through integration of engineering principles with biomedical sciences and clinical practice.

What do Biomedical Engineers (BME) do?

BMEs design and construct innovative devices such as prosthetic limbs and organs, machinery required for imaging techniques, and upgrade the processes involved in genomic testing, in the manufacturing  or administration of drugs etc., thereby enhancing the medical care to the patients.

Specialties in Biomedical Engineering

The BMEs focus on the following fields:

a) Biomedical electronics: This branch involves association of BMEs with the physicians and other paramedical staff who use electronic devices in modern medical practice. BMEs advise and assist the hospital staff with the safe operation of the technical equipment, because devices such as CT and MRI imaging systems, ICU and CCU monitoring and telemetry systems, heart lung bypass machines, dialysis machines may be complex to operate. However, their assistance is not required while using simple equipments such as electronic thermometers, infusion pumps, and nerve stimulators.

b) Biomechatronics: This branch of science involves the integration of mechanical, electrical, and biological sciences. It also includes the fields of robotics and neurosciences. The main intent of this trial is to manufacture devices that interact with muscle, skeleton, and nervous system of the body hoping that it may help the individuals who have lost their motor control due to trauma, disease or congenital defects.

c) Bioinstrumentation: It is the application of electronics and measurement principles used to develop medical devices, which aid in the diagnosis and treatment of the disease. Computers play a crucial role in bioinstrumentation, wherein a microprocessor performs a variety of small tasks and a microcomputer processes large amounts of information in the medical imaging system.

d) Biomaterials: These are living or artificial substances used for implantation into the human body.  However, making the right choice of the material for a right individual is very difficult and the biggest trial for an BME. Biomaterials must be non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, chemically inert, stable, and mechanically strong enough to withstand the repeated forces of a lifetime.  So far, metal alloys ceramics, polymers, and composites have been used as implantable materials. New biomaterials include incorporation of living cells, which act as a perfect biological and mechanical match for the living tissue.

e) Biomechanics: The application of the conventional principles of mechanics such as statics, dynamics, fluids, solids, thermodynamics, and continuum mechanics etc. to clinical problems is called biomechanics. The study of movement and deformation of the materials, its flow within the body and in devices, and transport of chemical constituents across biological and synthetic media and membranes can be performed using this branch of science. Advancements in the field of biomechanics has led to the evolution of artificial heart and heart valves, artificial joint replacements and has also offered a better insight of the functioning of components like heart, lung, blood vessels and capillaries, bone, cartilage, intervertebral discs, ligaments and tendons of the musculoskeletal system.

f) Bionics: The application of natural biological principles and systems in studying and designing the engineering systems and the latest technology is called bionics.

g) Cellular, Tissue, and Genetic Engineering: This area of science believes in the treatment of an ailment by targeting the disease at its cellular or molecular level. This requires application of anatomy, biochemistry and mechanics of cellular and sub-cellular structures in order to understand the disease process and to facilitate intervention at specific sites. With these capabilities, miniature devices deliver compounds that can stimulate or inhibit cellular processes at required target sites to promote healing or inhibit disease initiation and progression.

h) Clinical Engineering: The application of technology to health care is called clinical engineering. The clinical engineer is an integral part of the health care team and is accountable for the development and maintenance of computer databases of medical instrumentation and equipment records, and for the purchase and use of sophisticated medical instruments. Some physicians seek their help to adapt instrumentation to their specific needs or for the hospital.

i) Medical Imaging: Integration of physical phenomena such as sound, radiation, magnetism etc. with high speed electronic data processing, analysis and display to generate an image is called medical imaging. This invention produces images with minimal or no invasion, making them less painful and more readily repeatable than invasive techniques.

k) Orthopedic bioengineering: Exercising engineering and computational mechanics to understand the functioning of bones, joints and muscles, and for the design of artificial joint replacements is called orthopedic bioengineering. Orthopedic bioengineers have the following functions:

  • Pursue fundamental studies on cellular function, and mechanosignal transduction.
  • Perform stress analysis of the musculoskeletal system.
  • Develop artificial biomaterials (biologic and synthetic) for replacement of bones, cartilages, ligaments, tendons, meniscus and intervertebral discs.
  • Perform gait and motion analyses for sports performance and patient outcome following surgical procedures.

l) Rehabilitation engineering: The only objective of rehabilitation engineers is to improve the quality of life of patients with physical and cognitive disabilities.

