Health and Medicine

New engineering program aims to deliver medical breakthroughs

A new engineering program which is the first of its kind in Western Australia will enable bioengineers to work on cutting-edge technologies to improve health outcomes such reducing the amount of surgery needed by cancer patients and developing new equipment that can detect people at risk of heart attacks.

The program, known as Biomedical Engineering Perkins, was launched at The University of Western Australia-affiliated Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.

Perkins Director Professor Peter Leedman said it would bring together engineers, doctors and scientists to create innovative solutions to medical research problems.

“Technology plays an increasing role in the delivery of pioneering clinical care,” Professor Leedman said.

“Our program will deliver improved health outcomes to the broader national and international communities.”

Professor John Dell, Dean of UWA’s Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics said the faculty was well placed to work collaboratively with Perkins by training engineers in new ways of thinking.

“The 16 new staff members have graduated with mechanical or electrical engineering degrees and they are looking forward to applying their skills to medicine and medical research,” Professor Dell said.

Biomedical Engineering@Perkins will initially have two new laboratories including a Vascular Engineering Laboratory headed by Dr Barry Doyle, and a Bioimaging Research and Innovation for Translational Engineering Laboratory headed by Dr Brendan Kennedy,

Dr Kennedy, a senior research fellow in UWA’s School of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering, said the first two laboratories would form the nucleus of a much larger critical mass over the coming years.

“This will attract new researchers from throughout local universities and the broader biomedical engineering world,” he said.

The Vascular Engineering Laboratory aims to further the understanding of vascular physiology and disease. Currently one Australian dies every 12 minutes from cardiovascular disease, and the disease affects one in six Australian and is the biggest killer of women.

Dr Doyle, a senior lecturer in UWA’s School of Mechanical and Chemical Engineering, said the program’s grand vision was to 3D bioprint the world’s first implantable heart. The program would be strengthened by the integration of a dedicated tissue-engineering lab within five years.

“As well as creating new medical devices the program aims to create a new biotechnology industry by training engineers in new ways of thinking,” he said. “We already have close to 100 students enrolled in a new Masters unit.

“This State is ready for a new industry employing engineers in research institutes and hospitals to improve the health of Western Australians.”

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