Queensland University of Technology
Joint Resurfacing Technology

Are you eligible for Breaking Barriers Category

SUMMARY

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a painful condition that affects one in every four Queenslanders and is expected to triple in prevalence by 2030 due to rise in ageing and obese population. The current treatment option for patients with end-stage arthritis is joint replacement surgery, which is highly invasive, expensive, and does not provide a permanent solution. Alternative medical treatments for joint repair that are less expensive and more effective are urgently needed. My research will accelerate the development of an innovative medical solution for healing cartilage that will pave the way for future advancements in orthopaedic surgery by allowing for articular cartilage resurfacing and regeneration rather than replacement. This project will develop a new generation of materials that are tissue-adhesive, mechanically tuneable hybrid fillers that can be injected into damaged knee joint compartments using a standard arthroscopic device. The broader impact of this technology will be to significantly reduce the costs of OA and to improve the quality of life for patients and veterinary animals affected by this condition, while also boosting Queensland's economy through additive manufacturing and job creation.

BENEFIT – A description of the benefit of your work to Queensland (max 500 words)

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis in Queensland, affecting 1 in every 4 Queenslanders. This disease is more prevalent in females than males, affecting 10% of females compared to 6.1 percent of males. Additionally, OA can have a profound effect on all facets of a person's life and is a leading cause of early retirement. Chronic pain, physical limitations, and depression all have the potential to impair an individual's ability to participate in social, community, and occupational activities. No current surgical technique or material can regenerate articular cartilage. 
This is because research has thus far failed to produce a highly effective product for five critical reasons:

  1. A lack of bioactive materials with desirable structural and biological properties that mimic natural cartilage tissue.
  2. Inadequate availability of robust, mechanically stable materials capable of withstanding joint movement forces.
  3. Inadequate adhesion and integration of the material with the surrounding native tissue, resulting in decreased patient satisfaction due to the continued presence of pain.
  4. Unable to provide an optimal microenvironment for cell growth and regeneration of cartilage tissue.
  5. The absence of a minimally invasive, single-stage injection formulation capable of restoring destroyed cartilage to full thickness without causing damage to surrounding normal tissue.

My research will address the above issues by developing a new generation of highly innovative products that are long-lasting, mechanically tuneable, less invasive, and capable of resurfacing or restoring damaged knee joint compartments of any size or shape. 
This technology, which aims to create a spin-out company within three to five years and with a large market and intellectual property, will ensure a successful product launch and will strengthen Queensland's science and economy by creating STEM jobs and generating technological innovation—all of which will contribute to the state's long-term economic prosperity and growth through the advanced manufacturing sector. By 2023, the global market for cartilage regenerative devices in the knee is expected to reach US$2.7 billion. Additionally, there is a US$0.5 billion veterinary medicine market. My research will also be translated for veterinary applications, a potentially enormous market that is frequently overlooked. As a result, my research will serve as a catalyst for the creation of high-tech jobs in advanced manufacturing right here in Queensland, while also benefiting the economy through lower health-care costs.

ROLE MODEL – Why do you think you are a good role model for women and girls aspiring to work in STEM? (max 500 words)
As a child growing up in a small rural town in India, my determination and effective use of available limited opportunities eventually led to this successful STEM career. In such a small town, there are few women who pursue professional STEM careers. This is because there is a perception that STEM-related jobs can require demanding schedules that conflict with societal expectations that women can succeed in these careers while also caring for family and children. I am a role model for girls because throughout my career, I have demonstrated that we can succeed in STEM fields even after taking a break for personal parental reasons. As a result of my personal experience, I now mentor and train women who have taken extended career breaks in order to assist them in advancing their careers and accomplishing their goals. I am currently supervising two female PhD research students in biomedical engineering who have returned to university after a two-decade career break due to personnel and family responsibilities. This is because, in my opinion, career breaks do not jeopardise women's academic success, and we need more mentors who will not pass judgement but will instead support, give flexibility in working hours and train these women so they are prepared to enter the STEM workforce in the future. I am extremely proud to be doing this right now because it is about lifting/raising the profile of other women in STEM and assisting them in achieving their dreams. That is why I want to advocate for investing in others, particularly women, and assisting them in their professional advancement by demonstrating that they can advance without sacrificing others, as we all have unique skills, and it is precisely this divergence in STEM that we require, as well as encouraging them not to compare themselves to others on their journey and boosting their confidence. 
 
ENGAGEMENT – Describe any STEM promotion or engagement activities that you have undertaken, including both scientific and non-scientific audiences, particularly with women and girls (maximum 500 words)

Science communication and education, both to scientific and non-scientific audiences, are two of my passions. On a regular basis, I participate in community outreach activities and events targeted at clinicians, educators, the media, and consumers. I've spent the last five years working with Arthritis Queensland and The Prince Charles Hospital Foundation to increase arthritis awareness among Queensland residents in both urban and rural areas.
Several significant engagement activities in which I participated/organized are as follows:

  • Through the Wonder of Science programme, I have advocated for girls to enrol in STEM courses in both urban and rural schools. As a result of my active community involvement, I've received several awards for advocating for this, including the prestigious Tall Poppy award and a spot on the Women in Technology finalist list. I've also shared my career path with Girl Stem Power, a mentoring programme that connects elementary school girls with women in STEM fields in order to inspire young girls to pursue STEM careers. My research work is featured in media such as ABC radio, National Seven News, CNN and several international magazines such as Science daily. As a result, industry and community members have become advocates for my research that led to multiple industry connections.
  • I organised and took part in the annual Real Arthritis Health Public Lecture Series at Queensland University of Technology, which drew over 200 people promoting Arthritis awareness for Queenslanders. 
  • Held BBQ fundraising events for World Arthritis Day in collaboration with the Prince Charles Hospital Foundation to raise funds for Arthritis research and raise awareness of the disease in Queensland.
  • I am also a strong female leader and an active mentor to high school students, undergraduates, HDRs, and EMCRs and I've hosted vacation scholars, which were well-attended by female students and this important because research has shown that after completing this programme, they are more likely to pursue STEMM fields in college.
  • In the regional community (Rockhampton), I've given several public lectures in collaboration with Arthritis Queensland (which drew over 100 people). In addition, I've hosted public engagement activities at Queensland University of Technology, such as lab tours, which resulted in an increase in donations to Arthritis research. At QUT, I established a substantial fundraising programme to allow donors and staff to make significant and meaningful contributions to OA research and education. Through this programme, we raised over $30,000, which was used to fund a PhD scholar conducting OA research.
  • Through Women in Science Committee I’ve also facilitated networking among student representatives from QUT science departments, as well as initiating collaborations and mentoring among QUT's female scientists.
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