  • They construct prosthetics.
  • Provide assistive technology that enhances seating, positioning, mobility, and communication.
  • Provide cognitive aids for those with cognitive dysfunction.

m) Systems physiology: The use of engineering strategies, techniques and tools to gain understand the functioning of living organisms ranging from bacteria to humans is called systems physiology.

Examples: Computer modeling – Description of the physiological events using mathematical descriptions

Use of predictor experimental and non-experimental models in research in designing new procedures.

n) Bionanotechnology: This area uses nanotechnology in biomedical research. The developments of nanobiotechnologyinclude

  • Nanoscale
  • Nanodevices
  • Nanoparticles

This technical approach to biology enables the scientists to imagine and create systems used for biological research.

o) Neural engineering: This discipline used engineering techniques to understand, mend, substitute, improve, or exploit the properties of neural systems. Neural engineers are competent enough to solve design problems at the interface of living neural tissue and non-living constructs.

Starting a bioengineering company

The passion and commitment to convert an idea into a creation is where the biomedical startups originate from. But, to survive in this competitive field a cutting-edge idea is the prerequisite. According to a survey, 90% of the biomedical companies fail before drawing any profits and this is found to be due to improper team management in the company.

It is relatively easy to access grant funding for a worthy scientific idea to support continued research and development. But, when the time comes to move away from the laboratory, the founder needs to establish if further external investment is required to fuel the next phase of business growth. Later on, there comes a time when hard work and enthusiasm cannot take the business any further and a good management structure is needed to take it forwards and access these new funding routes.

1.The business owner should be a very skilled practitioner in their field.

2. You need to surround yourself with good quality people who can do things, which you are not good at. This team may help you in handling regulatory issues, quality assurance, finance, logistics and commerce.

3. You need to find people to fund your bioengineering ideas.

4. You should remember that once you take cash from an external investor it is no longer your business. You will have to listen to and incorporate operation-related suggestions from investors as well.  

5.  Once you have an investor, you are obliged to share your ideas on how you plan to make the product a commercial success.

Risks associated with starting a bioengineering company

1. Cross-border mobility: The U.S. is irrefutably the world’s leader in biomedical innovation. However, it is unsafe, because most of the students involved in research aren’t from the host country. Therefore, they would return after finishing their doctoral studies and would serve their respective homelands, thereby hindering innovative ideas. 

2. Cost pressures: The increase in world population and shift in prevalence and distribution of chronic diseases, combined with escalating research costs, rising global competition, and the increasing complexity of distribution systems, are placing unprecedented cost pressures on the biomedical industry. These cost pressures are paired with increasing pressures from governments, employers, and consumers to reduce pricing and augment global distribution of drugs and devices.

3. Dependency: Biomedical firms are more dependent than most business on the relationship between government and industry. The ability of biomedical firms to promote and sell product hinges upon legislation and the protection of intellectual property.

Reputed Universities Offering Biomedical Courses

1.                   Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD

2.                   Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA

3.                   University of California – San Diego

  • Duke University (Pratt) – Durham, NC
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Cambridge, MA
  • Stanford University – Stanford, CA
  • University of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, PA
  • University of Washington – Seattle, WA
  • Rice University (Brown) – Houston, TX
  • University of California – Berkeley, CA

Current Workforce Involved : Bureau of Labor Statistics

Employment of biomedical engineers is projected to grow 27 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 5,200 new jobs over the 10-year period.

Employment, 2012Current Employment, 2015Projected Employment, 2022

With the average life span increasing, people are expected to live longer. As a result, the demand for biomedical devices such as artificial hip and knees may increase.

Present Industrial Profile

The following companies have the highest level of employment in this domain

Medical Equipment and Supplies Manufacturing5,180
Scientific Research and Development Services3,480
Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing2,550
Navigational, Measuring, Electromedical, and Control Instruments Manufacturing1,760
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals1,570

Potential Market Size

Baby boomers, now driving the nation’s social and political agenda, are determined to remain healthy and active well into their retirement, and are willing to pay for solutions that promise to extend their quality of life. In fact, the industry is facing increasing costs and is disturbed with the pricing and distribution issues. The healthcare system in the U.S. is widely perceived to be in “crisis.”

At the same time, the world is undergoing a quiet, but deep and powerful transformation that is fundamentally affecting all industries on a global basis, including the biomedical industry. Though the U.S. continues to hold a commanding advantage, serious global competition is on the rise, both from a resurgent Europe and from new contenders in Asia.

