Medical science has existed in one form or another since the dawn of recorded history. However, the advent of the industrial revolution and the subsequent advances in medical technology in the 20th century have served to redefine the way in which we diagnose, treat and prevent many illnesses that at one time would have been considered fatal. One of the most recent trends in medicine has been the introduction of what is now known as medical engineering into the spectrum of options available. So, it proves wise to have a brief look at some of the changes that brought about this technology and then to take examine the potential future for such an innovative field.
A Brief History of Medical Engineering
Biomedical engineering and can trace its earliest roots to instances where a marriage of technology and medicine would occur. Many scholars believe the first viable example can be seen in 1848 when Hermann von Hemholtz applied engineering principles and was able to witness the electrical resistance in human tissues when a direct current was applied. Another notable example took place when Dr. William Roentgen accidentally discovered that x-rays could be employed to see inside of the human body. In turn, this discovery resulted in a vast deal of research being undertaken that began to examine various other mechanisms to help fuse technology with medicine. The number of medical engineering jobs began to mushroom as a result.
The inter-war period saw further advances such as those that were accomplished at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. Ironically enough, the devastating effects of the atomic bombs led to an increased interest in cancer therapy while some of the studies carried out in German concentration camps helped scientists understand more about human anatomy and treatment options. After the Second World War, attention turned from the ionizing effects of radiation to the introduction of computer technology into the medical field. Many different organisations such as the National Institute of Health in the United States and the NHS in the United Kingdom provided monetary support for biomedical programs to continually advance. With the further aid of governmental agencies and private philanthropists, medical engineering has been able to enjoy the many benefits of increased technology over the years, and these windfalls have carried through into the present day.
The Adoption of Engineering Discoveries into the Medical Industry
It must be understood that many of the advances in biomedical research have arisen as a result of the collaboration between engineering professionals an medical technicians. This has caused an emergence of numerous professional societies that are specialised within their discreet fields. For example, genetic engineering studies that have been performed on plants and livestock provide a great deal of information on the inner workings of human cells and replication techniques. Modern computing technologies have now given rise to the field of neural engineering; computer programs can be utilised to mimic complicated neural pathways. The advancement of the pharmacological industry has also been applied to great effect by directly utilising biological agents or even nano-technological devices to treat illnesses. Finally, modern medical engineering employs a number of different medical devices such as prosthetic limbs, implants, engineered organs, pacemakers and ocular prosthetics. These devices are all a result of the engineering field developing a broader understanding of body mechanics and physiology. If we consider these previous advances as any indicator, the future holds even more promising benefits.
The Future of Medical Engineering
It should come as no great surprise that as computing power increases, so does the capacity for biomedical procedures to be applied for a wide variety of functions. Recent trends point to a number of perceived technologies that are expected to take shape during the next decade.
One of the greatest leaps forward in the medical community is in the field of point-of-care technologies. The dawn of high-speed internet access and global communications have now given rise to virtual treatments. Patients will be able to connect with health care professionals via computers. The result can be an English surgeon undertaking a delicate tumour operation on a patient in Africa with the help of robotics and increased computing capacity. General health care monitoring and disaster relief will also be profoundly affected.
Additionally, many jobs in engineering will centre around the emerging sector of nanotechnology. Miniscule devices, some no larger than a string of molecules, will be inserted into a patient and can be used for a number of different purposes. For example, a malignant growth can be targeted and destroyed without the use of chemotherapeutic techniques. The framework of organs can be rebuilt. Blood-borne pathogens can be directly targeted and eliminated without causing collateral damage to existing, healthy cells.
A continuing advancement in optical imaging technologies will allow for earlier detection of cancers and cardiovascular disease. This will provide doctors with more time to treat these illnesses and will dramatically increase life expectancies for patients meaning there will always be a need for electronics engineer jobs.
Another seemingly science fiction adaptation that has already showed revolutionary results are medical engineering jobs that revolve around tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. This is of untold value to those that may suffer from degenerative illnesses such as arthritis or fibromyalgia as well as amputees or burn victims. There are even those who expect that ocular transplants and engineered retinas may help prevent and even cure blindness in certain cases.
Finally, gene therapy will aid not only in the early detection of certain inherited diseases, but will also help scientists and doctors develop a better understanding of the genetic predisposition of certain individuals for illnesses in general. Thus, genetic modification may reduce incidences of cancer and other previously untreatable conditions.
So, it is easy to appreciate the continuing importance of medical engineering in today's society. Perhaps the most interesting observation is that most industry leaders believe that we have only begun to scratch the surface of what this unique technology is capable of accomplishing. Therefore, we can expect even greater and more monumental achievements within this growing field in the years to come.
The Medical Engineering Revolution in the 21st Century and B