Melbourne had been at the centre of the world of microsurgery since its inception. The O’Brien Institute was established in 1970 to promote research and training in microsurgery. Historically, research from The O'Brien Institute (OBI) led the way in clinical and experimental research in microsurgery over the past 30 years. Initially known as the Microsurgery Research Centre, it quickly developed a pre-eminent reputation and attracted plastic and orthopaedic surgeons from the US, UK, Europe, Japan and elsewhere and many of these researchers have returned to their home countries to become leaders in the field. More than 200 surgically trained researchers have completed Fellowships since 1972.
Striking advances were made by OBI researchers in the delicate craft of replantation surgery and the transfer of body parts and tissues by microsurgical techniques to reconstruct patients maimed by trauma, cancer, burns and congenital deformity. In addition to this work, techniques to re-direct the flow of lymph fluid accumulated in a limb or body part to do injury or obstruction after cancer treatment were pioneered at OBI. As a testament to the success of the techniques innovations developed at OBI, reconstructive microsurgery has become a mainstay in clinical plastic surgery. With the universal adoption of microsurgery skills as a standard pre-requisite for all plastic surgeons, therefore, the need for clinical microsurgery training has diminished and the OBI Department has evolved into basic science research. Its focus is particularly in the fields of Tissue Engineering, Angiogenesis, Matrix Biology, Peripheral Nerve Regeneration, Anti-fibrosis, and Ischaemia Reperfusion Injury .
Nowadays, OBI conducts internationally recognised scientific research into clinical problems typically treated by plastic surgeons. These problems include impaired healing and deficits of soft tissue or tissue injury following trauma, cancer treatment or congenital deformity. The Department is configured into separate laboratories according to the specific field of research and expertise under the guidance of the Director. PhD, Doctorate, Masters and B.Sc(Hons) students are an integral part of our program. Overseas and Australian Surgical Research Fellowships have also been a key feature of the Institute. We also welcome shorter term visiting clinicians who come here to learn about the exacting work of microsurgery.
Today, researchers at OBI employ cutting edge techniques in molecular, lymphatic and vascular biology; as well as utilising stem cell biology and tissue engineering platforms developed over two decades. Driving this research is a proud tradition of keen clinical observation, patient-driven translational research and a close working relationship with the clinical plastic surgery unit at St Vincent’s Hospital. Vascularisation of tissues, a concept fundamental to plastic surgery is seen to be key to the successful translation of laboratory based tissue engineering into humans. We have developed a platform technology for vascularising tissue engineered products and organs and as our team comprises plastic surgeons, trained microsurgeons and scientists, with joint appointments to a co-located major teaching hospital, we see ourselves and our collaborators positioned to be essential players not only in the exciting development of tissue engineered products, but also in their fabrication and transfer into patients.
Most recently, scientists have tackled the often-devastating clinical problems afflicting patients disfigured by cancer treatment - the so-called ‘diseases of cancer survivorship’. These include problems of body parts after surgical cancer resection, lymphoedema (limb swelling due to removal of lymph nodes housing cancer spread) and cardiac dysfunction. Since 2016, the adipose and lymphatic research groups have combined to investigate Lipoedema.
In an Australian first, leading researchers have come together to take biomedical research on a fast track to success.