University of Wollongong graduate Rhys Cornock's research into bionics will be used to deliver real health benefits when he moves to Melbourne to lead a new 3D printing unit at St Vincent's Hospital.
When the unit opens next month, the 23-year-old will take part in cutting-edge research into areas such as bone regeneration and the controlled delivery of anti-epilepsy and other drugs into the brain.
As part of his honours degree in nanotechnology at UOW, Mr Cornock worked on the development of a new 3D printing process, which can be used to build more complex "bio-scaffolds".
These scaffolds, made up of bio-materials, can be filled with conducting polymers and implanted into the body to encourage tissue, muscle or bone regeneration.
"The great thing about 3D printing is that each design can be custom-fit to the patient," Mr Cornock said.
"For instance, if someone has broken a bone and has a very specific fracture, then we can 3D-print a scaffold based on a scan of the area so it fits that fracture shape exactly.
"These bio-scaffolds encourage regeneration rather than scarring."
Scaffolds could also be customised to release a certain drug at a steady rate. This would be a major breakthrough for people with conditions such as epilepsy.
"Scaffolds could be implanted with a slow-release regime of drugs or a burst of drugs in the advent of a seizure," he said.
At St Vincent's, a partner of UOW's ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES), Mr Cornock will be working with more than 500 professionals combining research, clinical practice and education to deliver health benefits to the community.
He is an additive fabrication technician, and his role will be specifically to develop new bio-materials and ever more complex scaffolds with different properties to treat different conditions.
"St Vincent's provides us with the platform for the next stage of testing with rats and rabbits," he said.
ACES director Professor Gordon Wallace said UOW researchers would be able to do internships at the customised facility at St Vincent's.
"This will put our scientists and engineers in direct contact with clinicians," he said.
"This is expected to fast-track the realisation of practical medical devices."
Although their focus was on biomedical research, many other applications were being explored, in areas such as food production or the production of machinery, Professor Gordon said.