What can you do with a biomedical science degree?
Research gets a new look
New technologies are transforming traditional methods of doing medical research. Vaccine development, in particular, has become far more sophisticated. Advances are being made in simulated organs, both physical and digital. Some scientists still seek to get the most from working with live organisms while cutting out inefficiencies and avoiding ethical issues. Others work with so-called "organs-on-chips," which allow researchers to flow a specific molecule through a synthetic representation of a real metabolic process. A human liver on a chip, for instance, might flow alcohol through a series of cultured liver cells which, when taken together, break the alcohol down just like a real liver.
Advanced techniques like this allow for a more efficient approach to research, while also reducing costs and stress on researchers. By setting up a network of many organs-on-chips, it's now possible to screen thousands of substances for potential new medical effects quickly and systematically. In the past, this level of throughput would have been impossible due to the basic difficulty of conducting live animal studies.
The same trend is evident in cell therapies intended to treat diseases such as cancer. Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, better known as the CAR-T platform, for example, leads the way in the realm of cancer treatment. Cell therapy in live patients is one of the fastest-growing areas of research in biology. The ability to target and destroy cancer cells is becoming a new pillar of cancer treatment.
Biological science degrees are increasingly focused on these new areas of research, so the last two years of undergraduate programs will typically include overviews of that research.
Data opens new frontiers
Genetics is relevant to modern biomedical science in numerous ways. The gene-editing platform CRISPR — an abbreviated form of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats — is the most high-profile development in this area, enabling gene therapies in live organisms (such as humans) and opening the way to thousands of possible cures for genetic ailments. CRISPR isn't actually leading to a huge uptick in research speed. Rather, it’s an enabling technology that allows decades of in vitro studies — which could only be conducted outside living organisms previously — to be conducted in vivo; in living patients. With CRISPR, gene therapy researchers can use molecular-level insights in live patients.
Genomics, which looks at genetics at the whole-genome scale, is a more survey-level view of genetic information. It involves studying how genetic diversity is distributed throughout populations, which can help researchers and physicians place individual patients in specific cohorts based on greater genetic context. This is the beginning of a new trend called personalized medicine.
Personalized medicine is the quest to make each patient's treatment regimen perfect for them. To accomplish this, a complete or near-complete survey of their genetics is necessary — only this greater genetic context can reveal a large enough fraction of the patient's individual biological needs. Among other important applications, genome-level analysis can help patients receive treatment without adverse side effects and avoid the often discomforting trial-and-error approach to identifying a working medication.
Computers are the future
The future of biomedical science will also involve increasing use of computational analysis. It's one thing for new experimental platforms to produce incredible volumes of new data, and quite another to sift through that new data for the most applicable insights.
Modern biology dovetails with computing science and similar nonbiological disciplines. This is shown in fields such as computational drug discovery, in which correlations between chemical outcomes are found by algorithms designed by researchers, rather than by researchers themselves. It can also support modern digital health initiatives, which seek to make disease diagnosis and treatment prescription remote over the internet, or even automated with advanced diagnostic models.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is another growing area of research within biomedical science. Students looking to pursue a career in this area would do well to double major in biochemistry and computing science, with focuses on genetic analysis and AI programming.