The human body represents a highly variable and intricate biological system which provides a seemingly unending source of challenges and problems in terms of maintaining its proper operation and possibly improving it. It is a self-regulating system that has evolved to accommodate a wide set of circumstances and variability of intrinsic features and capabilities.
According to the U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, in Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition,
“Biomedical engineers develop devices and procedures that solve medical and health-related problems by combining their knowledge of biology and medicine with engineering principles and practices. Many do research, along with life scientists, chemists, and medical scientists, to develop and evaluate systems and products such as artificial organs, prostheses (artificial devices that replace missing body parts), instrumentation, medical information systems, and health management and care delivery systems. Biomedical engineers may also design devices used in various medical procedures, imaging systems such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and devices for automating insulin injections or controlling body functions.”
To achieve this goal, it is essential that biomedical engineers develop an intimate and precise understanding of the living system for which they are developing these devices and procedures. Additionally, biomedical engineers must develop the ability to precisely formulate relevant physiologically-based problems together with logical, effective solutions to those problems, given the intricate set of constraints that the living system presents for its continued proper operation.
While biomedical engineers are intimately involved in the development of devices and techniques to address health-state issues, such development is inherently a multidisciplinary endeavor requiring expertise from a wide range of professionals, and in particular engineers from the classical disciplines such as chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering. This is true whether in an industrial, research or clinical setting. To be fully successful, the multidisciplinary team must have at least one member who possesses a comprehensive understanding of the highly variable and intricate nature of the biomedical system along with the quantitative and analytical engineering skills needed to precisely define the challenge that is being addressed and assess the relative effectiveness of plausible solution strategies. This crucial role can be effectively performed by a biomedical engineer expressly educated to meet those requirements and qualifications.
The purpose of the BS degree program in Biomedical Engineering (BME) is to deliver a focused undergraduate engineering curriculum that targets the biomedical enterprise from a highly quantitative and analytically rigorous perspective and to enable its participants to compete successfully for engineering-related positions immediately upon graduation as well as pursue post-graduate education in engineering, science or medicine. The graduates will have the ability to contribute significantly to the development of new knowledge, understanding and innovative solutions in the health care industry and across a wide variety of health-care related research applications.
There are more than 89 universities in the U.S. currently offer bachelor degrees in biomedical engineering. Many of these programs have evolved from the significant biomedical-related research activities of the faculty in classical engineering disciplines such as chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering. As a consequence, curricula at the bachelor’s level often include basic courses in each of these disciplines to provide the engineering foundation for the student’s biomedical engineering education. This curricular approach produces a graduate who has considerable breadth of understanding of how all of the classical disciplines can contribute to the solution of biomedical problems. A typical scenario in such programs is to have the student develop a concentration area in one of the traditional disciplines to complement the student’s broad understanding of the biomedical field. As such, these programs provide a useful starting point for post-graduate work in engineering, science and medicine, but they are not uniformly successful in preparing students for entering the workforce as engineers immediately upon graduation with their B.S. degree.
By contrast, the proposed program at RIT strives to define biomedical engineering as a discipline distinctly different from the existing set of traditional engineering disciplines. First and foremost, engineering graduates regardless of their discipline have a well developed ability to apply analytical methods in logical, disciplined and innovative ways to solve complex problems in their field of specialization. Consequently, curricular content that focuses on the development of this set of capabilities is absolutely essential. In addition, the curriculum must contain knowledge of the application domain and the fundamental concepts needed to solve problems in the application domain. However, in order to develop a biomedical engineering curriculum that is distinct from that of other engineering disciplines, great care has been taken to identify those fundamental concepts that are at the heart of biomedical engineering and not core competencies of the traditional engineering disciplines. In this regard, a key objective of the biomedical engineering curriculum is to develop in students a comprehensive understanding of the complexity and highly integrated, interdependent nature of the elements that collectively determine the functionality and well-being of living things. Additionally, the curriculum places significant emphasis on applied statistics, which respects the inherent variability that exists within and among biological species as well as the stochastic nature of most biological responses to interventions.
As stated above, an important aspect of the proposed program is based on the need to consider the operation of the human body on multiple scales and as a complex, integrated system in which a function at any given level is simultaneously affected by and acting to affect behaviors at other scales. To quote Finkelstein et. al., "The complete cascade of complex human systems – from genome, proteome, metabolome, and physiome to health – forms multi-scale, multi-science systems and crosses many order of magnitude in temporal and spatial scales." [AF04] In developing new therapies, treatments, prostheses and replacement organs and tissues, it is essential to be able to estimate and predict the impact of those changes and interventions on the overall system in the most precise, analytical and quantitative fashion possible. Education in the type of analysis and modeling necessary to accomplish this goal represents one of the core components of the proposed curriculum.
In short, the goal of this program is to provide the participants with a solid set of quantitative, analytical and design skills that are specifically targeted towards biomedical endeavors. The curriculum is designed to insure that the fundamental skills and methods are constantly correlated with their use and applicability relative to human physiology by representing the body as a complex and highly variable system. This focus on an in-depth understanding of fundamental bodily processes and system coupled with rigorous engineering analysis and problem solving methodologies will enable the graduate of this program to successfully apply this core set of skills across a wide variety and continually changing range of biomedical applications and environments.
The recognition of this constantly changing and inherently multidisciplinary area of work, coupled with course work that spans multiple areas of science, mathematics, engineering and technology that deliberately incorporates open-ended questions and problem solving will foster the motivation and provide the set of tools necessary to effectively enable a process of life-long and self-directed learning.
As a result, we believe that this program of study will produce a select and highly valued group of engineering professionals who are capable of addressing a wide variety of biomedical problems and design challenges in a rigorous fashion and in a variety of engineering environments.
[AF04] Cited in Sloot et. al., "From Molecule to Man: Decision Support in Individualized E-Health, Computer, November 2006, pp 40-46