The field of Biomedical and Tissue Engineering field has been getting a lot of interest in the recent times. However, students (and even parents) are not too sure about the field of study and the job prospects of pursuing a career in biomedical and tissue engineering. In this article, we will look into an overview of the field of biomedical and tissue engineering. Additionally, we will look into the market demand, career path, required education & skills, top universities, and job opportunities in the field of biomedical and tissue engineering.
Biomedical Engineering, also known as Bioengineering, is an applied field of science, which lies at the interface of engineering, biology, healthcare, and medicine. The field of biomedical engineering involves the application of principles of engineering (mechanical, electrical, electronics, computer science and chemical engineering) and basic sciences (physics, mathematics, chemistry, and biology).
The aim of the bioengineering field is to develop systems, equipment, and devices in order to solve clinical problems – both diagnostics and therapeutics. Besides, the biomedical engineering also plays a big role towards alleviating, rehabilitation and compensating for disabilities and/or injuries.
This is a very hard-core technical field. So, the biomedical engineering graduates need to possess an in-depth understanding of the human biology (living systems) and engineering, along with strong technical and analytical skills.
What does a Biomedical Engineer do?
Some of the examples of applications of biomedical engineering are:
- Prosthetics (e.g. Dentures, artificial limb replacements)
- Surgical devices and systems (e.g. Laser surgery, robotics)
- Monitoring systems (checking devices for blood glucose, heart rate etc.)
- Therapeutic devices (insulin pumps, kidney dialysis, electrical nerve stimulation, sophisticated inhalers)
- Artificial organs – valves, pacemakers
- Imaging methods – ultrasound, X-ray, particle beams, MRI
- Diagnostic systems like lab-on-a-chip
- Physical therapy devices like exercise equipment and wearable tech gears.
- Healthcare apps (for smartphones) for personalized medicine
Top 10 Specializations of Biomedical Engineering
Bioinstrumentation involves the application of electronics and instrumentation techniques to develop devices for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases.
Biomechanics It includes the study of motion, material deformation, fluid flow within the human body (and in devices), and transport of chemical constituents across biological systems.
Systems Physiology is the field of biomedical engineering in which engineering strategies, techniques, and tools are used to gain a comprehensive and integrated understanding of the function of living organisms ranging from bacteria to humans. Later, modeling comes into play for the analysis of experimental data and in formulating mathematical descriptions of physiological events.
Clinical Engineering is the application of technology for health care in hospitals. The clinical engineer is a member of the health care team along with physicians, nurses and other hospital staff. Clinical engineers are responsible for developing and maintaining the computer database of medical instrumentation, equipment records, for the purchase, and use of supplicated medical instruments.
Rehabilitation Engineering is a new and growing specialty area of biomedical engineering. Rehabilitation engineers expand capabilities and improve the quality of life for individuals with physical impairments.
Medical Imaging basically involves taking pictures inside the human body to diagnose diseases.
Neural Engineering focuses on the interaction between the nervous system of the body and any artificial medical device. It is one of the coolest and most exciting stuff within the field of biomedical engineering.
Computational Modelling deals with simulations and investigating (including visualization) of what’s going on in our cells and organs. This is another rocking field of biomedical engineering.
Biomaterials describe both living tissue and materials used for implantation. Understanding the properties of the living material is vital in the design of implant materials. The biomaterials are designed to integrate with the biological systems (organs, tissues, and blood).
Tissue Engineering revolves around creating tissues and tissue materials to replace failing and compromised bodily functions. Now, we will look into the field of tissue engineering in details.
What is Tissue Engineering?
Tissue Engineering is one of many sub-domains that fall within the broader field of Biomedical Engineering. The Tissue Engineering field is an interdisciplinary discipline, which aims to create functional three-dimensional (3D) tissues combining scaffolds, cells and/or bioactive molecules.
Tissue Engineering is the application of science to improve, restore and maintain the damaged tissues or the whole organ. It makes tissues functional by combining scaffolds, cells and biologically active molecules. Although it was considered to be a subfield of biomaterials, it has emerged widely on its own.
The field of tissue engineering is continuously evolving assimilating inputs from adjacent scientific areas and their technological advances, including nanotechnology developments. The objective of tissue engineering is to assemble functional constructs that restore, maintain, or improve damaged tissues or whole organs. Below is a short video on what is tissue engineering:
Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine
Regenerative Medicines repair damaged tissues and organs. They stimulate the body’s own repair mechanisms to heal previously irreparable tissues or organs. If the body cannot heal itself, the tissues or organs can be grown in the laboratory and then implanted. Regenerative Medicine also involves the use of stem cells or progenitor cells obtained through directed differentiation.
The process begins with the creation of scaffolds and introducing cells into it. A tissue develops once it gets the right environment. In some cases, self-assembly occurs which involves the mixing of all the cells, scaffolds, and growth factors together.
Another approach can be by stripping the cells of a donor organ and using the remaining collagen scaffold to grow new tissue. This approach has been a promising one to bioengineer heart, liver, lung, and kidney tissue.
How does Tissue Engineering help in Regeneration of Damaged Tissues?
