Engineering innovative solutions for 21st century medicine

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Engineers have been at the forefront of medical innovation throughout the history of medicine, benefiting millions of people with tools such as implants and prosthetic limbs, devices to monitor the physiological state of patients, and instruments to maintain bodily functions, such as the implantable pacemaker. As both medicine and engineering continue to advance at great pace, it is crucial that the links between these disciplines are maintained, especially with the potential for groundbreaking advances in fields such as imaging and genetics.

In the UK, the population is ageing – people are living longer thanks to modern medicine. But as we get older, our bodies need more help to support us. Medical engineering will play an important role in meeting this growing demand.

It is estimated that there are up to 4 million operations in the world each year as a result of osteoarthritis. Better techniques to diagnose osteoarthritis combined with more tailored interventions could mean a choice of earlier and less intrusive treatments for the most common cause of chronic pain.

In 2006 in the UK, there were 130 000 hip and knee replacement operations – but demand is growing all the time as more and more people live long enough to wear out their joints. A new generation of implants will reduce the need for further replacements, avoiding costly and painful surgery.

New imaging technologies have the potential to predict stroke and heart attack, improve early detection of cancer, help surgeons perform less invasive operations, and even play a role in the diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric illness, potentially helping millions of people each year.

Tissue engineering technology has the potential to use patients’ own cells to correct degenerative disease, but the processes of applying these techniques need to be practical and efficient if they are to achieve their potential.

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