Griffith University: Griffith bioengineer named QLD Fresh Scientist 2021

A 60-second pitch on research that aims to take the guesswork out of paediatric hip surgery saw Griffith University’s Dr Martina Barzan win the Fresh Science Queensland 2021 competition last night.

Bioengineer Dr Barzan took on 11 other up-and-coming scientists who had to describe their scientific discoveries in less than a minute.

“Imagine if your little sister, daughter, or niece could not walk, or even sit, due to hip pain caused by a severe bone deformity,” Dr Barzan said in her pitch.

“The only treatment is surgery.

“Every two days, one child in Queensland has surgery to correct hip deformities.


Dr Barzan consulting with a surgeon.
“Most surgeons plan these procedures using static 2D images, like x-rays, and this does not allow to appreciate the 3D deformity or to understand how the planned correction would affect how the child’s hip would move.”

Dr Barzan explained the concept of the digital twin – using computerised replicas of a child’s anatomy, with the bones and muscles attached.

“The digital twin allows surgeons to test surgery options and simulate how the child’s hip would move after surgery.”

She said they then designed and 3D printed guides that matched the child’s bone shape to transfer the virtual plan to the operating room.

“Surgery times and radiation dose have been cut in half and, nine months after surgery, all children can sit and walk again,” she said.

“They can now live a normal life pain free.”

The Research Fellow’s win is a hat-trick for the Griffith Centre of Biomedical and Rehabilitation Engineering team, with Dr Claudio Pizzolato (2018) and Dr Antony McNamee (2019) the previous two winners of Fresh Science Queensland. The competition was not held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Barzan, who works at the Advanced Design and Prototyping Technologies Institute within the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct, said she was proud to take out the Fresh Science Queensland 2021 Judges’ Choice award.

“I’m happy I was able to deliver my message. It was a great feeling,” she said.

“I’m really grateful and I was quite surprised – there were so many other great finalists.”

The researcher became interested in bioengineering when looking for an alternative to being a doctor.

“I was really interested in the medical field, but I didn’t feel like being a doctor was for me, so I was thinking of ways I could contribute without following that career path,” she said.

“I found the field of bioengineering would give me this opportunity, so I really like that I can play a part in this way.”

Fresh Science is a national competition, this year held at Griffith University’s Nathan campus, that helps early career researchers find and then share their stories of discovery.

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