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Professor Saso Ivanovski, Griffith Univeristy

Griffith research breakthroughs making history

Kathy Kruger | April 2016

A trip to the dentist could be revolutionised thanks to cutting edge research that is 3D bio-printing damaged gum and jawbone, and soon teeth – just one of the breakthrough projects Griffith University’s army of researchers is ‘quietly ‘ working away on.

The dental research, which is in pre-clinical trials and will be trialled on humans within the next 1-2 years, promises a less painful and less costly process to give patients with loose or missing teeth and damaged gums the chance to smile brighter.

Using a detailed scan of a patient’s jaw and computer design technology, a new tissue engineered gum and jaw can be printed and implanted into their jawbone, replacing the diseased or damaged area and avoiding the need for bone grafts. New teeth can then be implanted into the new healthy gum, which is an exact fit in the patient’s mouth.

A $650,0000 grant from the National Health & Medical Research Council is funding the research by periodontist Professor Saso Ivanovski of Menzies Health Institute Queensland.

“By using this sophisticated tissue engineering approach, we can instigate a much less invasive method of bone replacement,” Professor Ivanovski says.

“A big benefit for the patient is that risks of complications will be significantly lower.”

Technology transforming prosthetics

Prosthetic limbs may give the wearer mobility, but until now they’ve been strictly functional, with limited attention to aesthetics let alone additional technology. 

With a Bachelor degree in Psychology and studies in health science and engineering, Griffith design student Troy Baverstock is now reimagining the possibilities for wearers of prosthetic devices, creating a limb attachment to sit over a prosthetic leg, that is inbuilt with significant smarts. 

limbU is a 3D printed prosthetic device that moves beyond its stylish appearance to become a personal activity tracker, audio system, phone charger and medical diagnostic tool.

Using smart electronics limbU connects with a mobile phone via Bluetooth to display the intensity, speed, and number of steps in a day. limbU also monitors altitude, direction, and GPS coordinates, along with temperature and humidity to provide a detailed image of daily activity.

The innovative designer believes wearable technology will keep advancing so that prosthetic limbs will become superior to biological ones.

“In my pursuits I attempt to improve upon or add new dimensions to existing products and believe our devices should free us to be more human,” Troy says.

“3D printing is breaking down the barrier between the digital and the physical, allowing us to create and invent one step closer to the speed of our imagination.”

The design has already been exhibited in Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Hong Kong.

Carbon leads the way in clean energy

Creating new sources of clean energy is complicated to say the least, but Professor Xiangdong Yao and his team at Griffith’s Queensland Micro and Nano-technology Centre are leading the way.

Extracting hydrogen from water is one of the most exciting prospects, but until now scientists have relied on sourcing platinum, a rare and expensive chemical element that is primarily mined in South Africa.

Platinum is used as an electro-catalyst to help extract the hydrogen (H₂) from water (H₂0), but in groundbreaking research Griffith scientists have replaced it with carbon as a catalyst. Carbon is one of the most widely available chemical elements – the key ingredient to most life on earth.

According to Professor Yao there have been tremendous efforts to explore cheap, efficient and durable electro-catalysts but it remains a great challenge.

“Hydrogen production through an electrochemical process is at the heart of key renewable energy technologies including water splitting and hydrogen fuel cells,” says Professor Yao.

“We have now developed this carbon-based catalyst, which only contains a very small amount of nickel and can completely replace the platinum for efficient and cost-effective hydrogen production from water.”

From hydrogen fuel cell batteries for cars and boats, to stationary energy to power buildings and for energy storage, the potential of harnessing hydrogen in clean energy production is significant.

Griffith archaeological scientists help rewrite history

Meanwhile chemical dating by Griffith University researchers measuring uranium and thorium in fossils has rewritten the history of the human species Homo floresiensis, otherwise known as ‘Hobbits’ – discovering that these small cave dwellers became extinct tens of thousands of years before previously thought.

Published in the prestigious journal Nature, the research, by a group of international scientists challenges reports that the tiny inhabitants of remote Flores island co-existed with modern humans for tens of thousands of years. They found that the Hobbits died out at least 50,000 years ago, instead of only 11,000-13,000 years ago.

According to Associate Professor Maxime Aubert, a geochronologist and archeologist at Griffith’s Research Centre of Human evolution, ‘modern man’ is probably to blame for their demise.

“In fact, Homo floresiensis seems to have disappeared soon after our species reached Flores, suggesting it was us who drove them to extinction,” says Associate Professor Aubert.

“The science is unequivocal.”

Other research by Griffith University is edging closer to determining how and when dingoes got to Australia – finding the wild dog species was probably introduced by the people of southern Sulawasi, to the north of Flores island in Indonesia.

Professor Paul Tacon from Griffith University’s Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit and archaeologist Dr Melanie Fillios from the University of New England looked at genetics and archaeology to find out the exact timing of the dingoes’ introduction.

“We don’t know if the dingoes came through early agriculturalists, hunter-gatherers or sea-faring traders. But after looking at recent genetic studies of dingo origins we have managed to narrow down a list of potential groups who could have been responsible for their introduction,’’ Dr Fillios says.

The absence of a gene for digesting starch in dingoes suggests they probably were introduced by people who hunted and gathered, prior to the introduction of agriculture.

See Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct for more.

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