Entry for:2019 Queensland Women in STEM Prize
1. Project summary (maximum 150 words)
We are inventing a future where in every hospital around the world, patient-specific regenerative implants, customised medical devices and virtual surgical planning are part of every treatment. Biofabrication research incorporates 3D printing with tissue engineering and medicine to delivery customised healthcare solutions. Here at QUT, I work in partnership with industry and clinical collaborators to turn this vision into a reality. In my research, I am developing tissue engineering structures fabricated using advanced 3D printing techniques. I create 3D scaffolds with micron-scale fibres using a range of synthetic polymers and bioactive composite biomaterials to optimise bone regeneration. My PhD project incorporates aspects of a number of scientific disciplines including physics and mathematical modelling, polymer chemistry, cell biology and tissue engineering. Ultimately, I hope to create patient-specific scaffolds which can be rapidly designed and printed in-hospital to treat patients with bone defects as a result of disease or trauma.
2. How does your project benefit Queensland? (maximum 500 words)
Queensland is an emerging hub for world-class medical device innovation, with the launch of key initiatives and industry engagement supported by the ARC, MTP Connect, Advance Queensland. In partnership with Metro North Hospital and Health Service (MNHHS), Australia’s largest public health service, my research is part of the newly launched Herston Biofabrication Institute (HBI). The HBI is bringing together researchers, clinicians and industry partners to advance knowledge in 3D scanning and printing of human tissues to enable both automated and personalised healthcare solutions. We envision a future where 3D scanning, modelling and printing will become a routine component of healthcare treatments in all hospitals across the state, decreasing the costs, risks and surgery times to improve outcomes for patients.
My research project is specifically contributing to the Orthopaedics Clinical Research Stream in the HBI, collaborating with clinicians and researchers at the Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital to develop techniques of designing patient-specific bone implants to ultimately help treat Queensland patients with bone loss. I am innovating in the use of composite biomaterials and advanced medical 3D printing to create customised bone implants with optimised surface properties to enhance cell attachment and rapid tissue regeneration. We hope these implants will circumvent the need for grafting donor tissue and risks associated with metallic implants and improve clinical outcomes for patients with bone loss from trauma or disease.
Together with my mentor and inspirational role mode, Professor Mia Woodruff, I am a proud woman in STEM and advocate for diversity and equity in the biofabrication research community and across all STEM. With Mia’s empowerment, I have challenged gender inequity at international conferences and presented targeted workshops with female high school students to promote STEM career pathways and increase the representation of females in STEM disciplines. Together, Mia and I have mentored 100 female high school students at the Myriad High event at QUT, encouraging the next generation of tech leaders to solve the challenge of cyber-bullying. We have also mentored students in the annual VC STEM Camp for high-achieving Year 11 students, with many of our female students acknowledging our role in encouraging them to pursue a career in STEM. I have had the privilege of working alongside three of my previous students as QUT STEM Student Ambassadors after they chose to study STEM disciplines at QUT, and another has recently joined our research team.
Mia and I work tireless to increase the visibility of females in STEM research and were both proud recipients of the prestigious QLD Women in Technology Life Sciences Awards in 2018. I am grateful to be surrounded by incredible role models such as Mia, as well as HBI Project Manager Mathilde Desselle and VC Research Fellow Dr Soniya Yambem. I believe that we, along with the other incredible Women in STEM in Queensland, are already having tangible impact in increasing the visibility, recruitment and retention of females in STEM disciplines and, through challenging gender inequality, we are creating dynamic, diverse and inclusive environments for all to succeed.
3. What STEM promotion/engagement activities do you do/have you done? (maximum 500 words)
STEM engagement has been a strong priority alongside my academic career. Over the last 6 years, I have engaged with over 3000 students from 41 schools across Queensland, through my roles as STEM ambassador with the QUT STEM for Schools, Wonder of Science and Flying Scientists programs. As a STEM for Schools ambassador, I have developed and facilitated five different STEM workshops targeted at different high school age groups. After being a lead ambassador and facilitating these workshops for over 50 school groups over 3 years, I trained new ambassadors to continue their development, as well as translated these initiatives into week-long intensive workshops for high achieving students during the annual QUT VC STEM Camp (2013, 2015, 2017) and STEM Internships (2018). As a senior ambassador, I was also given the opportunity to travel across Queensland to 7 different schools to lead workshops and give presentations to encourage students from rural backgrounds to pursue careers in STEM through the QUT/CH2M Hill STEM Real Futures Regional QLD Tour.
These opportunities have provided me with some of the most meaningful and touching experiences of my career to date, working with students from diverse backgrounds to explore concepts in physics and astrophysics and gain an appreciation for the plethora of career options in STEM. I have also independently engaged with the Holy Family Primary Schools’ Sparking STEM initiative as a ‘Change Maker’ guest speaker and workshop facilitator.
As an invited speaker, I have shared my research passion, STEM journey and passion to promote the visibility of women in STEM careers at over 15 events in the last 5 years. Highlights have included being selected to speak at both TEDxQUT 2014 and TEDxUniversityofWürzburg 2016, the World Science Festival in Gladstone, and giving keynote presentations at the FutureNet Festival of Ideas event, QUT Fellowship of Medical Engineers Annual Industry Networking event and Wonder of Science State Conference. I am motivated not only to deliver exciting presentations on the future of healthcare driven by biofabrication research, but also share my journey as a proud woman in STEM.
I have also enjoyed engaging with the broader community and general public by being selected to organise and demonstrate at a range of public showcase events. These include organising and managing the Hospital of the Future Showcase at the 2015 and 2017 Robotronica events which each saw approximately 20,000 members of the general public visit QUT for the one-day robotics festival. I also helped organise the 2017 Women in Technology: 3D Printing Revolution Event at QUT, volunteered as a Pint of Science AU team leader, showcased my research at the 2018 Commonwealth Innovation Forum (LSQ), as well as demonstrated for a range of other showcase, media and TV activities including two episodes of Scope (Channel Ten).
I am an active contributor to the Materials Today journal family community, after being selected to write feature news summary articles to promote recently accepted manuscripts. To date, I have published three summary articles, featuring research from leading international biomaterials research groups.