All posts by Operations

Skin deep discovery reveals immune mysteries

Cells involved in the first line of our immune defence have been located where they never have been found before—a discovery that could provide insight into diseases like psoriasis and other auto-immune conditions of the skin.

A stain showing the presence of gamma delta T cells (green) in the dermis. The blood vasculature is shown in red, while blue represent collagen. Credit: Centenary Institute
A stain showing the presence of gamma delta T cells (green) in the dermis. The blood vasculature is shown in red, while blue represent collagen. Credit: Centenary Institute

While researchers have known about these cells, called gamma delta T cells in the epidermis or top layer of skin for more than 20 years, this is the first time their presence has been detected in the next layer of skin down, the dermis.

Wolfgang Weninger, who led the study at Sydney’s Centenary Institute, says that gamma delta T cells are of particular interest because they produce a protein thought to be the ‘first responder’ when intruders are detected by the immune system.

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Stopping parasite means more, safer meat

The world’s meat production could be lifted by 10 to 15 per cent if a vaccine can be found to combat the liver fluke.

Stopping parasite means more, safer meat
Juvenile liver fluke parasites which cause serious disease in livestock and humans. Credit: D Piedrafita (Monash); T Spithill (La Trobe).
This is the aim of a collaborative bioscience group at the new $288 million Centre for AgriBioscience (AgriBio).

An effective vaccine against liver fluke could not only boost meat production but would also lead to a large reduction in the amount of drugs given to livestock, says Prof Terry Spithill, who is co-director of AgriBio and based at La Trobe University.
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Body’s power plants offer clues to Parkinson’s disease

How do the power plants of the cell—the mitochondria—use their defence mechanisms to fight diseases such as Parkinson’s disease? This debilitating disorder is caused by an accumulation of proteins that have folded incorrectly.

The body’s power plant mitochondria. Credit: Istockphoto.
The body’s power plant mitochondria. Credit: Istockphoto.

The misfolded proteins then clump together and form sticky, cell-damaging deposits called plaques.

“We know that mitochondria are at the centre of the aging process,” says Prof Nick Hoogenraad, executive director of the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS). Nick and his team have found a mechanism mitochondria use to remove the plaques that are prone to form as we age.

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Parkinson answers deep in the brain

A Parkinson patient who can walk again, and improved life for people with the behavioural disorder known as Tourette syndrome.

Peter Silburn and his team are using deep brain stimulation to help movement and mood disorder patients beyond the reach of other therapies. Credit: Sunday Mail.
Peter Silburn and his team are using deep brain stimulation to help movement and mood disorder patients beyond the reach of other therapies. Credit: Sunday Mail.

These are two of the results of a partnership between University of Queensland neurologist Prof Peter Silburn and neurosurgeon Dr Terry Coyne who have ventured deeper into the human brain than anyone else in the world.

Peter treats patients at St. Andrew’s Hospital in Brisbane using deep brain stimulation, a technique that uses electrodes to stimulate a region some 12 centimetres under the surface of the brain.

“There are 100 billion neurons in the brain and we can’t restore all of them. But the deep brain is like a telephone exchange—by stimulating this one section of the brain, you can unblock the flow of messages,” Peter says.
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Life’s work closer to saving lives

What began decades ago as the discovery of an antibody from mice that targets human cancer cells is now undergoing human trials in the US as the basis of a treatment for acute leukaemia.

Life’s work may end up saving lives
Professor Andrew Boyd, who has seen his antibody discovery incorporated into a potential cancer treatment. Credit: QIMR
The antibody targets a protein called EphA3, which is found in about half of all acute leukaemias as well as many other human cancers including a significant proportion of malignant melanomas, brain tumours and lung cancers. The antibody, called KB004, has been shown to kill certain types of cancerous tumours grown from human samples.
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A step towards an everlasting battery

Imagine a future where recharging your tablet could be as easy as typing a tweet—where portable electronic devices power themselves without ever plugging into the grid.

Pushing towards an everlasting battery
Electricity is generated as a force is applied to a piezoelectric film. Credit: Dr Daniel J. White
Researchers at RMIT University, Melbourne have assessed the capacity of piezoelectric films—thin layers that turn mechanical pressure into electricity—to do this.

The study is the first to evaluate how piezoelectric thin films, a thousandth of a millimetre thick, perform at the molecular level, precisely measuring the level of electrical voltage and current—and therefore, power—that could be generated.
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OPAL reactor fingerprints Aboriginal ochre

A Flinders University chemist is using Australia’s OPAL research reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney to investigate ancient Aboriginal Australian society.

Using the technique called neutron activation analysis, Dr Rachel Popelka-Filcoff can “geochemically fingerprint” Aboriginal ochre pigments from different locations, archaeological sites and artefacts.

Applying nuclear power to research
Rachel Popelka-Filcoff can trace the cultural use of ochre using Australia’s research reactor. Credit: Ashton Claridge, Flinders Media
As the geochemical composition of ochre varies with location, she can correlate each sample with its site of origin, gaining information on cultural practices, travel and exchange patterns, and the relationship of Aboriginal people to the landscape. “Ochre pigments are highly significant in Aboriginal culture,” says Rachel. “Cultural expression often requires a specific pigment. Applying ochre to an object such as a spear can transform both its colour and its cultural meaning.”

Dr Roman Dronov, also from Flinders, is using the reactor to study the formation of bacterial protein layers. He is applying what he finds to constructing a new type of biosensor based on these layers and porous silicon. These highly sensitive devices can rapidly detect trace amounts of molecules, such as environmental poisons and markers of disease—a great improvement on traditional analytical methods.
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Helping eyes to help themselves

Donor corneas conditioned with DNA before being transplanted into new eyes are already actively contributing to their own success in experimental animals such as sheep.

An Australian research group is making corneal transplant easier. Credit: iStockphoto
An Australian research group is making corneal transplant easier. Credit: iStockphoto
The DNA is inserted into the cells of the cornea after it has been harvested. Then, following implantation, it produces proteins that help overcome immunological rejection.

This is one of many strands of research aimed at increasing the success rates of corneal transplants and other eye disease treatments undertaken by Prof Keryn Williams at Flinders University.
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Two steps forward for cancer detection

An Australian invention is making it cheaper, quicker and safer to manufacture the radioactive tracers used in latest medical imaging techniques to track down increasingly smaller clusters of cancer cells.

Two steps forward for cancer detection
The two-step dual reactor, FlexLAB. Credit: iPHASE Technologies

Like preparing a cake in a mixing bowl, the chemical reactions to make the tracers involve putting the ingredients together in the right proportions. The next generation of tracers can have a more complex recipe—and so can be more difficult to produce using just one ‘mixing bowl’ at a time.
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