1. Please give a summary of your research.
Congenital heart disease (CHD) is associated with high levels of morbidity. At least a third of patients born with CHD will require one major open-heart operation. Often, this heart surgery involves the construction of a valved implant to repair complex defects. Currently available implants are made from either animal source or cadaver. They may cause toxicity and have shortfalls in durability. Most importantly these implants do not have growth potential. Thus, kids require up to four operations to upsize the implant and replace the conduit throughout childhood to adolescence.
My overarching aim is to overcome the critical complication of reoperation through translating research into novel medical implants. I employ tissue engineering solutions that leverage my expertise in biomaterial design, fabrication of patient`s specific implant and 3D printing.
During my PhD, I developed a biodegradable implant with tuneable characteristics that degrades to safe by-products. I led animal studies that confirmed the medical applications of my invention. During my postdoc, I have performed the translational research leading to the fabrication of a 3D printed heart implant. My experience of observing related operations and research training at the Children Hospital at Westmead have equipped me with a unique ability to translate medical devices research into clinical applications. This innovative creation can help to advance the field of heart tissue engineering. My career aspirations are to improve the health care outcomes and quality of life for young patients affected by CHDs.
2. Please include any additional details you would like to share
Repair of complex cardiac defects often requires heart surgery to reconstruct a valvular conduit connecting the right ventricle and pulmonary artery (RV-PA). This is a high-cost procedure - approximately AU$45,000 plus prosthesis costs of $8500. As paediatric patients can require up to four operations to replace the conduit as they grow, a personalised cardiac conduit that grows with the patient would reduce costs and improve patient outcomes. Currently, suitable implants are homografts (limited in availability) and animal-derived xenografts. All current RV-PA connections lack a capacity for growth and have shortcomings associated with structural valve deterioration. Other products in development include straight bioresorbable polymeric valved tubes made by electrospinning; such tubes cannot currently be personalized to match the non-linear anatomy of individual patients. The global regenerative medicine market was $17.5B in 2016 and is expected to reach $50.5B by 2021. With 300,000 paediatric conduits implanted worldwide and a current cost of (homograft) conduit costing AU$8500, the scope is significant. Our team has developed technology for a paediatric heart conduit that will improve patient outcomes and reduce the need for subsequent operations. We have developed a biocompatible tissue engineered solution using 3D printing that can be personalized to fit individual patient needs. This construct will grow as the patient ages, reducing the need for future surgeries. This critical feature will result in significant cost savings which will encourage its widespread adoption, as well as avoiding procedural risks.