Interview: Professor Alexander Seifalian

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Dr. Alexander Seifalian is the Director and Professor of Nanotechnology & Regenerative Medicine, Nanotechnology and Regenerative Medicine Commercialisation Centre (Ltd) His current projects have led to the development of cardiovascular implants using nanomaterials and stem cell technology, and the development of organs using tissue engineering and nanoparticles for detection and treatment of cancer. He has also developed a family of nanomaterials and nanocomposite polymers for a range of biomedical applications.
He was awarded the top prize in the field for the development of nanomaterials and technologies for cardiovascular implants in 2007 by Medical Future Innovation, and in 2009 received a Business Innovation Award from UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) in the Life Sciences and Healthcare category.
More recently (2011), he developed a lacrimal drainage conduit, vascular bypass graft, and trachea made from nanocomposite polymers and stem cells and delivered them from the laboratory directly to patients. In addition, he is also taking a further three products to clinical trials within the next three year, which include a coronary artery bypass graft in 2012, a transcatheter heart valve in 2013 (both funded by the Wellcome Trust), and a nerve conduit for nerve regeneration funded by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB).
We are honored to have Professor Alexander Seifalian as our speaker for our upcoming London event on Feb 8th, 2018.
JC: When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing? What was the experience like? What were you thinking at that moment?
AS: The first encounter I had with 3D printing was when I bought my first 3D printer in 2009. I bought it online from the USA for $230 and put them together at home and just printing bits and pieces for fun. Later, printed 3D model of a heart valve from a CT scan. This was shown to cardiologists and they found it interesting for clinical application.
JC: What inspired you to start your journey/research in 3D printing (bio-fabrication/bioprinting)?
AS: I work on human organs using nanocomposite materials as a 3D scaffold and stem cells; my interest was to print human organs, including facial organs such as ear, nose, and trachea. I have obtained large grants from research councils working on 3D bioprinters.
JC: Who else inspired you the most along this journey in 3D printing (bioprinting/fabrication)? This can be a mentor, a patient, a celebrity, anyone basically. You can name more than one as well.
AS:  Initially, what inspired me was watching videos on “youtube”, just looking at various printing for industrial applications. Later on, a medical student who was doing his research project with me, Mr. Nicolaas van Rensburg, wanted to work on 3D printers to print 3D scaffolds for human applications in ear development. The first 3D printer we bought for work.
JC: What motivates you the most for your work?
AS: Positive outcomes are what motivates me the most, such as the benefits provided to the patients or to industries, within a defined timescale.
JC: What is/are the biggest obstacle(s) in your work? If you have conquered them, what were your solutions?
AS: As an academic, the biggest obstacle is always spending time chasing grants and finance as well as finding people with the same self-driven attitude as myself.
JC: What advice would you give to a smart driven student in the “real world”? What bad advice you heard should they ignore?
AS: I have successfully supervised 121 Ph.D. students during my academic career, my advice to all my students has always been to first spend at least 3-6 months reading and reviewing the proposed research, possibly also writing a critical review article, and then embarking on the research, by now knowing exactly what they want to do. Spend 70% of your time reading and writing and only 30% of your time in the lab.
The bad advice they should ignore is to just start by going into the lab and doing no reading to initially learn the subject.
JC: If you could have a giant billboard to promote a message to millions and even billions of people in our community (i.e. healthcare 3D printing and bio-fabrication), what message would that be?
AS: Think hard about what you want to develop and ask the end user if they want such a product. At the same time, ensure they can afford it, both their time and the final cost.
JC: What were/was the best investment you made in 3D printing/bio-printing/bio-fabrication?
AS: Purchasing $300 worth of printer parts and putting it together.
JC: What was/is the biggest risk you took in your career?
AS: The risk I took was taking R&D forward came from avoiding some of the administrative paperwork.
JC: What do you enjoy in your spare time? What are you passionate about outside of your work/3d printing?
AS: In my spare time, I enjoy playing chess and reading innovative work carried out by smart individuals within society through thinking outside the box. At same time love going out and socializing.

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Professor Alexander Seifalian poses for a portrait in his office at his research facility in the Royal Free Hospital in London, Monday, March 31, 2014. In the north London hospital, scientists are growing noses, ears and blood vessels in the laboratory in a bold attempt to make body parts using stem cells. It is among several labs around the world, including in the U.S., that are working on the futuristic idea of growing custom-made organs in the lab. While only a handful of patients have received the British lab-made organs so far— including tear ducts, blood vessels and windpipes — researchers hope they will soon be able to transplant more types of body parts into patients, including what would be the world’s first nose made partly from stem cells. “It’s like making a cake,” said Alexander Seifalian at University College London, the scientist leading the effort. “We just use a different kind of oven.” (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Meet Dr. Seifalian at our upcoming London event.   

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