In an exciting development for the HRI, the talented Dr Steven Wise has been promoted to lead the newly formed Applied Materials Group. Bringing enthusiasm and vision, Steven is also a Conjoint Clinical Senior Lecturer at the Sydney Medical School and an Honorary Associate of the School of Molecular Bioscience, at the University of Sydney.
As evidence of the nurturing environment at the HRI, Steven has grown from a promising postdoctoral fellow to now leading his own team of scientists. Steven explains:
“The HRI is the only place in Australia right now where I could have the opportunity to start a research group as an early career researcher. It is an incredibly supportive environment.”
The Applied Materials Group will focus on developing and evaluating new types of materials for tissue repair and replacement. Along the way, they will be developing new models that more closely mimic the clinical environment. The team of four PhD and one Honours student work together over long hours to realise these goals.
The greater purpose of the group is to one day provide better materials for clinicians to use in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. The materials currently available are fundamentally incompatible with the tissues they seek to repair. Metal alloys like stainless steel, and the same plastics used in Goretex jackets and drinking straws are in wide use, relying on technology that has not evolved considerably for several decades. The group aims to provide better platform materials to improve the treatment of all cardiovascular diseases.
Asked about his current cutting edge work, Steven explains:
“We are developing new blood vessels made from silkworm silk, and from degradable polymers that encourage the body to regrow native tissue.
"In addition, we are characterising a new class of nanoparticles, which could be used for better medical imaging and drug delivery.”
Steven is excited by his continued partnership with Associate Professor Martin Ng, head of the Translational Research and Bioengineering Group, in the ongoing development of an improved vascular stent coating.
Steven explains, “This work is now seeing some very exciting pre-clinical results after nearly a decade of development, so it’s reaching a very important stage.”
Martin and Steven are currently presenting their latest findings at EuroPCR in Paris, France – the largest European interventional cardiology meeting.
Steven is looking ahead to an exciting future, “My aim for 2015 is to establish a solid foundation for the new group, get the team working together well and publish some high quality papers.” His dedication arises from his steadfast commitment to a greater purpose, “I love coming to work every day. Our research is constantly geared towards making a clinical difference, so every experiment brings us closer to that goal. I meet lots of people with cardiovascular disease, including in my own family, and I feel like we can really make a difference.”
Steven believes that the HRI sits in a privileged position due to contributions from its generous donors. “We have an exceptional facility to conduct our research in which is constantly being upgraded with new equipment. The close connection to the public through our fundraising team makes it's a truly unique environment. Having my own team would not have been possible without a particularly generous member of the public believing in what I do and offering financial support. I’m very grateful to him.”
Steven began his scientific career at the University of Western Sydney, completing a Bachelor Science (Advanced), majoring in Chemistry. Hinting at his future potential, he won the Inaugural National Leadership Scholarship, which included a trek along the arduous Kokoda Trail.
In 2001, he completed his Honours, again at the University of Western Sydney. He studied transition metals (Ruthenium) in cancer therapy under Dr Janice Aldrich-Wright, for which he not only received first class Honours but the 2001 University Medal.
He completed his PhD in 2006 at the University of Sydney in Biochemistry, under Professor Anthony Weiss. He studied the structure and assembly of tropoelastin, a critical human protein involved in tissue elasticity particularly in the skin, lungs and arteries.
He then spent three years as a postdoctoral scientist with Professor Weiss and Associate Professor Martin Ng. Steven was the founding member of their interdisciplinary program to develop tropoelastin into a vascular repair material.
In 2009, Steven moved to HRI and worked with Associate Professor Ng and the Translational Research Group as the lead postdoctoral fellow directing the development of new blood vessel replacements and improved vascular stents.
Steven credits Associate Professor Ng with being the dominant influence on his career, enabling him to make the transition from basic to applied research. Steven explains, “Over nearly a decade I have learnt an enormous amount from Martin about cardiovascular medicine, identifying important clinical needs and developing competitive grants proposals. Our continuing partnership is an important component of the next stages of my career.”
Steven is already an accomplished researcher, having developed a completely synthetic blood vessel replacement, built from the same protein that natural vessels are made from. He followed the idea from conception through to a working prototype that matched the physical properties of a human artery. It took more than 5 years of engineering and development, and now these vessels are in pre-clinical testing.
Steven was born and bred in the suburbs of Sydney. One of four children, he was given the opportunity to attend university unlike his parents before him who had to leave school early to support their families. He enjoyed an idyllic childhood thanks to his hard working and devoted parents. “I lived in the same house in the same cul-de-sac my entire life, part of a friendly and safe community. I couldn’t have asked for better.” Steven said.
Steven was lucky to have experienced passionate and engaging physics and chemistry teachers in high school. “I remember vividly that my physics teacher filmed us hitting golf balls with a slow motion camera – to demonstrate parabolic motion and elastic collisions!” explained Steven.
Outside of science, Steven has always loved cricket, having played for the Bankstown Cricket Club for more than 15 years. Importantly, he finds balance and perspective from spending precious time with his young family.