An injectable biomaterial that can aid in the regeneration of damaged body tissues such as cartilage, spinal cord and bones will reduce the need for and risks of open surgery. The technology – called Trimph (Temperature-Responsive Modifiable Peptide Hydrogel) – is one of 50 innovations to have snagged a spot in Engineers Australia’s Most Innovative Engineers list.
The Engineers Australia list commends outstanding Australian engineers for their contributions to the community, the industry, and the profession.
Many of our day-to-day activities and practical problems are made easier and are solved by the marvels of engineering. Engineers shape their surroundings and society with their work, but they may not always receive their dues.
The idea for Trimph came about when its inventor Dr Ali Fathi broke his wrist seven years ago. Although he was advised that he didn’t require surgery when the incident happened, he returned to the hospital a few days later to be told that he did indeed need surgery to repair the fracture as it had ‘moved’.
“I asked the surgeon why can’t we glue it together and he said there was no glue available,” said Dr Fathi. “I found it stupid that there was nothing to hold the fracture in place, and promote recovery and natural regeneration.”
With the help of the University of Sydney where Dr Fathi was undertaking doctorate studies, he invented Trimph, a liquid can be injected into a desired location on the body at room temperature.
When it heats to body temperature, the liquid forms an elastic gel that adheres to the site without the need for physical containment, providing a scaffold that promotes the regeneration of damaged tissue. It gradually breaks down into non-toxic components.
“If you have a cartilage or knee defect, you take about three months for surgery, replacing it with an artificial knee joint followed by recovery,” he said.
“With Trimph, you simply make an incision of a few centimetres and inject the biomaterial into the site to encourage the regeneration of natural cartilage. It’s minimally invasive, there is no open surgery and no complications, and takes about two weeks,” Dr Fathi said.
Other noteworthy contributions from the university this year include a system that enables autonomous refuelling capability for drones, designed by Daniel Wilson, a 2015 PhD graduate of the School of Aeronautical, Mechanical and Mechatronic engineering
Professor Fariba Dehghani, who is the ARC Food Processing Training Centre director, has been recognised for her work on new environmental friendly packaging that prolongs the shelf-life of foods.
All nominations to Australia’s Most Innovative Engineers list were assessed based on the problem it solves, the benefits it provides and the individual’s contribution to the project. Dr Fathi singled out two key factors of his winning entry: the level of innovation and project management.
“The key merit of the technology is its level of innovation in engineering aspects. While it seems medical oriented, I think to be able to address what the body needs to promote natural generation, you need to know how to engineer the biological process to promote healing of the body,” he said.
“Good project management was also crucial, as we were working in a multi-disciplinary environment and dealing with people of different backgrounds and thinking. We had to plan and execute the project at the same time with different parties,” Dr Fathi said.
Today, Trimph is an Australian biomedical startup with five pipeline products for dental, orthopaedics and cosmetic applications and has received more than $2.5 million in the form of both public grant and private investment.
The company plans to complete human tests by the end of the year to confirm the bio-safety of the technology, and is seeking government funding for product development and commercialisation, starting with the cartilage technology.
“We plan to keep the technology in Sydney. We have just established a clean room state-of-the-art production facility in Sydney, which is rare as most companies tend to take their innovations overseas due to cheaper labour,” said Dr Fathi.
Such platforms to encourage innovation are more than welcomed, Dr Fathi commented, but more support from federal and state governments are needed to continue to foster creative ideas and grow an innovative culture across all sectors—and not just the usual suspects like IT and medical technology.
“People think they need to leave the country to go overseas if they want to do anything innovative or entrepreneurial. Public grants and awards like this are valuable and motivational for local start-ups,” he said.