The loss of a body part is among the most traumatic injuries—both physically and psychologically. Amputees face a lifetime of hardship, even with a prosthetic. Prosthetic limbs are not intended to last a lifetime. They can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and may only last a handful of years. This means some patients simply have to go without. As a biomedical engineer, you could help develop new, less expensive ways of producing prosthetics.
Some biomedical engineering students in Ohio have been working on connecting children with missing hands to temporary prosthetics. Using 3D printers, the students create prosthetic hands for less than $20 each. These lack robotics and electrical sensors, but they provide an effective, temporary solution while the kids are awaiting a more permanent prosthesis.
Donor organs save lives, but they have some major disadvantages. There is only a short window of time in which to do the transplant, which means that someone awaiting a new organ might miss the opportunity. Biomedical engineers have been working on a solution for this. It is now possible to keep a donor lung fully functional for 36 to 56 hours. This is a major advancement, considering that donor lungs have a high rate of suffering damage before transplant, and the majority of all donor lungs are unable to be used. This is just one way that biomedical engineers are working on new ways to help save lives.
Biomedical engineering is a field traditionally associated with high-tech gadgetry and bulky, expensive equipment; but what about emerging nations, which often lack widespread, reliable access to electricity to power those machines? A biomedical engineer from California has developed an ingenious way to build a centrifuge that operates with manpower—literally. A trip to Uganda, where he saw an expensive centrifuge being used as a doorstop, inspired this researcher to modify the whirligig toy. The whirligig is a simple, non-electrical toy that features a disk with holes. Two handles are attached to loops of string that extend through the holes. The twisted string stores energy, and when the handles are pulled, the energy is released. The researcher and his team used this concept to create the paperfuge—a device made out of paper that costs less than 20 cents to make, yet works as well as a pricey centrifuge. One of its many uses is diagnosing malaria—a disease that infects millions annually.