Asking the Pro | Kate Firipis

23rd Week


Hello, first of all, I want to thank you for accepting my request.

As a starter, can you please say something about yourself? Who are you, what are you working on right now?

Hello! My name is Kate Firipis. I am a PhD student at BioFab3D, Melbourne, Australia. My research focuses on bioink development and characterisation using peptide materials. Before joining RMIT’s PhD program, I received my bachelor degree in biomedical engineering (Hons) from RMIT University with research stints at Western Health Hospital, University Hospital of Ulm, IONAS Hochschule Karlsruhe and the Australian Centre for Blood Diseases.

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Can you please describe a day of yours as a PhD candidate, especially during this strange period? How do you keep yourself on track and what do you do to motivate yourself?

Working from home for me looks like coffee in the morning, meeting everyone’s pets over skype and lots of reading, writing, discussing, and concluding. My university has suspended all research activities for the time being. So I’m working on my thesis and papers from home. I haven’t worked from home for an extended time before, so there’s been a learning curve. I found it challenging to keep regular hours, often finishing a lot later or working on weekends as the days blur together. I’ve discovered that regular conference calls help. I’ve started a virtual journal club with my lab mates. And have several meetings with collaborators, students, and supervisors throughout the week. We mostly have video conferences, so it’s personable, keeping in touch helps me focus on work. Writing-wise I’m lucky that I already have a lot of data collected. However, there are definitely still experiments I’m itching to do before I submit. My impending PhD submission deadline keeps me on track, 230 days left, but who’s counting…

One of the research topics you’re working on is peptide-based biomaterial development. You also have different conference papers about that subject; can you briefly explain what are the primary aims of a biomaterial engineer about that topic?

That’s right, I’m figuring out how we can 3D-bioprint with peptide-based biomaterials as my thesis topic. When approaching a new material, I like to see what the literature says on its biocompatibility first. And I run it through a series of printability tests that we have set up at BioFab3D. The aim is to determine if the material sits in the biofabrication window. A good bioink can support cellular behaviour and maintain its required shape when deposited. In future, as well as improvements in material design I also envision we will see advances in fabrication techniques that are biocompatible and high resolution./

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I love that question and wanted to ask you too; do you have any specific reasons to choose 3D bioprinting? What are your turning-of-events points have an effect on your decision?

Many people lose their life, or quality of life, waiting for an organ donation, and there are not enough donors to keep up with demand. I work in 3D bioprinting with the vision to have on-demand organ replacement technologies become a reality. The aim of 3D bioprinting and biofabrication is to synthetically reproduce natural organ structures and functions. The body and its organs are incredibly complex, tiny details in the microenvironment have significant effects on cellular outcomes. The benefit of 3D bioprinting is the ability to spatially deposit cells and supporting material in the same extraordinarily complex and structured way as they’re found in the body. I work to improve the supporting materials, but my work is just one piece of the puzzle. Unfortunately, this is not a problem to be solved overnight, and it is a multi-faceted one.

Please, if you can, sign up to be an organ donor today.

 

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‘Alternative Careers in STEM’ panel at RMIT Univ – Link

You are a biomedical engineer, working on a heavily-interdisciplinary subject. What were the main difficulties you had in the first place? How did you overcome these?

I remember my first project working with cells, I was washing them with water and couldn’t figure out where they went. The method was approved by my supervisor, but there was a misunderstanding that I, with my engineering degree, had common sense about cell work. Luckily since then, I have had training and exposure to working with cells, and of course, it hasn’t happened again. From my experience, this is the main difficulty of interdisciplinary work. Everyone on the team comes in with expectations of what an experiment or outcome will look like. If they are not discussed and laid out at the start, then there will be issues later.

Lastly, do you want to give some advice to the next generations who want to study 3D biofabrication?

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We live in the most exciting part of human existence, ok maybe fire was a real game-changer, but technologically we are the generation that grew up with the internet. The generation that is confused about why smart needs to be in front of phone, and we currently have a tremendous opportunity to impact how future generations live. So be excited, we have people living in space, we have a globalised community, and one day we will 3D bioprint on-demand organs.

If you’re in school, the right place to start is with science subjects and moving into material science, or bioengineering university degree. As I’ve recommended to my siblings and other students, try to organise a placement in a lab, so you have a grasp of what the work involves. This will also help you when you’re choosing a career later on.

If you’re considering an honours, masters or PhD in tissue engineering, I’d recommend reading review articles to quickly understand where the current state-of-the-art research is heading. And to find a university/research team that has the skills and equipment to help you investigate your research questions. My advice is to find the people you work well with and team up. Work hard, even if you never see the reward, and be humble about what you don’t know.

For tissue engineering and biofabrication specifically, my practical advice is to start by identifying a cell type to work with. Each part of the body has a different cellular microenvironment that enables unique organs to form and function correctly. By identifying and understanding the complexities of the natural infrastructure, we can use a bottom-up approach to engineer synthetic materials and fabrication methods that are biomimetic.


Kate Firipis;

ResearchGate profile, ORCID profile, GoogleScholar profile

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