biomedical chemical engineering
biomedical chemical engineering[‚bī·ō¦med·i·kəl ¦kem·i·kəl ‚en·jə′nir·iŋ]
Biomedical chemical engineering
The application of chemical engineering principles to the solution of medical problems due to physiological impairment. A knowledge of organic chemistry is required of all chemical engineers, and many also study biochemistry and molecular biology. This training at the molecular level gives chemical engineers a unique advantage over other engineering disciplines in communication with life scientists and clinicians in medicine. Practical applications include the development of tissue culture systems, the construction of three-dimensional scaffolds of biodegradable polymers for cell growth in the laboratory, and the design of artificial organs.
Cell transplantation is explored as a means of restoring tissue function. With this approach, individual cells are harvested from a healthy section of donor tissue, isolated, expanded in culture, and implanted at the desired site of the functioning tissue. Isolated cells cannot form new tissues on their own and require specific environments that often include the presence of supporting material to act as a template for growth. Three-dimensional scaffolds can be used to mimic their natural counterparts, the extracellular matrices of the body. These scaffolds serve as both a physical support and an adhesive substrate for isolated parenchymal cells during cell culture and subsequent implantation. The scaffold must be made of biocompatible materials. As the transplanted cell population grows and the cells function normally, they will begin to secrete their own extracellular matrix support. The need for an artificial support will gradually diminish; and thus if the implant is biodegradable, it will be eliminated as its function is replaced. The development of processing methods to fabricate reproducibly three-dimensional scaffolds of biodegradable polymers that will provide temporary scaffolding to transplanted cells will be instrumental in engineering tissues.
Chemical engineers have made significant contributions to the design and optimization of many commonly used devices for both short-term and long-term organ replacement. Examples include the artificial kidney for hemodialysis and the heart-lung machine employed in open heart surgery. The artificial kidney removes waste metabolites (such as urea and creatinine) from blood across a polymeric membrane that separates the flowing blood from the dialysis fluid. The mass transport properties and biocompatibility of these membranes are crucial to the functioning of hemodialysis equipment. The heart-lung machine replaces both the pumping function of the heart and the gas exchange function of the lung in one fairly complex device. While often life saving, both types of artificial organs only partially replace real organ function. Long-term use often leads to problems with control of blood coagulation mechanisms to avoid both excessive clotting initiated by blood contact with artificial surfaces and excessive bleeding due to platelet consumption or overuse of anticoagulants. See Membrane separations
Other chemical engineering applications include methodology for development of artificial bloods, utilizing fluorocarbon emulsions or encapsulated or polymerized hemoglobin, and controlled delivery devices for release of drugs or of specific mole- cules (such as insulin) missing in the body because of disease or genetic alteration.