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It's alive! Oh, in the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God! Dr. Frankenstein shouts none too subtly to the skies in the 1931 film ' you guessed it ' Frankenstein, thus becoming one of the most iconic portrayals of what could be fiction's first modern biomedical engineer.

Okay, so today's biomedical engineers are a bit classier than Dr. Frankenstein was, but the basic idea is more or less the same: apply engineering techniques to the many fields of medicine. Only instead of dirty old used body parts dug up from Victorian graveyards, biomedical engineers are in the business of putting people back together using brand spankin' new, state of the art artificial bits and pieces. From joints and limbs to organs and tissues, what we're seeing today rivals any mad scientist of fiction as far as displaying the ambitious drive toward a future where human beings can be fixed as easy as any vehicle.

Engineering has always been about solving problems, explains Christopher Yip, associate director of graduate studies for the biomedical engineering program at the University of Toronto. In biomedical engineering, the focus is now on solving problems in the medical context. It's a discipline of medicine that has had, and will continue to have, significant impacts in the world of health care. Biomedical engineers are involved in everything from medical devices [and] imaging, to regenerative medicine. [Including] stem cell bioengineering, tissue engineering and bio-materials, to biosensors and diagnostics devices, to rehabilitation engineering and clinical care.

Yip goes on to explain the potential for rapid diagnosis of disease and facilitating treatment strategies to cure disease. He breaks down the engineering approach to help in all aspects of health care delivery: From diagnosis to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and cure.

Obviously it's a field for not only the forward thinking but the creative as well. So now you're thinking, Great! With biomedical engineering having its finger in so many delicious medical pies I'll have no problem choosing an area to specialize in!

What does it take to become a biomedical engineer?

So just what should you know before heading in to a biomedical engineering program? Well, because it's a field that touches upon many areas of medicine, Yip explains, having a solid grounding in biology, chemistry, and physiology, in addition to one's core engineering training, ' chemical/mechanical/electrical/etcetera ' is essential in order to fully understand the complexity of the biomedical problems.

The scope of work is mind-bogglingly enormous, he says, adding that that's also what makes it such an attractive field. There are opportunities for individuals with core training in all of the classic engineering fields. So while an undergraduate degree is definitely enough to enter the field, an advanced degree will prepare you for a more focused position.

Meanwhile, over at Ryerson University, Peyman Moeini is studying in his third year of biomedical engineering. Biomedical engineering [at Ryerson University] is an engineering discipline that is closely related to electrical engineering, adding that it's 60 per cent electrical, 20 per cent science and 20 per cent mechanical. Students in the field are expected to become highly specialized engineers, applying these engineering skills toward different disciplines of medicine.

[Medical] devices are rapidly becoming more complex, meaning strong knowledge in both engineering and science [are] required to design medical machines, Moeini says, stressing the importance of how the electrical and mechanical tie into the science when it comes to creating biomedical tools and equipment.

The future looks bright

Yip speaks positively of the future of biomedical engineering, describing the huge opportunities in exploiting some of the exciting new insights in stem cell biology, systems biology, regenerative medicine, nanotechnology, bio sensing... It's obvious he could go on for hours discussing the possibilities. Of course there are always the more conventional applications as well, such as medical devices and robotics. Being receptive to new advances is important, he explains, as well as being able to understand and work within them.

So perhaps the Frankenstein analogy isn't too far off. With the future potential of biomedical engineering looking vastly infinite, who's to say what incredible advances in medicine might be discovered just don't attack anyone with pitchforks.

Photo: alphaspirit/Thinkstock