Bioengineering / Biomedical engineering
- the application of engineering principles and techniques to problems in medicine and biology
What exactly is that?
It's not a new subject. In fact one of the first examples of bioengineering dates back to the ancient Egyptians. A mummy was found with a carved wooden prosthesis, complete with toenail. The wooden prosthesis (an artificial device used to replace a body part) replaced the big toe, which carries a lot of weight when walking and provides stability. You could say that bioengineering has been around for over 3000 years!
Have you not heard the one about the pirate with a wooden leg, a hook instead of a hand and a patch over his right eye? When asked how it happened the pirate replies, "a shark bit me leg off, lost me hand in battle and salt water got in me eye." Confused his mate says, "You lost your eye when salt water got in it?" The pirate responds, "Well it was me first day with the hook." Thanks to bioengineers the pirate had artificial devices (prostheses) to replace some of the functions of his leg and hand. These days artificial limbs are more elaborate designed for function and look.
What about the eye the pirate lost? Right, aye. That's a bit more complicated. To restore sight bioengineers are working on artificial eyes that use computer chips to link the device to your brain. It's no longer science fiction. Bionic arms controlled by the brain already exist. Another possibility is tissue engineering. Tissue engineering uses living cells and temporary structures (scaffolds) to grow new tissue and eventually organs in the lab.
These a are a few of some Bioengineers favourite things. No whiskers on kittens or warm woollen mittens but first on the list is.......
Knitted Artificial Blood Vessels
Sadly the image of little old ladies sitting knitting new arteries is not reality. When dropping a stitch can mean life or death, artificial blood vessels are knitted or woven on large custom designed machines. Here comes the really clever part. The machines not only knit or weave tubes that hold blood they can then even split the tube into branches! Can you keep up with technology? Try knitting a tube at home then splitting it into two without sewing any parts together. If you master that why not try an aortic arch.......
Can you tell which branched artery is knitted and which is woven?
(You'll find the answer on the Your Questions page - select Answers to Website Questions)
Image A Image B
You never know what you can make at home. One of the first artificial lungs was developed from two vacumn cleaners, an electric motor, a large rectangular iron box and some ingenuity. It was nicknamed the 'iron lung' and many children with a disease called polio were kept alive inside one in the mid 1900's. Now artificial lungs have been developed that are small enough to fit inside you. The heart pumps blood past hollow fibres that have tiny micropores (a bit like a straw with lots of tiny holes in it) which allow oxygen from the air to be exchanged with carbon dioxide from the blood. Any potential artificial organs lurking in your cupboard?
Scientists and engineers often find 'bio-inspiration' from the natural world around them.
Dolphins do it, bats do it and now even bioengineers are doing it. What is it? Using sound to view objects – otherwise known as echolocation or ultrasound imaging. Even if you've never heard of it your first photograph was probably taken with this technique. Using ultrasound imaging we can 'look' inside bodies and other objects without cutting them open. Images are produced by measuring the time it takes for the sound to 'bounce back' of different objects, e.g. skin and bone, and how much sound is returned. It can be used to view moving objects, such as the heart beating, and produce 3-D images. What would you 'look inside'?