The applications of Tissue Engineering have been helpful in overcoming problems of any damaged tissues.
Bone Tissue Engineering- Bones are composed of collagen and have the property to regenerate, repair in response to an injury. The requirement of bone graft takes place during large bone defects occurring after trauma, infection, tumor resection or skeletal abnormalities.
Producing the features of bones in-vitro is very challenging. So to obtain an ideal scaffold for bone tissue regeneration is also difficult. Scientists have been able to develop 3D porous scaffolds with similar composition to the bone and, for better compatibility, Bioceramic scaffolds are used. The osteo-inducive scaffolds make use of biomolecular signaling and progenitor cells for new bone formation. In the bone defect models, the nanoparticles designed for the release of osteogenic factors showed increased in-vitro and in-vivo osteogenic differentiation.
Cartilage tissue engineering- Cartilage is a connective tissue found in elbows, knees, and ankles. Like bone tissue engineering, challenges also lies with cartilage tissue engineering. Several scaffolds have been used for cartilage repair but, the most relevant are the synthetic scaffolds like polyurethane, Poly (Ethylene Glycol) (PEG), elastin-based polymers. Cartilage is composed of chondrocytes so, an ideal donor cell type for cartilage repair is autologous chondrocytes.
However, they are difficult to obtain and require invasive techniques. Therefore, Mesenchymal Precursor Cells (MSCs) collected from different sources, such as adipose tissue or bone marrow have been used as an alternative source. They can be easily cultured in-vitro and have the ability to proliferate and differentiate towards osteogenic, adipogenic, chondrogenic and myogenic lineages.
Apart from bone and cartilage tissue engineering, certain other TE like cardiac tissue engineering, pancreas tissue engineering, vascular tissue engineering has also been done.
Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials
Biomaterials form an integral component in Tissue Engineering. Many of the materials have been found to be of use in tissue engineering. Biomaterials are either used for therapeutic or diagnostic purposes. Biomaterials and biological materials are two different concepts. A biomaterial is said to be an ideal one which fulfills the following requirements:
- synthetic manufacture
- nano-scale fibers
- low concentration
- resorption rates
Key Components of Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials
- Scaffolds– Scaffolds are materials engineered for the formation of new functional tissues and used for medical purposes. Scaffolds recreate the in-vivo environment that is provided by the extracellular matrix. Depending on its origin, Scaffolds are classified into two types. Natural scaffolds take part in the process of morphogenesis and function acquisition of different cell types in the in-vivo environment. The composition of these scaffolds depends on animal origin, isolation and purification procedures, and assays. Synthetic scaffolds are made to mimic specific ECM(Extra Cellular Matrix) properties under controlled conditions.
Uses of scaffolds include-
- cell attachment and migration
- retention of cells and biochemical factors
- allowance for the diffusion of vital cell products and expressed products
- modification of the behavior of cell phase by exerting biological and mechanical influences.
Scaffolds need to fulfill specific requirements for tissue engineering. They are:
- An adequate pore size with high porosity for facilitating cell seeding and diffusion into the whole structure.
- Biodegradability is one of the factors. The scaffold should provide structural integrity while cells are fabricating their natural matrix structure around themselves. It should break down as soon as the new tissue forms. The degradation has to coincide with the rate of tissue formation.
The three types of biomaterials that are used for fabrication of scaffolds are:
Ceramics– They have excellent biocompatibility because of their chemical and structural similarity. They constitute high mechanical stiffness and very low elasticity. Examples include- hydroxyapatite (HA) and tri-calcium phosphate (TCP), for bone regeneration applications.
Synthetic polymers– They exhibit controlled degradation characteristics and are easy to be fabricated with a tailored architecture. Examples include- polystyrene, poly-l-lactic acid (PLLA), polyglycolic acid (PGA) and poly-dl-lactic-co-glycolic acid (PLGA).
Natural polymers– They are biologically active and allow host cells to produce their own extracellular matrix and replace the degraded scaffold.
- Cells– Cell source selection is important for tissue engineering. But, a difficulty is encountered which lies in growing specific types of cell in large quantities. Therefore, stem cells ( Embryonic or Adult Stem Cells) have emerged as promising alternative cell sources. ESC’s are pluripotent cells whereas ASC’s are multipotent cells. ASC’s are more appropriate for Tissue Engineering as they have a more limited capacity to differentiate than ESCs.
- Biomolecules– Signalling molecules are much as important as the scaffolds and cell source. These signals are unique to each organ and are tightly controlled. The presence of factors such as growth factors, chemokines, and cytokines play an important role in biological phenomena. The use of the signaling molecules can be in two ways that are- addition to the culture media in-vitro or attachment to the scaffold by covalent and non-covalent interactions.
The Necessity and Demand of Biomedical and Tissue Engineering
Sometimes vital body organs like the heart, liver, lungs, kidney may fail due to some disease. A transplant is always not possible due to various reasons. So if a ready-made vital organ(any from stated above) can be made by reproducing the cells or tissues of the recipient patient in the lab then it can be the best option rather than transplantation from any donor since it has a greater chance of rejection.
