May 10, 2021
What do you remember from your student time that had made an impact on your career?
I think the turning point during my studies was to start collaborating as a student in the Physical Chemistry department at my University Pablo de Olavide. Working in the lab and discussing with Professors and Ph.D. students, seeing how they enjoyed science and how it was challenging work all the time made me realize that I also wanted to work in the research field. Before I started collaborating there, I did not consider doing a Ph.D.
When did you move to Austria and why?
I moved to Austria in 2017. Both my partner and I are researchers and it is not easy to find good job opportunities in the same place when we both work in science. He is Austrian and after a few years in Spain we decided that we would have more career opportunities in Austria.
You worked for the Spanish company Abengoa for several years. How different is it to work for a Spanish and an Austrian technological company?
Working in Spain and Austria is different, but I can't really compare the two companies. Abengoa was a multinational corporation with many business units and more than 25,000 employees when I was part of it. Profactor is a company focused exclusively on applied research. At Profactor, apart from the administrative department, most of the 80 employees are researchers. I must say that I have enjoyed both types of companies, and that I have learned and found opportunities to grow professionally as a researcher in both periods of my life.
INKplant fits completely in Profactor's strategy, as one of our lines of work is the multi-material additive manufacturing of biomaterials. Profactor has a long experience in 3D inkjet printing and this European project is the push that our company needs to become a reference in the field of biofabrication in Europe.
How did the consortium come about?
The configuration of the consortium was certainly key to the success of our proposal in such a competitive European call. And it is the key to the success of the project. Some of the partners have already worked together on EC projects before, for example the Polytechnic University of Madrid and the company Lithoz worked together on the TOMAX project. Another example is the company Fluidinova and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute working on the IMCOSS EC project. On the Profactor side, we have a long history of collaboration with the multinational Stratasys, a world-wide reference in additive manufacturing, in several projects such as DIMAP. Profactor is also involved in national projects with the Austrian partners of the Consortium, such as the Medical University of Vienna. When setting up a new consortium, previous collaborations help to know that the partners will work and collaborate well together and that they are the right ones to meet the goals. The new incorporations to the project were contacted by Profactor on the basis of their experience and international recognition and invited to join the Consortium.
In the project, terms like biomaterials, 3D multi-material inkjet printing, or biomimetic implants are commonly used. How would you explain those things to our grandparents, who are going to be one of the main beneficiaries of INKplant´s innovations?
When we talk about 3D manufacturing, the main message we must convey to the patient is that it will allow personalisation. Unlike the current implants on the market, which are manufactured in standard sizes and shapes, 3D manufacturing offers the possibility to fabricate implants that are adapted to the particularities of each patient, so the printed part will be manufactured specifically for him or her. With regard to terms such as biomaterials or biomimetic implants, the main message is that this new type of implant will not be a foreign part of the body. We want to take advantage of the incredible capabilities of the human body to regenerate and create new tissue, using materials that will be absorbed and help create, for example, new bone.
INKplant will provide printed parts with biomechanical performance and biological response, which are made of components that grow together with the body tissue. Doesn’t it sound like Science-Fiction?
Definitely yes, it sounds like science fiction! But fortunately it is not. At INKplant we believe that the combination of the right materials and technologies, supported by cutting-edge simulation work and tissue engineering expertise and, of course, the body's own capabilities for regeneration will make it possible in the medium term. We have to think of the implants that the project will develop as a scaffold. This scaffold, by its microstructure and its combination of materials, will serve the body to grow new tissues. After a while, the work of the scaffold is done, the body has grown its own tissue and absorbed the INKplant´s materials.
What are the main challenges you and your team at Profactor will face as coordinators of this project?
Every research project is a challenge, especially if it is a European project with such ambitious goals as INKplant. After a first look at the consortium, it is clear that the coordination of 19 partners will not be easy. It will require a high degree of organisation and, of course, the collaboration of all partners. Another aspect to consider is the multidisciplinary nature of the consortium, which includes researchers, industry partners, clinicians, ethicists, standardisation experts, etc., each with different backgrounds and different expectations for the project. Finding a common language to work together on INKplant's goals is a challenge. Having said that, I must say that so far we are having a very good experience in our work as coordinators. There is a great commitment of all partners to the project, and also enthusiasm, which of course will make our life easier.
Is 6M euros enough money to achieve INKplant’s goals?
Here the answer would be yes and no. During the preparation of the proposal we have set realistic objectives that are in line with the budget and the duration of the project. These objectives have been validated by the EC. However, if we talk about the future goals of INKplant, which are the commercialisation of INKplant's results and the incorporation of 3D printing and personalised medicine into daily medical practice, it will definitely require a larger and continuous investment over time and the involvement of many agents from public and private institutions to make it happen.