David Nisbet is Research Fellow in the Research School of Electrical, Energy and Materials Engineering at The Australian National University.
"I am developing new materials that support the growth of human cells. More specifically, I engineer synthetic environments for stem cells that promote their survival and function. From this we hope to regenerate brain cells and pathways that have become damaged, either through injury or through diseases such as Parkinson's disease."
David Nisbet works in the area of biomedical engineering at the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science, and his work has some important and exciting applications.
David says, "We are engineering new materials that mimic the morphological and chemical features of brain tissue. This provides an environment where stem cells can grow and function.
"With this new material we have been able to control inflammation - which is one of the main reasons that cells do not regenerate after injury - and encourage nerve regeneration. We have been able to implant a synthetic material into the brain and have cells migrate into the artificial structure.
"Successful stem cell transplantation technology would be the means of replacing lost brain cells. It would represent a major scientific breakthrough and revolutionise medical treatments."
However, biomedical engineering was not David's first choice of career.
"I originally wanted to be a carpenter and then started a civil engineering degree at Monash University. After my first year I became interested in the idea of making novel materials, and so moved into materials engineering."
After obtaining a PhD in Materials Engineering in 2009, David received an Australian Postdoctoral Fellowship to pursue research in tissue engineering and the fabrication of artificial stem cell microenvironments. In 2010, he was awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to spend six months studying surface science and biofunctionalisation at the University of California Berkeley. He is a chief investigator on two Australian Research Council discovery projects and two National Health and Medicine Research Council project grants.
"One of the most important features of my work is 'translational medicine'. I am not just interested in making new materials, but in making sure that those materials can be translated into the clinic and be used by doctors and surgeons to improve someone's health."
For this reason, the emphasis of David's work is at the interface of several disciplines.
"Our team brings together mechanical engineering, chemistry, biology and fabrication skills and knowledge. We need all of these to give our new materials the structural, mechanical, chemical and biological properties that will support human cells. I think biomedical engineering is an area for growth in both medicine and in engineering, and I hope to be able to grow the group at the ANU and create new linkages with medical researchers both locally and internationally."
Moving to ANU from Melbourne has also meant that David has the chance to spend more time at one of his favourite pastimes - cycling. "Mountain biking in Melbourne means an hour's drive out of the city - here in Canberra I can do it on the way home from work!"