The following are examples of specialty areas within the field of biomedical engineering:
Bioinstrumentation is an application of biomedical engineering and is a new and upcoming field (electrical engineering and computer science are also related to bioinstrumentation). The majority of innovations within bioinstrumentation have taken place within the past two decades.
This specialty focuses on treating diseases and bringing together the engineering and medical worlds. It uses electronics, computer science, and measurement principles to develop devices, instruments, and mechanics used in the diagnosis and treatment of medical problems and biological systems.
This specialty is also focused on using multiple sensors to keep a close eye on physiological characteristics of a human or an animal (bioinstrumentation was first developed by NASA during early space missions to understand how humans were affected by space travel). The sensors convert signals found within the body into electrical signals.
Presently, with over 40,000 health and fitness tracking apps available on our smartphones and wrist-worn fitness tracking devices measuring our heart rate and oxygen levels, bioinstrumentation has also been assimilated into our everyday lives.
As a science, biomaterials is about fifty years old (the study of biomaterials is called biomaterials science or biomaterials engineering), and encompasses elements of medicine, biology, chemistry, tissue engineering, and materials science. Biomaterials is the study of naturally occurring or laboratory-designed materials that are used in medical devices or as implantation materials.
Biomaterials can be taken either from nature or synthetically made in a laboratory using metallic components, polymers, ceramics, or composite materials. Biomaterials are often used for medical applications, such as heart valves, or may have more interactive uses, such as hydroxy-apatite coated hip implants. Biomaterials are also used everyday in dental applications, surgery, and drug delivery.
Biomechanics involves the study of mechanics in the structure, function and motion of biological systems. The American Society of Biomechanics says that "biomechanics represents the broad interplay between mechanics and biological systems". This can be at any level - from whole organisms to organs and cells.
Biomechanics is the science of movement of a living body, and studies how muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments work together to produce movement. Biomechanics includes not only the structure of muscles and bones and the movement they are able to generate, but also the mechanics of blood circulation and other bodily functions.
Biomechanics also includes the study of animals, plants, and the mechanical workings of cells. Specialties within biomechanics include: Biological Science; Exercise and Sports Science; Health Sciences; Ergonomics and Human Factors; and Engineering and Applied Science.
A clinical engineer is defined by the ACCE as "a professional who supports and advances patient care by applying engineering and managerial skills to healthcare technology."
The difference between a biomedical engineer and a clinical engineer is that a biomedical engineer is generally thought to be someone who works in the primary design of medical devices for manufacturers, or in original research and development, or in academia - whereas a clinical engineer typically works in hospitals solving problems that are very close to where equipment is actually used in a patient care setting.
Clinical engineering is a speciality that applies and implements medical technology in order to improve healthcare delivery. Clinical engineers serve as tech consultants for physicians and administrators, work with governmental regulators on hospital inspections and audits, advise the makers of medical devices regarding design improvements, and redirect hospital acquisitions based on clinical experience.
These types of engineers are focused more towards redesigning and reconfiguring, rather than researching and developing. However, they form a useful link between product makers and end-users because they are trained in product and process design but are also familiar with point-of-use.
Rehabilitation engineering is the study of engineering and computer science to design, develop, test, and evaluate devices that assist people who are recovering from or adapting to physical and cognitive disabilities.
Rehabilitation engineers develop technological solutions and devices to aid in the recovery of physical and cognitive functions lost because of disease or injury. Individuals with mobility, communication, hearing, vision, and cognition issues, as well as individuals with Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's, ALS, West Nile, spinal cord injury, brain trauma, or any other debilitating injury or disease can be assisted. Specifically designed devices can help with activities associated with independent living, education, integration into a community, and with employment.
Rehabilitation engineers may observe how individuals perform tasks, and then make changes or accommodations in order to reduce or eliminate future injuries and discomfort. On the opposite side of the spectrum, rehabilitation engineers can help to design and develop intricate brain computer interfaces that have the ability to enable a severely disabled person to use computers and other devices simply by thinking about the function they want to perform.
Ongoing research in rehabilitation engineering has given us some very innovative technologies and techniques that can greatly help people. For example:
Rehabilitation robotics - the use of robots as therapy aids, helping with mobility training for people suffering from impaired movement (such as following a stroke)
Virtual rehabilitation - the use of virtual reality simulation exercises, helping to motivate patients to exercise at home which can be monitored by a therapist over the Internet
Physical prosthetics - the development of smarter artificial legs, exoskeletons, of dextrous upper limbs and hands that better mimic natural limb movement and user intent
Advanced kinematics - the study of human motion, muscle electrophysiology and brain activity to monitor human functions and prevent secondary injuries
Sensory prosthetics - to restore various lost functions and to provide navigation and communication (such as retinal and cochlear implants)
Brain computer interfaces - to help severely impaired people to communicate by using the brain’s electrical impulses to move a computer cursor or a robotic arm that can reach and grab items or send text messages
Modulation of organ function - to act as interventions for urinary and fecal incontinence and sexual disorders, and to treat organ function such as in the case of a spinal cord injury
Systems physiology uses engineering tools to understand how systems within living organisms, from bacteria to humans, function and respond to changes in their environment.
In the context of biomedical engineering, it refers to the use of mathematical, scientific and engineering principles to predict the behaviour of systems (these systems include the entire human body, organs or organ systems, tissues, and medical devices).
Biomedical engineering is used to gain an all-inclusive understanding of the function of living systems as well as the interaction of medical devices with these systems. Two examples are: the prediction of glucose in normal and diabetic individuals, and the development of drug releasing skin patches.