Aortic stenosis is the most common heart valve disease affecting 2-7% of those aged >65 and is expected to rise with the ageing population. If untreated, severe symptomatic aortic stenosis has a 3-year survival rate of <30%.

Aortic valve disease is rising, and the incidence of severe aortic stenosis is expected to drastically increase with our ageing population. Replacement of stenotic valves with new leaflets via a transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) is becoming the treatment of choice for aortic valve replacement and has enabled earlier intervention with greater benefits to quality of life and lower healthcare burden. However, current TAVI devices have short lifetimes due to mechanical failure & degradation, especially in younger patients.

This research aims to develop a new generation of heart valve leaflets for transcatheter aortic valve replacement for patients suffering from aortic heart valve disease. Current valve devices are well-tolerated but have short lifetimes due to mechanical failure and degradation, especially in younger patients. We aim to develop a new generation of materials using silk fibroin, a natural material that can be processed to mimic the structural complexity of native valves and be replaced over time with human tissue, making it a long-lasting solution.


Biomedical Engineering

Research Area

Biomaterials | Cardiovascular disease | Heart valves | Silk | Tissue engineering

Students will work at the Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering under the supervision of A/Prof Jelena Rnjak-Kovacina & A/Prof Lauren Kark. The students will interact with a multidisciplinary team consisting of postdoctoral associates, PhD candidates, research assistants & undergraduate students. Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering, houses extensive biomaterial fabrication and characterisation infrastructure and expertise, including an extensive suite of material fabrication (ice-templating, microfluidic extrusion, and DLP 3D printing) and mechanical testing equipment (compression, tension, rheology) directly relevant to this project. The students may also use resources at the Maker Spaces. This will be an excellent opportunity to gain experience in biomaterial fabrication and characterisation and understanding of all aspects of a research project, from experiment design to data presentation.

  • Design and fabrication of moulds for making silk biomaterials with aligned pores (CAD design, 3D printing, silicone casting)
  • Fabrication of silk biomaterials that mimic the hierarchical nature of heart valve leaflets (silk processing from cocoon to solution, silk biomaterial fabrication via ice templating)
  • Mechanical characterisation of silk biomaterials (tensile, compression or shear testing)
Associate Professor & Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow Jelena Rnjak-Kovacina
Associate Professor & Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow