All posts by Operations

BrainPark will reveal the science of beating addiction

Australians have some of the highest rates of unhealthy habits in the world, including excessive eating, drinking, gambling, and recreational drug use. These habits are making us stressed and unhappy, and contributing to poor physical and mental health. 

Breaking a habit is hard. Beating major compulsive problems, like addictions or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), is even harder. Eighty per cent of people who need help don’t get it, and 80 per cent of those who do seek help relapse within a year.

“Our current solutions aren’t good enough: many are difficult to access, many are ineffective. And there’s a huge amount of stigma attached,” says Dr Rebecca Segrave, Deputy Director of Monash University’s new BrainPark facility.

At BrainPark, world-leading scientists and health professionals are combining new technologies and lifestyle-based treatments to empower people to change their own brains and create healthy habits.

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A different kind of tablet to test for early childhood attention difficulties

An electronic astronaut is helping researchers spot the difference between normal four-year-old energy and the signs of attention difficulties.

TALI (Training Attention and Learning Initiative) Detect is a series of short games for tablet computers. It’s been made possible by combining 20 years of neuroscientific research at Monash Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences (MICCN) with the expertise of Australian game developer Torus Games.    

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An expert guide to raising teens

Being a teenager is tough—on teenagers and their parents. While there’s lots of advice on the internet, sorting the credible from the questionable can be difficult.

But hundreds of parents around Australia found that accessing a free, online support program improved their parenting skills and confidence, according to two randomised controlled studies from 2015 to 2017.  

The program, called Partners in Parenting (PiP), was developed by experts at Monash University and The University of Melbourne.

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L’Astrolabe opens up Antarctica

For French and Australian explorers

Without the help of icebreaking ships, all-terrain vehicles and tough machinery, most Antarctic science could not happen. The French ship L’Astrolabe is a crucial facility for scientists exploring the Earth’s climate, oceans, atmosphere and ecology.

Every year, the ship and its crew, managed by the French Navy for the Institut polaire français Paul-Émile Victor (IPEV) from Hobart, support approximately 50 French and international scientific projects based out of the French stations Dumont d’Urville and Concordia. L’Astrolabe also transports food, supplies, logistics officers and scientists to and from the Australian Antarctic Division’s base on Macquarie Island.

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Peptides to fight pain

A new approach to the global chronic pain problem

Chronic pain affects around 20 per cent of the world’s population at any one time. It is the most common reason people seek medical help in Australia. Chronic pain often goes hand in hand with anxiety and depression.

Short chains of amino acids—known as peptides—may offer hope. A collaboration between neurobiologists at The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health at The University of Melbourne and CNRS units affiliated with the Universities of Bordeaux and Strasbourg has made significant progress towards an entirely new approach to treating pain.

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Cancer, maths and evolution

Shifting the cancer battleground

 A new French-Australian joint cancer laboratory is forging a new way to study cancer by joining experts from different fields including mathematics, cell biology, evolutionary biology, and behavioural ecology.

Cancer is not only a major cause of human death worldwide, but also a disease that affects all multicellular organisms. Despite this, oncology and other biological sciences such as ecology and evolution have developed in relative isolation, according to Dr Beata Ujvari from the Roles of Cancer in Ecology and Evolution International Associated Laboratory at Deakin University. 

“We know that there is a clear reciprocal interaction between malignant cells and their hosts, with malignant cells evolving in response to the organism’s defence mechanisms,” Beata says.

“Cancer also directly and indirectly impacts the physiology, immunology and behaviour of organisms. But very little is actually known of the evolutionary impact of these complex relationships. We are changing that with this type of research, which has rarely been explored before,” Beata says.

The goal is to transform the understanding of cancer, its origin, how to halt its progression, and to prevent therapeutic failures. At the same time, the role of cancer in ecosystem functioning is something that ecologists need to consider.

Researchers say that cancer’s impact on ecosystems could be significant. It can influence an individual’s competitive and dispersal abilities, susceptibility to pathogens and vulnerability to predation. In some cases, such as the facial tumour disease that afflicts Tasmanian devils, it can heavily impact a species.

The joint laboratory is a collaboration between: Dr Frederic Thomas of the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Cancer Research at the National Scientific Research Centre (CNRS) in France; Deakin University; and the University of Tasmania, Australia. In Australia, the team has partnered with the Tasmanian Government’s Save the Tasmanian Devil Program and Zoos Victoria.

Banner image : Cancer can have a significant impact on species – such as the Tasmanian devil – and even whole ecosystems. Credit: JJ Harrison

Planetary changes

Discovering our changing planet: a perfect France–Australia partnership

Professor Kurt Lambeck is one of Australia’s most eminent scientists—a geophysicist who revealed how the Earth changes shape and how these changes are tied to sea levels, the movement of continents, and the orbits of satellites. Vital to his career have been French collaborations that now span almost half a century.

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Fuel for the future

Cooking with a hydrogen-powered barbeque

The need to shift from fossil fuels to cleaner energy technologies is becoming more urgent, and Australia’s trading partners are demanding low-emission energy sources.

Electricity production from renewables can be variable, and any excess electricity must be stored for use on days with less wind or sun. Battery systems are used for storage, but they have limitations.

An alternative is to store energy in the form of hydrogen.

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Mission design at rocket speed

Planning space missions is traditionally a time-consuming and costly process. But the new Australian National Concurrent Design Facility (ANCDF), housed at UNSW’s Canberra campus, speeds things up so a mission can be planned in weeks rather than months.

Harnessing the expertise, design processes and software of the French Space Agency CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales), the UNSW team has created Australia’s first concurrent design facility.

The ANCDF allows engineers and scientists—both professionals and students—to design different parts of a mission in parallel rather than one after the other, which is the traditional approach.

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