Biomedical technology refers to the application of technological and engineering advances to medical science. Biomedical research has made strides in a number of fields, such as pharmaceuticals, creating biopharmaceuticals, drugs produced by using biomedical technology, that can treat a number of diseases. Genetic testing uses biotechnical methods to provide information about a person’s genetic makeup. Gene therapy, where faulty genes are replaced using biomedical technology, can help cure genetic diseases. Medical teaching and information management also utilize advances in computer science.
Biopharmaceuticals are proteins or nucleic acids produced with biomedical technology. These types of drugs have been around since 1982, when biomedical engineers created synthetic insulin. Biopharmaceuticals can treat a variety of diseases, such as anemia, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, and some types of arthritis.
Genetic testing, another application of biomedical technology, can detect genetic diseases and mutations. Newborn screening is one of the most common genetic tests. Newborn screening uses biotechnical genetic testing techniques to test newborns for inherited disorders such as phenylketonuria, a disorder that can lead to mental illness if not treated.
When a person shows signs of a genetic disorder, diagnostic testing is used to determine if the cause is genetic. People who have a family history of a genetic disorder may also receive carrier testing to show if they are carrying faulty genes that could lead to the disease occurring in their children. Prenatal testing can detect genetic abnormalities such as Down’s syndrome and inherited diseases.
Often there is no cure for genetic diseases because they are caused by mutations or problems in the genetic code. A new branch of biomedical technology called gene therapy allows doctors to actually inject a new, functional gene into a person’s cells to replace a faulty gene. Researchers have used bioengineering to modify certain types of bacteria or viruses so they can carry the replacement gene into the cells.
Biomedical informatics is another application of technology to medical problems. This branch of biomedical technology uses computer science to store and retrieve vital medical information in a virtual environment. For example, patient charts containing background and diagnostic information can be digitized, so a physician can simply pull them up on a computer for quick reference.
Biomedical technology has also been incorporated into medical teaching. Computer models are often used to demonstrate the functions of certain organs or show what the organs look like when they are diseased. Medical students can get experience working with virtual models before they treat an actual patient.