Interview: Jason Chuen, Director of Vascular Surgery at Austin Heath, Australia

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Jason is Director of Vascular Surgery at Austin Heath, and also heads The University of Melbourne Medical 3D Printing Laboratory, @3dMedLab. He completed his specialist training in 2007 and has held multiple governance roles including Victorian Chair of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, AMA Victorian State Councillor and President of the Australian Chinese Medical Association of Victoria. He has a passion for medical innovation and technology and maintains multiple active surgical research streams.

Dr. Jason Chuen was a speaker at our 2018 Melbourne event. 

Jenny: When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing? What was that experience like? What were you thinking at that moment?
Jason: Like many, my first encounter with 3D printing would have been through science fiction. I don’t recall what came first — the concept of matter transportation from watching Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, the replicator in Star Trek, or something similar. To me, it just seemed natural that this technology would come into being someday. It was actually a surprise to me to find out in the mid-2000s how much basic work was still being done to get it out of the hobbyist stage and into widespread consumer applications.


Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey in 3D printing ?

Jason: After keeping an eye on developments in the news (things like the concept of 3d-printed guns) it started striking close when I saw 3d printed anatomical teaching and simulation models starting to appear in reports from Japan. Around that time I also saw the vascular aortic work from Mayo and Cleveland Clinic and that was something I really wanted to get into. I wanted the end product, and that meant I needed to investigate how to produce it.


Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey in 3D printing ? This can be a mentor, a patient, a celebrity, anyone basically. You can name more than one as well.
Jason: For much of my career I had accepted that most medical technologies were developed elsewhere and that some big behemoth of a medical device company would turn it into something I could use. There are really three groups of people I would say were inspirations — the first was via one of my mentors, the late endovascular surgical pioneer Dr. John Anderson from Adelaide. He gave me a behind-the-scenes view of endovascular aortic stent-graft development and the fact that front-line Australian surgeons were key players in this revolutionary technology. He told me the stories of how Michael Lawrence-Brown (a Perth Vascular Surgeon) and radiographer David Hartley developed the H&LB stent-graft platform into a global success story. This taught me that medical technological advances come from real people solving real problems.
The second group is the Research Platforms team at The University of Melbourne including David Flanders and Paul Mignone who has since moved into private industry. They have shown me the importance of sharing our work and creating infrastructure and platforms that help other researchers to advance their fields — it is really the concept that what benefits me is great, but what benefits everyone is truly transformational.
The third group is the research students that I have had over the past few years. The journey that they have gone through from being complete novices to developing a real passion for this work inspires me to keep going. Nothing is more powerful than the thought that we have started a ball that will roll on under its own momentum.


Jenny: What is/are the biggest obstacle(s) in your line of work? If you have conquered them, what were your solutions?
Jason: I find that the biggest obstacle in this field is that there are scattered teams around Australia and New Zealand that are working on Medical 3D printing projects without communicating or collaborating with each other — mainly because they don’t know who each other are. We are gradually overcoming that by bringing together networks of researchers, clinicians, and engineers, and the October 3dMed Australia Conference which will be held at The University of Melbourne will be key to that. If anyone you know has not submitted an abstract or registered to come then please pester them until they do! Go to https://3dmedlab.org.au/3dmedau18 for more information.


Jenny: What do you think is (are) the biggest challenge(s) in 3D Printing? What do you think the potential solution(s) is (are)?

Jason: I think the biggest challenge is a conceptual one, and one of the mismatched expectations. 3D printing and especially 3D bioprinting is not the holy grail of manufacturing or a magical means to create solid organs such as kidneys for transplantation. It is an evolution and an additional tool to be used in modern manufacturing or tissue engineering systems which allows us to do what we do already in different, more efficient or innovative ways. It allows us to think outside the box and re-imagine what we can create and how it will work. We need to abandon the concept that a 3d-printed kidney has to look a certain way or that it is created purely with 3d-bioprinting — if it achieves our goal of replacing kidney function then who cares what it looks like or how many different combined manufacturing techniques are required to create it?


Jenny: What were/was the best/worst investment you made in 3D printing/bio-printing/bio-fabrication?
Jason: The best investment I have made is in encouraging and fostering my students — it’s as close as I’ll ever get to 3d-printing copies myself to get work done.


Jenny: What do you enjoy in your spare time? What are you passionate about outside of your work/3d printing?
Jason: Nothing replaces family. In the little spare time that I have, I like to spend it with my wife and children. It doesn’t have to be anything exciting or exotic. If we can have a cuddle or read bedtime stories together then that is precious quality time
 

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