The U.S. dominance extends beyond pharmaceutical products and into the realm of medical device manufacturing. In 2008, sales of medical devices worldwide were estimated at about $210 billion, with four-fifths of revenue originating from the U.S. and Europe. The U.S. accounts for 41 percent, followed by Japan (10 percent), Germany (8 percent), and France (4 percent). Since the U.S. market is so large, it is not surprising that U.S. firms dominate the list of the top medical device makers.  As of early 2011, 50.9 percent of all clinical trials in the world were being held in the U.S. Despite this formidable share, the number of trials being conducted in emerging nations—especially China and India— has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years.

Both medical device makers and pharmaceutical firms have recently increased their focus on cutting-edge diagnostics for early detection and evaluation of disease. The development of more sophisticated electromedical (imaging) and irradiation (X-rays) technology has contributed to life expectancy gains and lower disability rates. Death rates for the most common cancers have declined, and the length of cancer survival has also increased. Some 68.3 percent of cancer patients survived after being diagnosed in 2001 (the most recent year with five-year follow-up data available), compared to 60 percent only a decade prior.Additional diagnostic advances include the first fully automated test for detecting congestive heart failure and monitoring treatment response, as well as the first oral specimen rapid HIV test.

Size of the Consumer Market

The United States enjoys substantial benefits due to the sheer size of its consumer market. As of 2008, the U.S. biomedical product market was almost four times larger than Japan’s, which ranked second in terms of total expenditures. Although the rise of the European Union allowed for greater economies of scale, the linguistic and cultural demands of its member nations keep the market more fractured than that in the U.S.

In 2008, Americans spent $234 billion on pharmaceuticals and related products. This translates to $769 per capita, the highest per-capita expenditure among the OECD countries and 25 percent higher than that of the second highest- ranking country, Canada. On the other hand, Japan, Germany, and France spent $60 billion ($471 per capita), $41 billion ($501 per capita) and $31 billion ($488 per capita), respectively. The growth trend of these expenditures has dramatically progressed since 1995.Market sales of pharmaceuticals equaled 2.1 percent of U.S. GDP (France was second-highest in this measure at 1.54 percent).In 2010, the U.S. medical device market was the world’s largest at an estimated $94.9 billion.

Strength in Human Capital

Innovation is the key to the survival and continued growth of the biomedical industries—and well educated and highly trained human capital is the driving force behind innovation. In 2006, the United States awarded the largest number of science and engineering doctoral degrees of any country, followed by China, Russia, Germany and the United Kingdom.

The United States has built excellent biomedical science research competencies at its universities and research institutions, which are able to obtain funding from both federal and industry sources. When university R&D can be leveraged for commercialization in the private sector, the partnerships can be beneficial to both parties. Funding for commercialization enables an institution to further its research agenda and help recruit talent, while the biomedical industry can expand the scope and depth of its research with the help of outside experts, often at much lower cost.

Typical salaries

The average pay for a Biomedical Engineer is $62,986 per year. The payscale rises steadily for more experienced workers, but goes down noticeably for employees with more than 20 years’ experience. The skills that augment the salary are Clinical Research and Project Management.

National Salary Data (Country: USA; Currency: US$)

Salary$46,209 – $95,987
Bonus$0.00 – $9,983
Profit Sharing$0.00 – $9,863
Total Pay$45,414 – $98,694

Ultimate Biomedical Engineering Innovations That Revolutionized Healthcare

1. AbioCor Artificial Heart: Artificial hearts, designed earlier were cumbersome with the patient had to be bedridden, and connected to a machine unit. The AbiCor unit is a new generation heart. It is self-contained in the body, and the patient can remain mobile.

2. Camera Pill: It is used as an alternative to the endoscope, for detecting early stage esophageal and other digestive tract cancers. The pill, small enough to be swallowed, takes quality, color images as it travels along the digestive tract, thereby, eliminating the need of anesthesia and sedation.

3. iLIMB Bionic Hand: This was invented by David Gow in 2007 and was the world’s first artificial hand with 5 individually powered fingers and the user could grip many different shaped objects with it.

4. Berkeley Bionics eLEGS: eLEGS is an easy to wear, artificially intelligent, bionic exoskeleton, launched in 2010. It helps the paraplegics and people with mobility problems to stand and walk upright with little physical exertion.

5. Bio-Artificial Liver: Dr Kenneth Matsumura developed a totally new approach in creating an artificial liver. He used liver cells collected from animals. It gained recognition in the Time magazine as Invention of the Year in 2001.

6. Clipping melanoma biopsies:  The ‘MelaFind technology’ (MELA Sciences, Irvington, NY) uses missile navigation technologies to optically scan the surface of a suspicious lesion at 10 electromagnetic wavelengths. These are then matched against a registry of 10,000 digital images of melanoma and skin disease.

7. Electronic Aspirin: It is a patient-powered tool for blocking signals of a headache. A small nerve stimulating device is implanted in the upper gum on the side of the head, which may be normally affected by headache. The signals created by the device block the pain-causing neurotransmitters.

8. Needle-Free Diabetes Care: This technology can help the diabetics avoid frequent pokes to draw blood samples for glucose monitoring. It involves a transdermal biosensor that reads measurements of the blood through the skin. The device collects one reading per minute. This reading is sent to a remote monitor. An alarm is triggered if the readings are not in normal range.

9. Robotic Check-Ups: Robots are programmed to patrol the hospital, and check on the patients. These robots can even manage patient’s charts and record vital signs. It is a mobile cart with a two-way video screen and medical monitoring equipment.

10. Artificial valves: The Sapien transcatheter aortic valve can be guided percutaneously through the femoral artery. The valve material is made of bovine tissue attached to a stainless-steel stent, which is expanded by inflating a small balloon when correctly placed in the valve space.

Successful Pharmaceutical Industries with their Biomedical Innovations

a)Johnson & Johnson

  • The GLOBAL® UNITE® Anatomic Shoulder System used for repairing or replacing shoulders to facilitate patient’s range of motion.
  • The CORAIL® Revision Hip System for hip replacements
  • The TRUMATCH® Resection Guide
  • HARMONIC ACE®+ 7 Shears with Advanced Hemostasis
  • EVARREST™ Fibrin Sealant Patch to stop bleeding (Ethicon).
  • THERMOCOOL® SMARTTOUCH™ Contact Force Sensing Catheter for atrial fibrillation (Biosense Webster).
  • INCRAFT® Stent Graft System for abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA) (Cordis).

b) Siemens Healthcare 

  • Combined system for diagnostics and surgical procedures for use in hybrid operating rooms
  • Biograph mCT PET-CT scanner to enhance PET scanning quantification of amyloid plaque

c) GE 

Flutemetamol imaging agent to improve diagnosis of the deadly neurodegenerative diseases

Discovery of IGS 740 – a mobile angiography system

A handheld ultrasound machine Vscan with dual probe

Invenia ABUS for breast ultrasound

d) Medtronic

  • Artificial pancreas for diabetics
  • Revo MRI SureScan MRI-friendly pacemaker
  • Deep brain stimulation treatments for patients with epilepsy and other neurodegenerative disorders

e) Baxter International

  • ARTISS fibrin sealant to include adhering tissue flaps during a facelift
  • Home hemodialysis system for end-stage kidney disease

f) Philips Healthcare

  • Whole-body magnetic particle imaging systems
  • Ingenuity TF PET/MR for whole body imaging

Biomedical Engineering and the Future of Medicine

Biomedical engineering has taken life sciences to the next level. Unlike traditional techniques of indirect manipulation of genes, the genetic engineering enables transformation of the structure and characteristics of target genes.

Successful genetic engineering techniques include –

  • Improvement of crop technology
  • Manufacture of erythropoietin in hamster ovary cells
  • Production of synthetic human insulin through the use of modified bacteria
  • Development of new types of experimental animals such as the oncomouse, used in cancer research

A technique of biomedical engineering, “recombinant DNA technology”  can be used in providing personalized medical care to the individuals. A DNA map of the individual will be more helpful in optimizing drug therapy, thereby reducing the cost and ill-effects of prescription of wrong medications. The way physicians practice medicine is changing, and the investors prophesize a promising growth in this domain.


The healthcare reform in United States and Europe was of a typical paradigm, wherein the new healthcare system is more technology dependent. This is evident from the diagnostic practices such as, the use of body scanners, treatment options such as radiation therapy and minimally invasive surgeries, and clinical integration by means of information technology.

Integration of healthcare with information technology had resulted in increased fulfillment of patient’s demands. In countries where the costs of medical sector are reaching the sky, technology can help achieve low cost care by using technologically based screening programs, thereby avoiding man-force.

Investments and support from visionary corporations, such as IBM, will help build the technology and information infrastructure necessary for research, development, and delivery of personalized medicine.


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