National Benefits

Social Benefit.
Australians are living longer, and expect to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle well into old age. By the year 2050, 25% of Australia’s population will be over 65. Currently, 12% of our population is in this age group. An aging population places an increased burden on the healthcare system. For example, the costs of managing age related musculoskeletal diseases (including osteoarthritis) costs the Australian community close to $1 billion annually in direct costs and $2.5 billion in indirect costs, representing 0.35% of the Gross National Product (Australian Bureau of Statistics data from 1995 National Health Survey). It has been estimated that 80% of people over the age of 65 suffer from the effects of osteoarthritis and cartilage degeneration. This long-term breakdown is compounded by the impaired healing capacity found in this group of individuals. An effective cartilage tissue replacement, made of cells seeded in appropriate scaffolds, would benefit many people in this group making them able to walk, hold objects and live a normal life without the need for constant care and free from pain. As well as the aging process itself, conditions such as osteoporosis severely limit the healing capacity of and treatment options available to the elderly.

In addition, there are over 100,000 Australians with type I diabetes that would benefit from an alternative transplantation therapy of insulin producing cells in an appropriate scaffold. Current insulin replacement therapies for diabetes involve considerable reductions in quality of life and result in serious long-term health complications. Up to 5% of the people suffering from diabetes will experience foot ulcers, which significantly compromise the quality of life for the patient and often result in the amputation of the limb. The generation of tissue-engineered skin, which can be used to cover the ulcerated area and promote healing, is a focus area of some of the researchers in ARNTE.

In all situations, novel therapies aimed at replacing tissues damaged by disease, degeneration, and/or trauma, or removed as a consequence of therapy, would dramatically improve the lives of thousands of Australians every year. This would be of enormous benefit to the economy. ARNTE is a network that will bring together researchers from diverse disciplines that are focused on collaborative studies, which will address the current challenges that prevent tissue engineering from achieving these goals. For example, a major goal of the group is to replace damaged tissue by providing cells in a suitable scaffold that controls the behaviour of those cells. Another major goal is to understand how cells and their products (proteins and glycoproteins) interact with the surfaces of materials.


Economic Benefit.
Longer-term economic benefits derive from the development of novel therapies, which reduce the medical expenses and infrastructure costs associated with prolonged hospitalisation, as well as increasing productivity due to a rapid return to work. Total health care expenditure in Australia is currently approximately A$51 billion per year, representing 8.3% of the gross domestic product. This has risen 3.6% per person per year since 1960 with by far the major proportion of this being due to the cost of publicly-funded institutional care. Consequently, cell-based therapies aimed at reducing these costs represent an expanding market. The engineering of skin replacement tissue has the economic benefit of reducing time in hospital for many patients with diabetic foot ulcers. Many of these patients are often in hospital for weeks to months for particularly recalcitrant cases (costing $500/day approx). The biomaterials market alone has a compound annual growth rate of 13.6%. The orthobiological component is the most rapidly growing portion of the orthopaedic market, in 2000 increasing by 44% over the 1999 level. The global market for tissue engineered devices is predicted to be worth US$ 20 billion by 2020, and Australia can play a significant role in this market, underpinned by strategic research typified in this proposal.
In the "Promoting and Maintaining Good Health" initiative, Biomaterials Science and Engineering play a key role in providing the essential materials for development of new strategies for the treatment, repair and regeneration of various diseased and damaged tissues. Many technologies, particularly tissue engineering, seek to control and prevent further deterioration of diseased tissue. Some of the focus of the ARNTE will be within 'Advanced Materials' for medical applications, and will include biomaterial applications of ceramics (eg: for orthopaedics), polymers (eg. resorbable polymers), fabrics (eg for cardiovascular devices) and composites (eg. for tissue engineering applications). Nano-engineering is another area of interest for ARNTE that addresses the promotion and maintenance of good health. A recent spillover benefit from the work of ARNTE researchers is an array for detecting and discriminating the various forms of leukemia. This technology is now in clinical trials and promises to revolutionise the early detection and diagnosis of this disease. By accurate and rapid discrimination of the type of leukemia present, treatments will be more effective and survival rates improved. Such developments require the combined skills of the physical science, materials engineering, protein biochemistry and medical science communities, all represented in ARNTE. This aspect of advanced materials and devices will benefit from the fundamental studies on interactions between surfaces and biological systems being carried out by ARNTE researchers and drawing on the skill base of materials physicists, protein biochemists and biologists.
Australia has a good track record in biomaterials development, which falls under Priority Goal 3 (Advanced Materials) of National Research Priority 3. Researchers in ARNTE have been involved in the production of a number of successful biomaterials, including the Elasteon® polymers licensed to Aortech and the Focus® contact lenses developed in partnership with CIBA Vision. By providing fundamental information for the rational design of three-dimensional scaffolds, ARNTE will build on this existing expertise in an area designated as a national research priority. The research team are well-placed to maximise the benefit of this work by providing research outcomes to Australian SMEs involved in tissue engineering activities. Polymers in particular are ideally suited to implantable scaffold applications because of their adaptable surface properties, tissue equivalent density and ease of forming.

ARNTE will bring direct benefit to Australia through providing better awareness of international scientific developments, and better awareness of the key competitors on the international stage. ARNTE will also provide excellent opportunities for industry, universities and research institutes to promote their science and technologies and to form commercial linkages and partnerships with international players in the field of tissue engineering, which would normally be expected to lead to overseas investment in Australian science and technology.

Knowledge Benefit.
ARNTE is open to and inclusive of researchers with an interest in Tissue Engineering from all States/Territories and will be unique in Australia. Our national focus will be integral to our success in ensuring an internationally competitive edge to the cross-disciplinary projects.
ARNTE will give Australian researchers, active in the disciplines involved in tissue engineering, outstanding opportunities to build and extend their networks and alliances, bringing opportunities for involvement in new product and process developments and in accessing new research knowledge. The generation of novel knowledge in the cutting-edge field of tissue engineering will enhance the status of Australia as a serious generator of intellectual property and make it a key player on the global stage. This is critical to its future as a viable member of the group of countries that can commercialise high-technology discoveries. ARNTE will also assist in the development of well-trained scientists capable of performing curiosity-driven research, which has both intrinsic and applied value. Working across several scientific boundaries, the network will foster a more meaningful and productive level of communication between institutions and disciplines essential for Australia to compete effectively in the global research environment.
ARNTE will be involved in training postdoctoral staff in an expanding interdisciplinary area at the interface between physical and life sciences. There are currently a number of graduates planning careers in the tissue engineering area, but because the career progression pathway at the postdoctoral level is weak in Australia, these graduates need to continue their career overseas, unless multidisciplinary networks such as this become available. The activities of ARNTE will lead to the promotion of interdisciplinary areas of science involving chemistry, biochemistry, physics, materials science and biology – all combinatorial skills which are proving to be in high demand in this post-genomic era. The benefits of new health promoting technologies in the community can only occur if there are sufficient highly-skilled individuals. The knowledge dissemination aspect of ARNTE will be of benefit here.
Other knowledge benefits include the education and awareness of secondary school students on the topic of Tissue Engineering and the many disciplines that work together to generate an outcome. This will be via visits to classes and open days that will be organised by ARNTE. Many of the ARNTE participants have been involved in similar outreach programs in the past and have successfully set up and completed many public demonstrations of their research activities.