Engineers are known for designing and creating solutions that make our everyday lives better, from bridges and computers to buildings and engines. But one lesser-known engineering field that takes a closer look at the human body is making an incredible impact on our health and wellbeing.
Biomedical engineering is a field that combines practical engineering skills with biological and medical sciences to develop new medical imaging, instruments, robotics, materials, computers and prosthetics.
Here are just three of the recent break-throughs to come out of the labs here at UOW.
1. A helping hand
A project, led by UOW soft robotics expert, Professor Gursel Alici, is combining new, intelligent materials that can sense and respond to stimuli with 3D printing techniques to create an all-in-one, soft and natural-looking prosthetic hand.
Conventional robotic prosthetics are made of many expensive, rigid and bulky components. The team’s approach is to develop a hand that has no gears and motors to create the hand gestures.
Team member, Dr Rahim Mutlu is also exploring the use of materials that, with the combination of sensors, will enable the user to not only grasp an object but also have a sense of its size, texture and temperature. The team has already proven that it’s possible.
"A person using this device should be able to close their eyes and guess what they are grasping with their soft robotic hand." Rahim said.
2. Everyday artificial muscles
Researchers at UOW, including Professor Geoff Spinks, have produced artificial muscles with super human strength using ordinary, everyday fishing line.
Using the cheap and readily available fishing line, the process to convert to an artificial muscle is easy. Just start twisting. By twisting and coiling the line and applying heat, they have produced powerful artificial muscles. The new muscles can produce forces that are over one hundred times higher than human muscle, with no degradation in performance after a million cycles.
Depending on how the fishing line muscles are made, the contractions can be as high as 50 per cent with response times in a fraction of a second.
Research continues to further improve the efficiency of the artificial muscle as well as explore stimuli, other than heat, to generate movement. It will simply be a matter of time before we see this innovation in health devices, 'intelligent clothing' and industrial applications.
3. A better pill to swallow
A team of UOW researchers, led by Professor Gursel Alici, is developing a capsule that can be magnetically driven through the body to examine a patient's gastrointestinal tract and deliver drugs directly at the treatment site.
"By using magnetic forces, the system is wireless. Its clean and site-specific drug delivery limits the side-effects on the body," Professor Alici said.
To deliver drugs at the site the team developed an anchoring system that expands and attaches the capsule to the gastrointestinal tract tissue before delivering the drugs.
Once the capsule is anchored, another magnet activates a slider that ejects the drugs so that they can absorb into the treatment site.
"Such an actively controlled and precisely located robotic capsule with diagnosis, drug delivery, minimally invasive surgery and biopsy features will eventually be used in real life clinical practice to provide effective healthcare to society," Professor Alici said.
Excited by the possibilities of biomedical engineering? Check out the full range of UOW engineering degrees that QILT rates as the best in NSW and the ACT.