Three Emerging Biomedical Engineering Trends

Find out what fields are revolutionizing health care

5 March 2018

Biomedical engineers build and design artificial limbs and internal organs as well as machines for diagnosing medical problems. People are living longer and fuller lives; therefore, the demand for cutting-edge medical equipment and devices is growing. As such, bioengineers can enhance the quality of health care. The following three technologies are becoming increasingly important to the biomedical field and will play a huge role in enhancing health care in the future.

  • #1 Artificial Intelligence

    Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming a bigger part of health care. Chatbots, for example, can help improve quality of care for patients living in remote areas with limited access to health care facilities. Combined with diagnostic capability, chatbots can provide immediate assistance to patients from their own homes.

    Related: AI Can Save Lives by Taking Over These Important Tasks

    For example, the app Your.MD  functions as a general practitioner's assistant, asking about symptoms and putting the answers together with questions formulated by health care professionals to identify a probable condition. It then refers the patient to a physician and sets up appointments.

    Another example of AI is the IBM Watson Platform for Health. Watson can read and understand unstructured data, which is a critical attribute because 80 percent of health care data is unstructured. Watson's natural language processing reads clinical text from any source and can therefore recognize, categorize and code medical and social theories.

    Watson provides medical insights that help health care providers discover information in unstructured medical literature that can support hypotheses and help discover new insights. Furthermore, Watson can gather information far more efficiently than a human: It can read through a complete set of medical literature, such as Medline, and identify the documents that are semantically related to any combination of medical concepts for each patient case, quickly and accurately.

    Related: Three Gadgets at CES 2018 Designed to Manage Our Health

  • #2 Robotics

    Biologically-inspired robots—those created using insights gained through the study of biological mechanism—have greater mobility and flexibility than traditional ones, and often have sensory abilities. Highly advanced prosthetics use neural engineering to signal movement and biorobotics to generate it.

    Biorobotics are also being used to assist in surgeries [see photo above], which lets surgeons be more precise yet less invasive. For instance, an endoscopic robot at the tip of a probe can remove a polyp during a colonoscopy. Mechatronic tools help surgeons manipulate robots in extremely narrow spaces.

    For example, a new catheter developed by the scientists at the Tokyo Institute of Technology moves like an earthworm, according to an article in Science Daily, allowing the catheter to crawl along very confined airways. The doctor can select which airway the catheter crawls down among a choice of several branches. Still other surgical robots concentrate on touch, also referred to as haptics. Enhanced haptic perception and feedback lets surgeons virtually squeeze tissue to sense how deep to make incisions.

  • #3 Nanotechnology

    Nanoparticles are used in biomedical applications to deliver drugs or other substances to particular types of cells, like cancer cells. The nanoparticles are designed to be attracted to diseased cells, which enable the direct treatment of those cells. As a result, damage to healthy cells is reduced or eliminated.

    Selective targeting through nanotechnology is being studied by a number of researchers as a way to deliver chemotherapy to cancer cells, thus targeting the disease while not damaging healthy cells. Nanotechnology is also being studied by the University of Liverpool as a delivery mechanism for a malaria vaccine. The technology improves the delivery of an antimalarial drug using an injectable format, which can maintain blood concentration of the drug for an extended period of time following a single dose.

Content sponsored by Digi-Key Electronics.

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