$10.5m facility to boost bioengineering research

11 December 2019
The University of Sydney has provided $10.5 million to create a bioengineering facility "that brings together excellence in research and teaching in service of better health outcomes for us all."

Governor of New South Wales, the Honourable Margaret Beazley AO QC is greeted by Professor Hala Zreiqat AM.

Last week the Governor of New South Wales, the Honourable Margaret Beazley AO QC, joined University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Michael Spence AC and Professor Hala Zreiqat AM to launch the new, state-of-the-art $10.5 million Australian Research Council Centre for Innovative BioEngineering facility at the University of Sydney.

Speaking at the launch Dr Spence said: “This laboratory sums up much of what we want to do at the University and what we think is the future of New South Wales and Australia. The new facility is a place that brings together excellence in research and teaching in service of better health outcomes for us all.”

Leading the centre is biomedical engineering academic and 2018 NSW Premier's Woman of the Year, Jordanian-born, Professor Zreiqat. She has pioneered advances in tissue bioengineering and the creation of 3D-printed materials such as tendons, ligaments and bone.

"The centre aims to provide researchers with the interdisciplinary skills and mentorship to be leaders in the rapidly evolving, highly innovative field of bioengineering," Professor Zreiqat said.

“Our brand-new $10.5 million laboratories will allow our researchers to make fundamental discoveries that will shape the future of healthcare," she said. 

Algorithms to map unborn babies’ brains

School of Biomedical Engineering academic Dr Ashnil Kumar is developing algorithms that analyse foetal medical images. The method is being developed to allow clinicians to better understand the development of unborn babies.

The algorithms identify babies’ brains in utero, measuring part of the brain that’s considered a possible biomarker for neurodevelopment.

“Computerised algorithms are allowing us to better assess an unborn baby’s development. This method is helping to identify cases where a baby’s development is not as expected, allowing for early intervention, such as changing the mother’s diet,” Dr Kumar said.

Nanorobots to detect and treat cancer

Working alongside Professor Zreiqat, biomedical engineer Dr Gurvinder Singh is developing nanorobots: intelligent magnetic nanoparticles that can selectively identify and kill cancerous cells in the human body.

Using a magnetic field, the nanoparticles can be guided to a cancerous tumour site and release drug molecules that kill multi-drug-resistant cancer cells.

“Nanomaterials are designed to carry drugs to target sites within the body, making the treatment of diseases, such as cancer, far more precise. Magnetic nanoparticles can be used for MRI, contrast agents and in the treatment of cancerous tumours or diseases,” Dr Singh said.

Dr ZuFu Lu with PhD student, Stephanie Yee.

Turning skin cells into bone cells

Despite the capacity of bone to rejuvenate itself, repairing and regenerating large bone defects and healing complex bone fractures remains a major clinical challenge for the health industry.

Biomedical engineer, Dr ZuFu Lu’s research has identified a protein that reprograms human fibroblast cells into functional bone cells (cells responsible for healing).

“We hope this approach will have significant advantages over other commonly used cells, potentially leading to a shift in the current paradigm of bone regenerative medicine,” said Dr Lu.

Next generation 3D and 4D printed bone implants

Inspired by the performance of highly mineralised, naturally occurring materials such as bone, teeth, enamel and seashells, Dr Mohammad Mirkhalaf has developed and patented a class of ceramic 3D- and 4D-printing techniques.

Dr Mirkhalaf has developed light-based 3D and 4D printing procedures for ceramic implants that are designed for different parts of the musculoskeletal system, such as for hip or femur implants.  

“The printing process duplicates the way naturally durable materials grow, resulting in bioceramic implants with the overall shape, internal architecture, biology and mechanics like natural products, such as bone,” Dr Mirkhalaf said.

“As a result, the printed products are ideal for the repair or replacement of the hard tissues of the musculoskeletal system. We hope these advances will help millions of people around the world suffering from bone conditions.”

Nanobiosensors for early disease detection

PhD student Pooria Lesani is developing nanobiosensing technology in the hope of creating a method for the early diagnosis and monitoring of diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Nanobiosensors are devices that measure a biochemical or biological activity in the body using any electronic, optical, or magnetic technology through a compact probe. Mr Lesani is using fluorescence technology to aid in the measurement of chemical concentrations and biomolecular activity in the body.

“Early diagnosis of disease generally increases the chances of successful treatment. We hope the development of fluorescent nanobiosensors will allow for non-invasive and accurate detection of potential diseases and disorders at the very early stages,” Mr Lesani said.


The centre has received a total of $15 million in funding from the ARC, the University of Sydney and the New South Wales Government, which includes $10.5 million from the University of Sydney to develop the new facility.

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