Australia Is Getting The World's First Masters Degree In Biofabrication, The 3D Printing Of Body Parts

A 3D printed prosthetic arm. Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Two Australian universities and two of the world’s leading research universities in the 3D printing of replacement body parts have joined forces to offer the world’s first international masters in biofabrication.

Graduates will hold a masters degree from an Australian university plus a second masters from a European university.

Biofabrication is a process by which scientists can regrow most types of human tissue using 3D printers.

Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) biofabrication research is well-advanced in printing 3D custom-made scaffolds using bio-ink infused with the patient’s stem cells to enable the body to grow a new breast after mastectomy.

The four universities offering the two-year, two-degree masters program are: QUT in Queensland, the University of Wollongong in NSW, the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands and the University of Würzburg in Germany.

QUT Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation’s Professor Dietmar W. Hutmacher leads QUT’s biofabrication research.

“This degree is a vital step in ensuring Australia is a high-value, high-tech manufacturer in the future,” Professor Hutmacher said.

“Graduates will be at the forefront of an industry that will always be in high demand given the ageing of populations around the world and which cannot be easily replicated by any other country.

“Each of the four universities has established a track record in key areas of biofabrication, including polymer chemistry, cell biology and clinical implants.

“The universities will each admit 10 students to the degree who will graduate with a multidisciplinary outlook and expertise which would be welcome anywhere in the world.”

Australian students would spend nine to 12 months studying at one of the European universities and the European students would also study at one of the Australian universities.

“Graduates of the new higher degree will gain an international career and have the ability to lead this exciting medical revolution which is going to be particularly important for our ageing populations,” Professor Hutmacher said.

Biofabrication can be used to repair cartilage, bone, muscles, nerves and skin which have been damaged by trauma, disease or cancer. It is predicted that entire organs will be biofabricated within a few decades.

Reearchers at QUT are looking at scaffolds to regrow breast tissue in women who’ve had surgery for breast cancer.

He said this new field of medicine employed the 3D printers to build up fine, intricate layers of different types of biomaterials into individualised structures which dissolve into the body as the new tissue grows.

These tailor-made structures are then implanted into the body to act as a scaffold on which the new tissue can grow.

Professor Gordon Wallace, Director of the University of Wollongong’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, said graduates of the masters program would be in high demand.

“It is exciting to be involved in this venture with QUT. It is an excellent example of how Australian expertise and resources can combine to have a real presence on the global stage,” Professor Wallace said.

Professor Hutmacher said biofabrication was already successfully being used to repair broken and missing bone.

“For example, patients with a piece of skull missing have already been successfully fitted with a 3D-printed scaffold custom-made to fit the hole,” he said.

“The scaffolds contain the patient’s bone cells and growth enhancers so that the skull grows over and the scaffold is absorbed into the new bone.”

Biofabrication is a multidisciplinary area of research requiring an understanding of chemistry, physics, biology, medicine, robotics and computer science.

Professor Dietmar Hutmacher from QUT’s IHBI (Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation) with a 3D printed scaffold

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