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Australia-first Nature journal conference: how sharks & mosquitoes point to better medicine

The world’s leading bioengineers and editors of Nature Materials, Nature Materials Review and Nature Protocols are meeting for the Australian-first Nature conference, Biomimetics in Bioengineering, August 4-6.

First published 29 July 2019

Australian and international researchers will present cutting edge research on the observations in the natural world that can be imitated to solve the big health challenges of the world, at QUT Gardens Points campus, Brisbane.


Distinguished Professor Dietmar W Hutmacher from QUT Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, said the prestigious Nature conference was being held in Australia for the first time.

“I learned during discussions with the Nature Journal editors in the London headquarter office beginning of last year that Nature had never organized a conference in Australia or even Australasia,” Professor Hutmacher said.

“The conference at QUT has world-leading scientists using biomimetics, the term for the use of natural models in technology innovation. In other words, in biomimetics, humans seek to use natural examples and natural systems to inform the process of developing new and cutting edge technology.

“For example, we have Professor Molly Stevens from Imperial College London who is investigating the use of biomimetics of tiny hollow probosci of insects such as mosquitoes to develop a nano needle approach that demonstrates extraordinary delivery capabilities for small drugs into cells and tissues.”


Slide of  shark lower jaw cartilage with Von Kossa staining

Professor Hutmacher will present his newest research on the unique components of shallow versus deep water shark cartilage which might unlock some mechanisms to improve the regeneration of human cartilage.

“Human articular cartilage – the cushioning on the ends of weight-bearing bones in the hip and knee - has to withstand very high biomechanical loads and cannot repair itself,” Professor Hutmacher said.

“Once it is worn out or damaged a person has pain and arthritis and would need joint replacement to get back their quality of life.

“Through interdisciplinary collaboration with marine biologist Professor Shaun Collin, head of the Neuroecology Group at La Trobe University, and Max Planck director Professor Peter Fratzl, I realised that studying the underlying biology and biomechanics of shallow versus deep water sharks, such as Port Jackson sharks and Lantern sharks, could allow us one day to tissue engineer new strong cartilage for use in human weight-bearing joints.

Professor Shaun Collin

Image: Joan Costa

“Deep water sharks’ skeletons are mostly cartilage that can withstand huge pressure because these sharks swim in depths in excess of 3000 metres under water.

“Shark cartilage is biocompatible with human tissue because it is made up of collagen type 1, the same type as humans. People have been taking shark cartilage supplements for decades and shark cartilage has been used as an implant to replace lost tissue from severe, deep burns.”

Researchers who will present plenary lectures at the Nature Biomimetics in Bioengineering conference include:

•             Conference Co-Chair and QUT Adjunct Professor Molly Stevens from Imperial College London who is developing biodegradable silicon nano needles delivering nucleic acids intracellularly induce localized in vivo neovascularization

•             Surgeon Professor Fiona Wood, Director of Royal Perth Hospital burns unit on Skin repair and regeneration and integration – the role of biomimetics?

•             Professor Melissa Little, BSc PhD GAICD, FAAHMS, FAA is the theme director of Cell Biology at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia. She is internationally recognised for her work on the systems biology of kidney development.

•             Sarah Heilshorn is Associate Professor and Otterson Faculty Scholar in the Materials Science & Engineering Department at Stanford University. Her laboratory integrates concepts from materials engineering and protein science to design new, bioinspired materials.

•             Christopher S. Chen, M.D., Ph.D., is Founding Director of the Biological Design Center, Director of the Tissue Microfabrication Laboratory, and Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Boston University and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.

•             Professor Peter Fratzl is Director at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, Germany, Peter Fratzl’s lab studies the relation between (hierarchical) structure and properties of biological and bio-inspired composite materials,

•             Professor Shaun P. Collin is the Dean and Head of the School of Life Sciences and Head of the Neuroecology Group at La Trobe University in Melbourne. Shaun studies how animals perceive their environment and biomimetic approaches to changing sensory behaviour in sharks.


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