Applications of Mechanical Engineering in Biomedical Engineering

Have you heard of complex brain surgeries performed by robots in 20 minutes which once demanded 2 hours of dedicated efforts by surgeons? Today mechanical engineering has made inroads to the surgical beds.

Are you surprised when I say that mechanical engineers are fighting cancers?

Biomedical Engineering is an interdisciplinary field of study. Mechanical Engineering principles like the forward dynamics, inverse kinematics, fluid mechanics, material characterization tests, thermodynamics, and different failure methods like fracture mechanics frequently find use in biomedical device development.

Let’s look at the various sub-branches of biomedical engineering and how Mechanical Engineering principles are used in these areas.

1. Biomechanics

Orthotics & Prosthetics Technology - Iffie Okoronkwo, M.D.
Prosthetics and other implant design is an important area of study in Biomechanics.

Biomechanics is the application of solid mechanics and engineering mechanics principles to develop therapeutic devices like exoskeletons and prosthetics. These prosthetics and orthotics aid in the mobility of patients who are paraplegic and hemiplegic. That’s why some universities offering specialization in biomechanics also call it as ‘rehabilitation engineering‘.

Material Model to study the crack propagation in femur of human body

An interesting area of research in biomechanics has been to find the fracture toughness of human bones accurately. This would help the surgeons to come up with novel strategies for bone fracture fixation.

Are you aware of the various fracture toughness test models like:

  • Linear-elastic fracture mechanics (LEFM) fracture toughness (Kc )
  • Nonlinear-elastic fracture mechanics fracture toughness (Jc )
  • Crack-resistance curves (R-curves)
  • Nonlinear methods involving cohesive-zone models

All these techniques can be implemented in the material characterization of dental implants and bone substitutes.

Biomechanics research can be a more specialized area of research like:

  • Injury biomechanics: Centre for Blast Injury in Imperial College London addresses the cognitive impairment due to brain injury and develops mechanobiological algorithms for faster nerve regeneration of amputees.
  • Sports biomechanics: Sports biomechanics is all about understanding the athletic movement to prevent musculoskeletal injuries. If you are a beginner trying to understand how biomechanics can be applied to sports, think about Ishant Sharma needing help from a coach to maintain his balance after a fast bowl delivery. A small correction in batting posture can help a batsman get rid of his weakness, say short deliveries.

2. Organ-On-A-Chip

Mechanobiology deals with cell mechanics and biological processes at the microscopic level. The application of microfluidics for effective drug delivery is a part of mechanobiology research. Mechanobiology is all about understanding the cellular response to mechanical forces.

3. Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine

A mouse in the laboratory

Time and again PETA protests against scientific animal testing. Further, the testing of animals is not an effective way to study the effect of drugs on human beings.

A better approach can be using human tissue to test a drug in-vitro (in the lab). That’s where ’tissue engineering’ creeps in. Tissue Engineering aims at developing viable tissues like liver or neuronal cells in-vitro.

I will cite a simple example to elaborate on how Mechanical Engineering principles are used in tissue engineering.

Hydrogels for 3D cell culture experiments
Hydrogels for 3D cell culture experiments (Source: BiogelX)

To mimic the activity of neurons in the human brain in the laboratory, we need to replicate the same environment in our body as closely possible. Hydrogels made from collagen and agarose proteins can be used to mimic the environment of the human body in the lab. So, we grow the nerve cells in these hydrogels and observe the growth, proliferation, etc.

However, before using these hydrogels, one needs to know their material properties like the viscosity, the elastic modulus, the gelation temperature etc. That’s where the concepts of rheology taught in fluid mechanics course comes handy.

3D Bioprinting by Biobots

Regenerative medicine and ’tissue engineering’ are often used alternatively. Stem cell research and 3D Bioprinting research are being carried out in almost all major universities of the world. 

SurajPanigrahi

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