Classified? Not really. Top Secret? No longer. Converging technologies--they're what bioengineering is all about today. From microprocessor-based medical devices and rehabilitative engineering to implantable devices and biomaterials, bioengineering is that branch of applied science that integrates physical, chemical, and mathematical sciences and engineering principles in the study of biology, medicine, behavior, and health. Not surprisingly, given the richness of its intellectual gene pool, the field is constantly evolving.
Since Next Wave brought you our first, U.S.-focused feature on biomedical engineering, the field has made significant advances. For example, nanotechnology has evolved from the realm of science fiction to having sophisticated real-world potential in medicine and disease diagnosis. People are talking about (and developing!) microscopic robots that can repair tissues from the inside; devices that can control where, when, and how much of a drug is delivered; and diagnostic tools that essentially reduce the function of an entire diagnostic laboratory to the size of a microchip. And more recent advances in the biomaterials industry involve using stem cells as a construction medium for the controlled differentiation of tissue for industrial or therapeutic use. Biomaterials are also being used to develop artificial bones, hearts, and other organs. For example, in July 2001 a 59-year-old man became the world's first recipient of a self-contained artificial heart.
"We can rebuild him. We have the technology ... Better than he was before. Better . . . stronger . . . faster."
Science has yet to advance to the level fantasized about in The Six Million Dollar Man, and we still don't have the capability to build a bionic human. Nevertheless, bioengineers--actually biologists, physical chemists, medical physicists, electrical, mechanical and materials engineers, and computer scientists--are, and will continue to be, at the forefront of technological progress in medical research.
In this feature on Careers in Bioengineering, the Next Wave team has gathered articles from just a few of these individuals to give you a picture of some of the exciting topics on the international bioengineering scene today.