Biofabrication is 3D-printing applied to the health sector. And QUT PhD candidate Naomi Paxton is confident that it’ll soon be revolutionising standard medical practice.
As part of her PhD project, she’s developing 3D printed ‘scaffolds’ which can facilitate tissue regeneration to help heal bone defects. She works closely with Melbourne-based medical device company, Anatomics, to fabricate biocompatible polymer surgical implants.
“We hope this will provide a revolutionary treatment for patients with bone loss as a result of trauma, congenital birth abnormalities or diseases such as cancer,” explains Naomi.
The current gold-standard treatment option is known as grafting, which involves taking bone from another site on a patient’s body or from a donor and using it as a replacement in the affected area. However, this process presents challenges such as limited tissue availability and an increased risk of infection from two surgical sites.
Bio-scaffolds are a promising alternative to plastic and metal bone replacements. 3D printed scaffolds contain the patient’s own cells and are developed so that the implants perfectly fit the individual patient. They’re bioactive and bio-resorbable, which means they regenerate the patient’s own tissue while degrading naturally.
“With customised, regenerative implants which facilitate bone healing whilst degrading over time, we hope this will lead to cheaper, faster and safer treatments for patients,” says Naomi.
From Star Wars to STEM Star
A self-proclaimed “science nerd”, Naomi decided to study physics and maths at QUT after reading about particle physics experiments in Dan Brown’s sci-fi hit Angels and Demons.
During her Bachelor of Applied Science in Maths and Physics, she worked on cool projects such as one called ‘the habitability of circumbinary exoplanets’. It was all about whether humans can survive on planets which orbit two stars, not just one – just like Luke Skywalker’s home planet in Star Wars!
A star student who received two academic scholarships during her undergraduate degree, Naomi was one of the first cohort of 20 students to complete the Dual International Biofabrication Masters degree.
QUT is one of only two Australian institutions which offers the Biofabrication Masters degree, which combines chemistry, physics, biology, medicine, robotics and computer science. This degree is just one of the future-focused postgraduate degrees which QUT offers. Another multidisciplinary option is the Masters of Data Analytics, which synthesises knowledge from mathematics, statistics, computer science, information systems and business process management.
“QUT has provided me with some incredible opportunities, not only to boost my academic trajectory with access to world-class research laboratories and work on cutting-edge projects, but also to engage with industry partners, high schools and the general public,” says Naomi, who has gained public speaking and STEM engagement experience at over 20 STEM outreach events in QLD.
“Personally, I enjoyed having access to flexible learning structures, diversity in subject choices and dual degrees which made university life fun and exciting, and motivated me to keep studying and pursuing my passions.”
Dream job of the future
Naomi’s dream job is to work with clinicians and scientists one the design, fabrication and optimisation of these bio-implants. Her amazing achievements have just been recognised with Ezio Rizzardo Polymer Scholarship, which acknowledges the potential impact of an outstanding PhD candidate in polymer science or engineering.
“This scholarship will make it easier for me to work on these biofabrication solutions,” says Naomi. “We hope that one day there will be medical 3D printers in hospitals all over the world. My dream job doesn’t quite exist yet, but I’m hopeful it will soon so I can be one of the first people in the world doing it.”
Keen to learn more about the QUT Master’s Degree in Data Analytics? Visit the website and learn how to cash in on the decade’s hottest career.
This article is brought to you in partnership with QUT.
“We hope that one day there will be medical 3D printers in hospitals all over the world. My dream job doesn’t quite exist yet, but I’m hopeful it will soon so I can be one of the first people in the world doing it.”
Author: Larissa Fedunik-Hofman
Larissa is the editorial assistant for Careers with STEM and a Chemistry PhD student. Larissa’s goal is to promote public engagement with STEM through inspiring stories.