Repairing the body parts or organs can also be made through tissue engineering. Building hip or knee joints and putting it in the knee or hip by replacing the knee or hip is an example of Biomedical Engineering. For these reasons nowadays Biomedical and Tissue Engineering is extremely important.
Tissue Engineering Market
The global tissue engineering market size was valued at around USD 5 billion in 2016 and is expected to expected to reach USD 11.5 billion by 2022, according to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc. Growing potential of tissue engineering procedures in the treatment of tissue damages is supporting the market growth. Tissue engineering can provide solutions that can replace the currently used tissue repair solutions including transplants, surgical reconstruction, and mechanical devices.
The most key application segments of tissue engineering are Cancer, cord blood & cell banking, GI & gynecology, skin or integumentary, dental, urology, musculoskeletal, orthopedics, spine, cardiology & vascular and neurology.
Biomedical and Tissue Engineering Career Path
Required Educational Background
To work efficiently & effectively in the field of Tissue Engineering one must have a complete knowledge of the following science subjects viz, Medicine, Chemistry, Biology, Mechanical Engineering & Material Engineering. In the field of Tissue Engineering, several innovations & discoveries happened from time to time. The concerned Tissue Engineer should remain aware of these innovations & discoveries to update their knowledge.
So, ideally, you need to have Math, Biology, Physics, and Chemistry at the 10+2 level. At the undergraduate level, you should ideally pursue Biomedical Engineering, Biomolecular Engineering, or Biotechnology.
Required Skills and Knowledge
Tissue engineering professionals need to perform the analysis of different scientific papers. They also need to design and handle complex equipment and software. So analytical skill is required for these professionals.
A biomedical and tissue engineering professional needs to communicate effectively with the biomedical scientists, doctors, and other healthcare professionals. So strong communication skill is mandatory.
In designing electrical circuits, a biomedical and tissue engineer needs to handle complicated software for controlling medical equipment and artificial body parts like knee and the hip joints when a complex problem arises. So problem-solving ability and is needed for the Tissue Engineering professionals.
Lastly, cross-disciplinary knowledge and skills are very critical. The brain or heart of human beings transmits signals. To understand the mechanism of these complicated signals the Tissue Engineers build models based on math & statistics. Hence, a sound knowledge of math & statistics will be beneficial. Needless to say that the Tissue Engineering professionals must also keep a solid knowledge in Chemistry & Biology. This knowledge will be used to develop new drug therapies.
The Bachelor degree holders generally take courses in computer science, electronics, human physiology, biomechanics and tissue engineering technologies. Along with this knowledge about mechanical components, structure & function of biological materials is also imparted. Besides this, the students and professionals also need to learn the designing methodology of artificial tissues & organs and the challenges & obstacles in the field of Biomedical and Tissue Engineering.
Importance of Internships in the Field of Biomedical and Tissue Engineering
Internships are important in any field. Within the biomedical and biotechnology field, internships are very critical. Various universities announce internships from time to time. The biomedical undergraduate candidates can undergo an internship to enhance their knowledge and get a practical hand in Tissue Engineering methods. During these internships, students have the opportunity to meet & coordinate with each other and share their knowledge & experience.
Although Tissue Engineering belongs to the Biomedical Engineering field; they also contribute to the broader engineering community by building different medical equipment. When a Biomedical and Tissue Engineer become successful in their field of work, the research findings also benefit the other domains if biomedical engineering and sciences.
Top Universities for Masters in Biomedical and Tissue Engineering
Usually, universities offer Masters in Biomedical Engineering with a few electives around tissue engineering or biomaterials. The hardcore studies and research happens at the Doctoral (Ph.D.) level. However, here is a list of top universities that either offer Masters in Biomedical and Tissue Engineering or Masters in Biomedical Engineering with specialization option in Tissue Engineering (along with Biomaterials and/or Regenerative Medicine).
North America (USA &Canada)
Biomedical and Tissue Engineering Jobs
The Biomedical Engineers can get a job in a company which manufacture & supplies medical equipment. The hospitals & the health care centers can also be the location for Biomedical Engineers. In the hospitals or health centers, the Biomedical Engineers design and analyze the devices for the patients having the disability to walk. Companies manufacturing electromedical equipment also hire Biomedical Engineers in large proportions for designing their types of equipment.
In the academia, the Tissue Engineering professionals work in a lab as a research scholar or as an assistant to a scientist and accumulate experience in the subsequent years. Throughout the years Biomedical Engineering has gained enough importance as a subject. As a result of which many government & private Universities, colleges, schools have included this subject in their curricula. So the Biomedical and Tissue Engineering professionals can take up a teaching job and pursue a bright career.
Tissue Engineering is a specific subject in Biomedical Engineering. For biomedical engineers with a specialization in tissue engineering, the salary is pretty good. According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, a Tissue Engineer can earn an average salary of USD $91,230 per year. In the case of the Doctor’s Offices, the tissue engineer can make USD $101,190 per annum, which is in accordance with BLS.
Acknowledgment: This article has been co-authored by Sujoy Sengupta and Ankit Murmu.
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