Hot Young Engineers Needed To Bridge Mechanics And Medicine
Dr Martin Knight is a professor of mechanobiology at Queen Mary University
Dr Martin Knight’s interest in the medical engineering industry began at a very young age – but initially he was more interested in the design side. Not that you would know it now.
A university program director of mechanobiology, an emerging science that couples mechanical and biological analysis, he aspires to improve people's lives.
This passion eventually led him to complete a biomedical engineering degree. During his studies, he started to enjoy the "science aspects" – hypothesis testing, experimentation, data analysis, and writing scientific papers.
"Medical engineering now allows me to work on really challenging, important medical problems – from an engineering perspective," the Queen Mary University professor says.
Trying to understand and treat cancer and arthritis, or helping to develop new medical implants and biomaterials, are among some of the examples the professor lists.
Being a multidisciplinary field, medical engineering can expect exciting new developments. For example: Dr Martin works with a company that is developing silk-based implantable devices for important clinical problems.
“Understanding the biomechanics of the natural tissues has been really important in developing these novel implants, some of which are now just going into clinical trials," he says.
The industry provides exciting opportunities for medical engineering graduates.
Some of Queen Mary university's and Dr Martin’s students have managed to secure great jobs. "These include the careers in the implant industry or as NHS clinical scientists, or working for the Medicines and Healthcare products regulatory agency (MHRA),” Dr Martin says.
Many others go on to study for PhDs and careers in science.
"One of the challenges is to understand how biological tissues develop and to incorporate that understanding into the design of new biomaterials, whether these are made by 3D printing or other techniques," he adds.
Understanding biology may be crucial for a medical engineer, such as when understanding how the mechanical properties of a tumour influence the behaviour of cancer cells, or how cartilage cells respond to mechanical forces with alterations in metabolism and protein synthesis, Dr Martin says, examples of his own work.
"My research examines the function of a relatively poorly understood cellular structure called the primary cilium – a single, hair-like projection that sticks out from most mammalian cells," he explains.
His advice to young engineers is: choose an area of engineering that will stimulate you as an individual, and try and think outside of the box by bridging traditional disciplines.
"It is an exciting time to be a medical engineer, with major challenges involving the aging population and increased expectations for quality of life, coupled with new multidisciplinary understanding of biomaterials, regenerative medicine, nanomedicine and stem cells," he says.
But he says that it is important to encourage the next generation of engineers and scientists, workers who will be needed to “build the future of society”.
"I would also encourage everybody to help change perceptions of engineering – we are not grease monkeys or crazy boffins," he adds.
- Queen Mary, University of London
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