Medical faculty celebrates 150 years with futuristic research plan
21 June 2006
The University's Faculty of Medicine has celebrated its 150th birthday by announcing a futuristic research initiative that could one day see us growing new organs to replace worn out ones, popping 'smart pills' to ward off cancer and wearing artificial eyes.
Called Bio³ (Biocubed), the research initiative aims to revolutionise the treatment of chronic and degenerative diseases and improve the quality of life for our greying population by developing new biophysical devices and artificial organs.
Joint brainchild of Professor Richmond Jeremy, Associate Dean, Infrastructure and Finance, and Professors Hans Coster and Tony Weiss from the Faculty of Science, Bio³ will draw upon the University of Sydney's exceptional breadth of skills in the physical, biological and clinical sciences.
Experts in these areas will work together to develop, from laboratory to clinical trial, new treatments in the fields of: biomedical engineering and medical devices; tissue engineering; medical nanotechnology; and bio-sensing and health status monitoring.
"Bio³ is an incredibly ambitious project, of major international significance," says Professor Andrew Coats, Dean of the University of Sydney's Faculty of Medicine. "Not long ago, it really would have been the stuff of medical student fantasy, or science-fiction film. It has the potential to make modern medicine look medieval in the space of just a decade or two. It really is a brave new world."
Bio³ research could one day see implanted electrodes restoring movement to people paralysed by spinal cord injury, stroke or nerve damage by bypassing the brain and stimulating muscles directly. It could also see patients popping 'smart pills' which will seek and destroy cancer cells without compromising our immune systems and avoiding the need for debilitating chemotherapy.
If the research lives up to its promise, within our lifetime we will be able to replace worn out organs and limbs with brand-new versions - grown in a lab - which will be without the complications and anguish of transplant surgery and tissue rejection.
Researchers hope Bio³ will help us live healthier, happier lives into our 90s and beyond - while simultaneously easing the strain on our health and welfare systems. "The challenge will be to achieve a real increase not just in years of life, but productive and healthy years, otherwise, the resulting economic strain will have severe and long-lasting consequences for future generations," Professor Coats warns.
The Faculty of Medicine believes that by 2050 the average person aged over 75 will have several pieces of 'bio-machinery' implanted somewhere in their body. However getting to this stage will require considerable investment in pharmacology, bioengineering, tissue and organ replacement, and more.
"Investment in biotechnology isn't new," said Professor Coats, "but finding medical applications for advances in science, mathematics, physics, physiotherapy, chemistry and more is what will make Bio³ stand apart from other projects, and what will attract investors and commercial partners."
The University of Sydney will be joining with the private sector, government, venture capitalists and individuals to promote an understanding of the health and economic benefits of its research, and to ensure Bio3 translates research into real solutions for patients everywhere, through product development and marketing.
And though the Australian biotechnology industry is relatively small by global standards, the University of Sydney is using its size and multi-disciplinary focus to gain a strategic advantage over its American and European colleagues by ensuring an interchange of ideas.
"To achieve our goals we will physically bring together local and international experts from key disciplines, including commercial, into one building - a feat which would be near impossible in the larger, but more single discipline orientated biotech communities overseas," explained Professor Coats.
A network of Bio³ labs has already been established around the University, and the recruitment drive to attract high-flying researchers from around the world is underway. The Bio3 Research Building, which will eventually house the entire facility, won't be ready for occupation for between three and five years, but it will be in a league of its own.
"It's an extremely creative model, with incredible potential rewards for the University, the economy, and the health of people here and everywhere. We're proud of our plans, and we're excited by the many remarkable achievements we know are to come," Professor Coats said.
Contact: Jake O'Shaughnessy
Phone: 02 9351 4312