What is Biomedical Engineering?

A simple definition


Biomedical Engineering is:

  • A profession exerted in healthcare institutions: the biomedical (or clinical) engineer is responsible of applying and implementing medical technology to optimise healthcare delivery.
  • A profession exerted in the body industries, i.e. every industrial sector developing products where technologies of any kind interact with the human body: medical devices (cardiac valves, hip replacements, etc.), medical technology (Computed Tomography scanners, electrocardiograms, etc.), Sport, fitness and wellness equipments (running shoes, training machines, etc.), defence & security (body armours, security scanners, etc.), ergonomics and safety (ergonomic tools, car airbags, etc.), entertainment (motion capture for computer graphic animations and games, etc.).  In the future this might also include applications that are currently at the research stage, such as brain-computer interfaces, wearable or implanted technologies (i.e. implanted tags in prison inmates), etc.
  • A domain of research, where physical and engineering methods are used to investigate life in general, and human health in particular. 

 

A more rigorous definition


 Providing a rigorous definition of biomedical engineering is quite difficult.  The most common definition is: "Biomedical engineering is the application of engineering principles and techniques to the medical field".  But this, as we shall see, is somehow reductive.

Engineering is defined as “the discipline, art and profession of acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social, and practical knowledge to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes that safely realize solutions to the needs of society”.  Traditionally, engineering is seen to relate to physics the same way medicine relates to biology: so as engineering can be seen as the application of the knowledge generated by physics to the solution of problems relevant to the human kind, we can see medicine as the application of the principles of biology to the improvement and maintenance of human health.  In reality both engineering and medicine have developed over the years from a professional practice into an autonomous branch of science: this is why today we refer to the engineering research and development with the term engineering science, to distinguish it from the professional activity of the engineer.

This cultural autonomy is particularly pronounced when we focus on biomedical engineering sciences.  This because the processes used in biology and medicine to form and confirm knowledge are quite different from those used in physics and engineering.  Thus, the development of biomedical engineering sciences, similarly to the development of biophysical sciences, involves the generation of new knowledge on biological systems using the methods and the approaches that are proper of physical and engineering sciences.

On the basis of the considerations we can provide the following definitions approved by the General Assembly of the European Alliance of Medical and Biological Engineering & Science:

  • Biomedical Engineering is a synonymous of Medical and Biological Engineering (MBE).  The latter is more accurate, and should be preferred in formal contexts.  Other terms such as bioengineering, biological engineering, medical engineering, etc. are used in a non-univocal way to indicate partitions of medical and biological engineering.
  • Medical and Biological Engineering is the application of engineering principles and techniques to produce new knowledge upon and to solve problems relevant to living systems.
  • Medical and Biological Engineering Sciences is an autonomous scientific research discipline, which generate new knowledge on biological systems using the methods and the approaches that are proper of physical and engineering sciences.