Associate Professor Mia Woodruff is making science fiction reality

Imagine having the ability to give a young child a new ear created from living 3D tissue. 

Sounds too futuristic? 

Well the future will soon be here thanks to the work of Associate Professor Mia Woodruff and her team at the Queensland University of Technology-based Biofabrication and Tissue Morphology Group.

A superstar of science, Professor Woodruff is attracting global attention with her world-first 3D body parts and inspiring the next generation of researchers at events like Brisbane’s World Science Festival.

Last year QUT received seed funding to start to develop removable prosthetic ears that mimic cartilage tissue. In a partnership with the not-for-profit Hear and Say organisation, the research is focussed on using 3D printing and biofabrication technology to transform the lives of children with microtia (born with no ear or an underdeveloped ear).

Professor Woodruff hopes to make the prosthetic ears available to buy within a couple of years and eventually for less than the cost of a pair of glasses. The next step will be to create ears using 3D printing and including cartilage cells from the child’s own ear, which may be implanted into the body for a permanent ear construct.

Professor Woodruff’s extraordinary vision includes the future use of specially designed 3D printers to print biocompatible materials to augment other parts of the body and its organs. This could be life-changing, including for soldiers injured while on deployment.

Professor Mia Woodruff

Born in Yorkshire, UK, Professor Woodruff arrived in Brisbane in 2006 after completing her PhD at the University of Nottingham followed by postdoctoral research at the National University of Singapore. An internationally recognised expert in bone tissue engineering and biofabrication, her many accolades include winning the Queensland Young Tall Poppy Science Award in 2013.

Her work and that of other leaders in the field will one day soon see the routine 3D printing of anatomically precise replacement body parts happening on the spot as needed in the operating theatre, enabling a cost-effective, immediate solution to tissue loss. It’s a dream that others share and one requiring collaboration between biologists, engineers, clinicians, materials scientists, mathematicians, doctors and nurses as well as the support of research and education facilities, industry and government.

Brisbane is at the forefront, with the announcement at the end of 2016 of a new Biofabrication Institute to image, model and manufacture 3D patient-specific tissues in a partnership between QUT and Metro North Hospital and Health Service. Co-located within the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital and Herston Health Precinct, the institute is predicted to change the face of healthcare. The fact it is in Brisbane helps cement the city’s growing reputation as a global hub for ground-breaking, world-first medical research. 

“I’m fortunate to be working with an incredibly talented multidisciplinary team. Together with Metro North Hospital and Health service, QUT recognised the importance of co-locating medical technology research on a hospital campus, with access to patients and clinicians to really drive new technology development and have an impact on patient quality of life. To lead this initiative is a dream come true,” Professor Woodruff said.

“The Herston Precinct is one of the largest integrated health, education and training and research precincts in Australia and is currently undergoing large investment into clinical services expansion and clinically driven research institutes.

“This is a truly innovative approach which ensures that scientists, clinicians, patients, industry partners, educators and entrepreneurs are working closely together to really impact and improve health care solutions and ensure Australia is leading the world in this space. There’s simply no other place to be right now to realise this opportunity; it’s exciting times.”