The health of blood when it interacts with medical devices like heart-lung machines has been a central part of Dr Michael Simmonds’ scientific research since an interest in blood cells and blood properties took him down a career pathway to the Menzies Health Institute Queensland at Griffith’s Gold Coast campus.
While tapping away at one of the many blood-related mysteries being addressed at the Biorheology Research Laboratory, which he heads, Dr Simmonds’ work took a turn that opened up a world of possibility. And serendipity played its part.
With his research suggesting that high forces found in artificial medical devices were changing the functionality of blood cells, Dr Simmonds looked outside his laboratory for help. “We started leveraging other expertise, started working with engineers and medical doctors to investigate subtle changes in the way the blood cells were behaving,” he says. “Through these discussions we started to see that some of our individual limitations could be addressed by the strengths of a team approach.”
He cast his net wide, seeking out leading experts in blood pump design from around the world. The work of Professor Geoff Tansley at Aston University in the UK came to his attention.
“He had a really unique approach to trying to exclude blood cells from some of the high sheer stress regions of blood pumps. This is really important because it would basically mean that the blood cells would be less likely to become damaged.”
An email was dispatched from the Gold Coast and hit Professor Tansley’s inbox while he was visiting Washington DC, where he was attending a conference. He called Michael within minutes to discuss opportunities and that he would make contact on his return to work … at Griffith University!
“We actually were at the same campus but had just never run into each other,” Dr Simmonds says.
Professor Tansley had joined what is now Griffith’s School of Engineering and Built Environment some 12 months earlier and at that moment happened to be working on modelling for how blood flows through medical devices.
Their meeting would eventually lead to the formation of the Mechanobiology Research Laboratory, bringing together the disciplines of mechanical engineering and blood cell physiology. “It is the fruition of us understanding that each discipline in science has its own limitations,” Dr Simmonds says. “We’ve got both a scientific and engineering approach to solving medical problems.”
As part of a large integrative biology research centre in the UK, Professor Tansley was acutely aware of the potential rewards of a multidisciplinary approach. “I think it’s just the way forward. There’s just too much to know for one discipline to be able to make any inroads these days. This is the way that we are going to make big breakthroughs in the future.”