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Engineering a way to improve health

Brendan Kennedy

Senior Research Fellow

Dr Brendan Kennedy is seeing first-hand how engineering has the potential to save lives in his joint appointment between the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research and The University of Western Australia’s School of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering.

Through his position as Laboratory Head of BRITElab at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, Brendan is among the first group of biomedical engineers to work at the institute. Fascinated by using engineering principles to improve health outcomes for patients, Brendan says despite the incredibly sophisticated technology used in modern hospital settings, there are still many medical scenarios crying out for better solutions – and engineering can often help.

Brendan’s first impossible was figuring out how to develop a medical imaging technique that could have an impact in breast surgery.

“I was blown away when I learned that surgeons still often use the sense of touch to help determine if a tumour has been completely removed during breast surgery. I’m convinced that novel imaging, such as the micro-elastography technique we’re developing, can have a large impact in this area and can help reduce the number of additional surgeries required.”

What drew Brendan to electronic engineering was his love for figuring things out, getting lost in a problem and having that ‘Eureka!’ moment when you realise the solution. 

“Above all, I’m driven to make a difference with my research in biomedical engineering. Success in this field is dependent on solving difficult problems as part of a multidisciplinary team. I get a real kick out of learning about areas well beyond the topics I studied, such as pathology and biology. It keeps me on my toes and guarantees I’ll never become bored with my work.”

Brendan Kennedy

An initial challenge of Brendan’s was the move from his familiar background in electronic engineering to then work with surgeons and pathologists. However, he learnt it’s often not important what your background is if you are able to identify a worthwhile problem, develop a strategy to address the problem and surround yourself with experts in key areas.

His next challenge is the most important one: translating the developed technology into clinical practice so surgeons have access to it. This requires the team not only to sustain the engineering development, but to accelerate clinical development and also to commercialise the technology; something Brendan is incredibly excited by.

Brendan says he was most pleased with UWA’s world-class environment in which to grow as a researcher. Immediately after arriving, he was struck by the positive, can-do attitude that prevails across the campus, and the density of leading researchers.

His advice for fellow researchers pursuing their impossible is to choose an important problem that has no apparent solution; that way your work will have no limits. He says to not focus on whether it’s possible or not, as there are always reasons to quit. Focus on the solution and enjoy the journey – who knows where it will take you. 

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