What is Biomedical Engineering?
Biomedical engineering is an emerging research focus. Researchers in this theme are leveraging our proximity to Australia’s foremost biomedical sciences and clinical research precinct to pursue research and development opportunities where engineering expertise is essential to address clinically meaningful problems.
These projects are pursued via collaborations with institutions such as National ICT Australia (NICTA’s ICT for Life Sciences program), The Royal Melbourne Hospital, Royal Children’s Hospital, Bio21, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, Florey Neurosciences Institute, Bionics Institute and others.
Key programs within this research theme include:
Application of the principles of mechanics to understanding function of cell and whole organ systems in their healthy and diseased states.
Technology to monitor physiological activity such as brain activity (EEG and neuroimaging), heart rate (ECG) and muscle activity (EMG), and to stimulate activity such as bionic eye and bionic ear.
The application of computing to the use and distribution of information in health services and developments in biological sciences and precision medicine.
Development of nanotechnology, tissue engineering and functional and smart materials for biomaterial and health applications.
By fully integrating medicine, biology and engineering principles, biomedical engineering aims to provide a better understanding of the body and how to treat diseases. For example, researchers are working on a model to accurately assess knee joint stress in people with and without knee osteoarthritis. The accurate prediction of joint loads will assist in the management of disease and inform physiotherapy and surgical treatment. Other applications of this technology include evaluating the performance of total joint replacements so that biomedical engineers can improve on current implant designs.
Another project that demonstrates a truly interdisciplinary research approach focuses on the prediction of epileptic seizures. This could be used to activate an implantable device that can prevent or abort epileptic seizures or to target drug delivery to the site of the seizure. The exact cause of epileptic seizures in the brain is not well understood, and researchers in this group are trying to understand the underlying causes of epilepsy through both physiological experiments and neural modelling.
Other research interests in this theme involve areas related to biotechnology. Bones, muscles, blood vessels and skin all contain proteins. Proteins have chain molecules which assemble and fold into very particular shapes to serve their intended purpose. Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes and heart disease are all associated with abnormalities in protein behaviour, such as proteins not assembling or folding properly. Protein therapeutics is the fastest growing area in biotechnology but some apparently good treatments are rendered useless by protein misfolding. The objective of our research is to understand the key factors that cause these protein therapies to not work as expected; this is critical to the successful commercialisation of these treatments.