Translation is key to ensuring that research goes from a scientific pursuit in a laboratory to an impact in the community, producing medical devices, products and services for better diagnosis and treatment - and ultimately improving lives.
Researchers are increasingly partnering with industry and employing an entrepreneurial mindset to ensure advances in medicine and healthcare.
IHBI’s Dr Laura Bray is part of an initiative developing world class training programs and enhancing industry partnerships to overcome barriers in manufacturing processes and encourage investment in cell-based and tissue engineering therapies.
She says regenerative medicine, tissue engineering and cell therapies are promising new technologies to overcome the health burden associated with ageing populations and increasing chronic disease incidences. Yet they often remain in early development phases or early clinical trials because of a lack of investment.
Dr Bray is Deputy Director of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Training Centre for Cell and Tissue Engineering Technologies. It has been established with close to $5 million in Federal Government funding as a collaboration between Monash University and QUT to produce industry-ready graduates and early career researchers with innovative, translational and entrepreneurial mindsets to underpin growth in the industry sector.
Using a background in 3D tissue engineering and culture techniques, Dr Bray is leading research to improve cell purity and viability for research, as well as for the manufacture of cell therapies.
She is also involved in an IHBI research project developing 3D-printed implants, called scaffolds, that encourage cell growth and tissue regeneration following a mastectomy. The scaffolds degrade safely in time as human tissue replaces it.
The research will involve studying the scaffolds in the laboratory for 12 months to ensure long-term growth of normal breast cells and tissues.
‘We need to confirm the potential of the scaffolds as a 3D tissue engineering construct, and to investigate normal mammary processes are occurring so that we can be confident of their potential as a future breast implant technology,’ Dr Bray says.
Other research areas in which Dr Bray is taking a lead at IHBI include leveraging smart technologies for pre-operative planning and customisation in orthopaedic surgery, and enhancing nanomaterials used in cancer treatment.
Nanomaterials show potential as vehicles for targeted anticancer therapeutics, overcoming key limitations of conventional chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy works on cells that are dividing rapidly. Cancer cells divide and multiply rapidly but so do some healthy cells, such as those in a person’s blood, mouth, digestive system and hair follicles. Side effects occur when chemotherapy damages the healthy cells.
Dr Bray will use 3D models that mimic human tissue to screen and identify chemotherapy-loaded nanoparticles that target cancer cells effectively.
`The cancer microenvironment is influenced by many mechanical, chemical and cellular processes which can’t be depicted in 2D,’ Dr Bray says. ‘We are developing highly sophisticated 3D models of the cancer microenvironment to more accurately mimic interactions during cancer development.
‘Our lab is developing 3D models of breast cancer, prostate cancer and acute myeloid leukaemia. The models can be used for therapeutics testing and studying therapeutic targets for cancer patients.’
IHBI researchers collaborating as part of the ARC centre include biomedical engineer Distinguished Professor Dietmar W Hutmacher, molecular cancer geneticist Associate Professor Jyotsna Batra and polymer chemist Associate Professor Tim Dargaville.
Nine other IHBI researchers add critical mass to the centre, as well as QUT colleague Professor Uwe Dulleck—a leading behavioural economist from QUT’s Centre for Behavioural Economics, Society and Technology—who will contribute expertise to ensure optimal consumer uptake of the technologies developed within the centre.
PhD candidates and researchers will be provided opportunities to participate in professional development programs, building skills and demonstrating effective navigation in medical technology development and commercialisation.
IHBI’s Dr Laura Bray