QUT researcher Dr Marie-Luise Wille’s Bridge and BridgeTech Industry Fellowship supported an industry placement with Stryker, which proved to be only the beginning of a fruitful research collaboration with the global Medtech leader, and instigated a second successful research funding application.
Dr Wille’s research is focused on designing 3D-printed biodegradable implants. Her work is behind the world’s largest biodegradable 3D-printed shin bone implant and many other implants that have had remarkable, life-changing impacts on patients. She has worked with surgeons and manufacturers to design and produce these patient-specific implants, and has seen those patients years after surgery being able to walk again, or their birth defects being improved.
After completing the BridgeTech Program, armed with new insights into the Medtech commercialisation process, Dr Wille sought avenues to push her research further towards making implants more widely accessible to patients.
She planned to apply for the Bridge and BridgeTech Industry Fellowships Program and approached Stryker, a world-leading manufacturer of surgical implants, proposing to use the fellowship to work on a project based within their organisation.
Stryker, a partner organisation of the BridgeTech Program, agreed to host the placement. Dr Wille applied and was awarded a fellowship.
“From our initial conversations, we could see there was a common passion between us and some differences – Stryker was focused on developing metal implants, and my research is in polymer-based, biodegradable implants. There was a mutual interest and potential for collaboration,” Dr Wille said.
Designing a mutually-beneficial placement agreement
Dr Wille was able to dedicate one day a week to the project and used most of her fellowship funding to cover her salary for these days.
“When you’re planning your project I recommend being realistic about what you can achieve, and to make sure you devote enough time to the project to get the most out of it,” she said.
When it came to deciding on what the goals and expected outcomes of the fellowship should be, she recommends considering the industry partner’s business goals as well as your own.
“The Fellowship was fantastic opportunity for both parties. You work closely with an industry partner and foster collaborations. There’s no financial expense for either party – it’s a win-win situation,” Dr Wille said.
“As a researcher it is important to consider that industry has different business goals to academia, so framing your expected outcomes with consideration to their goals and timelines is important,” she added.
A stepping stone to further funding and continued collaboration
The success of Dr Wille’s fellowship project led to further collaboration with Stryker.
“As part of my fellowship, I arranged project meetings at least once a week with German and Australian Stryker representatives. We had some fruitful conversations where we identified how my expertise in patient-specific implant designs could be utilised in a future research collaboration,” she said.
To support this collaboration financially, Dr Wille was awarded a Researcher Exchange and Development within Industry (REDI) Fellowship, offered by MTPConnect. She was successful in her application and was awarded the fellowship in January, valued at up to $250,000 a year.
“3D printing technology can significantly advance biomedical implant development to meet the speed and cost expectations of patients and health care providers. But non-standard workflows from initial presentation of a patient with a bone condition through to clinical assessment, design, manufacture, and surgical insertion of the implant have multiple, time-consuming iterations,” she said.
“Optimising the workflow will ultimately deliver outstanding value for the patient by significantly reducing time to treatment.”
Dr Wille is now working with Stryker teams across Australia and Germany on a one year project developing a new, standardised, patient-centred workflow for patient specific solutions.
Applications are open
Dr Marie-Luise Wille was one of 10 BridgeTech Program participants to receive a fellowship in 2020.
If you are a current or past participant of the Bridge Program or BridgeTech Program, read more about the fellowship and apply before May 30, 2022.