Originally from Christchurch, Bob Lee has experienced the research environment on both sides of the Tasman Sea.
At the University of Otago, Bob studied physiology. “Learning about the cardiovascular system was fascinating, especially due to the implications of heart disease on health.”
Moving to Sydney was a leap of faith. “I didn’t have a job lined up, but the research opportunities in Australia are far greater than in New Zealand. So I took a chance,” Bob says. “There are some heart research groups back home, but none that I’m aware of doing breakthrough work like what we have in Australia.”
As a PhD candidate in the Applied Materials group led by Dr Steven Wise, Bob is currently working on developing new synthetic vascular graft models. Vascular grafts are used for coronary bypasses after an event like a heart attack, to ‘bypass’ the blocked artery, but current grafts are poorly designed and often clog again within a year.
“The drive behind our project is to develop a graft that lasts longer and can be used off-the-shelf for all types of patients,” Bob explains.
But while his life is currently in Sydney, where the HRI is based, the ties to home remain strong for Bob. “I’ve learned so many techniques and research skills while I’ve been here. However, eventually I’ll return to New Zealand – it’s home to me – and I’ll be able to bring all that experience with me.
“And even now, we’re in constant collaboration with universities back home. The great thing is that both countries are essentially under the same roof for things like the medical system, so once we develop something in Australia, it can easily be adopted in New Zealand. So whichever country the research is based in, we’re all working towards the same goal. Even if we’re miles apart.”
Research can be full of highs and lows, but Bob is passionate about it. “You have to be persistent – almost stubborn, I would say – in science. That’s what drives you and pushes you over the edge to discover something new and amazing.”