Biomedical engineering, sometimes called biomedical technology or bioengineering, apples the principles of engineering to medical or biological research. According to The Biomedical Engineering Handbook, 13 subspecialties are recognized in biomedical engineering, including biomechanics, biomaterials, biosensors and medical informatics. Two of the earliest breakthroughs in biomedical engineering -- X-ray machines and electrocardiographs -- stretch back more than a century, and prostheses have been known for millennium. Recent breakthroughs in biomedical engineering include highly durable and functional artificial joints, bioengineered blood vessels, medical informatics-enabled expert-system robotic surgical devices, and an array of medical imaging technologies such as ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography.
Joint prostheses, such as artificial hips and knee replacements, have improved dramatically over the last few decades. New understandings in biomechanics and new breakthroughs in biomaterials have resulted in artificial joints with much greater functionality and durability than earlier models. Like most biomedical engineering projects, the design and development of artificial joints involves the efforts of biomedical engineers from several subspecialties.
Bioengineered Blood Vessels
A research team at Duke University developed a bioengineered blood vessel and transplanted it into the arm of a patient with end-stage kidney disease in July 2013. The new vein is based on human cells, and was created by cultivating donated human cells onto a tubular scaffold to form a vessel. The cultivated vessel then is treated to remove proteins that trigger an immune response. The new blood vessels will be tested in hemodialysis patients, and if successful it will be developed to provide graft tissue for heart bypass surgeries and other procedures.
Expert-System Robotic Surgical Devices
Robots don't just make cars or vacuum floors anymore. Modern expert-system robots are used to defuse bombs and perform complex surgeries. Robot microassemblies allow for extremely fine control, and modern medical informatics and database technology allows robots to be preprogrammed with the the latest surgical techniques. Robot surgical systems are operated by human doctors, but they are becoming increasingly autonomous. Advanced systems such as the da Vinci surgical system can perform a variety of cardiac, colorectal, general, gynecologic, thoracic and urologic surgery procedures.
Medical Imaging Systems
The last few decades have produced a number of breakthrough technologies in the field of diagnostic medical imaging systems. Biomedical engineers have been involved in the development of diagnostic imaging technologies including ultrasound, computer tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, single-photon emission computed tomography and positron emission tomography. Refinements in ultrasound equipment and techniques such as improved Doppler, radial scanning, 3-D scanning and harmonic imaging have made sonography increasingly useful in a growing number of diagnostic applications.