Born and bred in Perth, surgeon scientist Dr Peter Santa Maria completed his medical undergraduate degree at UWA in 2001, followed by a PhD focused on ear drum wound healing and ear, nose and throat surgical training.
Yet it could be said that his three years at Stanford University from 2012-2015 were just as influential in shaping the rising trajectory of his career.
“I worked independently and split my time 50/50 between surgery and science. While common in the States, this sort of split is unusual in Australia, and meant I was able to carry on being a clinician and continue my research into ear drum wound healing.”
At Stanford, Dr Santa Maria was also involved in two start-up programs, Biodesign and SPARK, an experience he says opened his eyes to what successful industry collaboration could accomplish.
“The culture at Stanford really stands out as something that fosters an innovation ethos. As employees you’re encouraged and incentivised to provide exceptional service to patients and from this service culture an innovative one evolves and flourishes.
“You want to find ways to do things better and differently and you’re given the time and resources you need to investigate the commercial viability of these ideas.”
Moving back to Perth about a year ago, Dr Santa Maria has returned to UWA as an Associate Professor and says that while his home country still has a way to go in the innovation stakes, the signs are positive.
“Australia has on of the highest number of engineers per capita in the world, we produce 4% of the world’s medical literature with just 0.4% of the world’s doctors and share the same time zone as 60% of the evolving middle class.
“We rank really highly when you look at innovation input – things like education, infrastructure, government stability and resources available are all areas where we as a nation are strong.
“However when you look at innovation output we’re lagging behind. We have what it takes to be at the forefront of innovation, but currently we don’t have a good record when it comes to commercialising our world-class research,” he says.
To help promote a stronger collaborative approach between universities, researchers and industry, Dr Santa Maria, together with UWA Alumni Dr Kath Giles and Mr Adam Santa Maria, has launched the highly successful Stanford SPARK program in Perth.
“Our aim is to help break down Perth’s silos, help them collaborate and foster better commercialisation of medical discoveries.
“SPARK started at Stanford 10 years ago and 60% of projects have advanced to commercialisation. That’s an incredible percentage. UWA definitely has the world-class research projects that have the potential to become commercial successes but more work needs to be done to empower and support entrepreneurship.”