‘Medicine must become a multi-disciplinary field’
It is becoming increasingly important to find good answers to all these questions as people are living longer, and there is a rising global need for new and better ways to improve the number of years lived in full health.Updated: Sep 04, 2019 08:37 IST
How can clinicians better help the body to repair itself? What materials can a surgeon implant without harming the patient and how can we improve these materials? What are challenges that must be met before we can grow replacement body parts in the laboratory? How can we tailor implants to stimulate and control the behaviour of surrounding cells once in the body? Can we also develop materials and techniques to meet the needs of patients, surgeons and healthcare systems in developing countries?
It is becoming increasingly important to find good answers to all these questions as people are living longer, and there is a rising global need for new and better ways to improve the number of years lived in full health. Although our bodies have some natural capacity to self-repair following disease or injury, there are limits to what the body can do on its own. Solutions can be found in a new and exciting area of discovery called biomaterials and regenerative medicine. This is a multidisciplinary field which employs engineering knowledge and principles to solve medical problems.
An increasing number of universities now offer undergraduate bioengineering degrees, providing a direct route into the study of biomaterials and regenerative medicine. While, for those who choose to enter the field later in their studies one year, taught MSc courses in biomaterials and regenerative medicine are available to graduates with a good first degree in an appropriate subject. The multidisciplinary nature of the subject appeals to students with strong mathematical capabilities, who also have an interest in health and biosciences. Universities require a good relevant Honours degree, and often accept first degrees in engineering, medicine, dentistry, physical or life sciences; although some do limit entry to only those from an engineering or mathematical discipline. When choosing a course students should be aware that there are several terms used to describe the field of biomaterials and regenerative medicine and ensure that they also consider bioengineering, biomedical engineering and tissue engineering courses.
These MSc courses include a taught component, providing the required scientific background on areas including the normal structure and function of the human body, how materials for clinical use are made, how the body responds to them, the biomaterials and tissue engineering strategies currently in clinical use and a review of the rules and regulations around developing a new material or medical device for clinical use. Alongside lectures, students will generally also enjoy the opportunity to develop their practical skills in areas as diverse as material characterisation, biosafety testing and bioimaging; perhaps learning new skills not covered during their undergraduate studies or enhancing their abilities in areas that are more familiar. Transferable skills are also highly important and most MSc courses teach key skills like scientific writing, critical thinking and teamwork.
A very significant element for most biomaterials and regenerative medicine focussed MSc courses is the individual research project. This research is performed under the guidance and supervision of an academic member of staff, and the field is a rich area for students to get involved in some novel and very exciting studies. The project allows the student to bring together the scientific knowledge, practical experiences and transferable skills learnt during the course into a single piece of work, which generally culminates in the production of a detailed report. Students are often provided with the opportunity to select from a list of projects or supervisors, and may be encouraged to further develop the aims of the project with support from the academic, allowing them to tailor the research to fit with their skills, interests and enthusiasms
Once the course is completed, students may go on to further study, with a broad range of PhDs at universities across the globe available to a graduate from such a multidisciplinary subject. In addition, postgraduates can pursue careers in industries as diverse as pharmaceuticals, medical
devices, clinical sciences and medicine as well as the computing and financial careers which are generally open to all those with engineering training.
The multidisciplinary field of bioengineering and biomaterials and regenerative medicine is an expanding, exciting and challenging field of study which provide the opportunity to significantly improve the quality of people’s lives across the globe.
The author is research fellow, lecturer in bioengineering, University of Sheffield, UK