Why study biomedical engineering?

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
November, 2015

An aging population has created a demand for biomedical engineers, tasked at helping to improve the quality and effectiveness of patient care

Biomedical engineering is a recently emerged yet highly competitive field that has bridged the gap between engineering and medicine to advance healthcare treatments. It has transitioned from an interdisciplinary specialisation among more established fields to a subject of study in its own right as modern healthcare becomes increasingly reliant on medical technology.

Indeed, many universities in the UK and further afield now have established academic departments and research centres in this fast-growing and innovative area.

Why choose biomedical engineering?

The field's development is shown by the way that the subject has evolved in the academic arena. For instance, the University of Glasgow's School of Engineering may be the oldest in the UK, but biomedical engineering is its newest division - bringing together the institution's longstanding expertise in this area.

Professor Jonathan Cooper, vice principal for innovation and knowledge exchange, says that its approach to the subject is designed to equip students for employment within the sector.

'This exciting, interdisciplinary MSc programme in biomedical engineering ran for the first time in September 2014,' he says. 'It offers students the opportunity to work closely with industry and clinicians.'

What do courses involve?

Taught Masters and diploma programmes typically give students the opportunity to specialise in specific biomedical engineering research areas, with the four main themes being bionanotechnology, rehabilitation engineering, biosensors and diagnostics, and biomaterials and tissue engineering.

Each institution may have its own area of interest. 'We have a particular focus on medical diagnostics of infectious diseases in resource-poor settings, especially low- and middle-income countries,' reveals Professor Cooper.

Individual projects form an integral part of the award, as they give students the chance to demonstrate to future employers that they have carried out cutting-edge research relevant to the sector. This could involve the development of hospital bioelectronics and diagnostic systems for use in field situations, for example.

Víctor Hugo Pascual Carrión completed MSc Biomedical Engineering at the University of Dundee, and is now a research assistant seeking a PhD position.

'I hold an undergraduate degree in physics, and always wanted to apply it to research in the field of biomedicine,' he says.

'This course enabled me to do just that. It provided me with the basis to apply physics to biomedical engineering. However, the most important thing that I gained was the experience of carrying out a real research project.'

What do biomedical engineering graduates do?

With teaching addressing all of biomedical engineering’s key aspects, Professor Cooper feels that the applied focus of his Masters programme prepares graduates for careers in imaging, biosensors, biosignal processing, medical diagnostics, rehabilitation engineering and biomaterials for reconstructive surgery. Many graduates also pursue PhD study or other research-related posts.

Rapid Biosensor Systems is a technology company that requires the application of medicine and biochemistry in the development of its rapid screening and diagnostic tools. Technical director Dr Elaine McCash claims that graduates play a crucial role in the success of this innovative business.

'Bioengineers are ideally suited to the work that we do as they have a range of interdisciplinary skills, both technical and scientific, that are invaluable for these projects,' she says.