All posts by Sarah Bradley

Backyard astronomers win recognition from the professionals

200 supernova found by six mates – enabling discoveries about the evolution of stars and the ingredients of life

Ex-miner from Broken Hill discovers a massive electrical storm on Saturn and guides NASA mission

Two amateur astronomy projects were awarded the 2022 Page Medal on Saturday 16 April at the National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers held online.

The six friends who make up The Backyard Observatory Supernova Search (BOSS) Team monitor distant galaxies to detect the death throes of massive stars as they explode in brilliant supernovae. The team then alerts professional telescopes to swing into action and study these phenomena at the crucial moment. The sooner those observations begin, the more is learnt about the lead up to the star’s final moments.

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An immune ‘fingerprint’ reveals path for better treatment of autoimmune diseases

An immune ‘fingerprint’ reveals path for better treatment of autoimmune diseases

Most autoimmune diseases are easy to diagnose but hard to treat. A paper published in Science proposes using your unique immune cell fingerprint to rapidly identify which treatments will work for your autoimmune disease.

‘We analysed the genomic profile of over one million cells from 1,000 people to identify a fingerprint linking genetic markers to diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, type 1 diabetes, spondylitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and Crohn’s disease,’ says Professor Joseph Powell, joint lead author at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. ‘We were able to do this using single cell sequencing, a new technology that allows us to detect subtle changes in individual cells,’ he says.

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Fossil discovery rewrites modern human history in Europe

Humans arrived on the European continent 10,000 years earlier than we previously thought, a Franco-Australian research team has found.

“It was a great surprise to the team when a modern child’s tooth and stone tools, which in no way were associated with Neanderthals, were discovered in a soil layer dating back 54,000 years ago,” co-author of a recent study, Dr Martina Demuro from the University of Adelaide, said.

Previously it was believed the Neanderthals had the continent to themselves until 45,000-43,000 years ago.

Distinctive stone tools, not seen before at this time outside Africa and the Levant, along with remains of Homo sapiens, were found in Grotte Mandrin – a cave in the Rhône Valley not far from Marseille.

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How Classical Greek culture conquered the modern world

The cultural history that developed around the Mediterranean Sea more than 2000 years ago has had a lasting impact on Western civilisation.

But the riches of that time we call Classical Antiquity has had an impact far beyond Europe and is still felt around the world.

In a Polish-led and European Research Council-funded project, researchers around the world are investigating how ideas from the interlocking Greek and Roman cultures of ancient times are entrenched among children everywhere.

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Who is most at risk of breast cancer?

Early warning improves outcomes

Breast cancer affects nearly 250,000 women a year in the EU and more than 20,000 in Australia. The identification of women at high risk of the disease could be a gamechanger in terms of survival rates.

If we know who is most likely to develop the disease, it might even be possible to avoid the disease altogether through intensive screening, chemoprevention or prophylactic surgery.

BRIDGES, or Breast Cancer Risk after Diagnostic Gene Sequencing, is a Horizon 2020-funded initiative co-ordinated by the Leiden University Medical Centre, in the Netherlands, aimed to do just that, bringing together a multidisciplinary team, data and expertise from clinical genetics, epidemiology, bioinformatics, statistics, and gene biology.

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The physics of cancer

A novel research project has shed new light on how to manage and monitor cancer treatment by measuring the physical forces active in all cancers.

Named ‘FORCE, Imaging the Force of Cancer’, the Horizon 2020 project was funded by the European Research Commission and led by King’s College London, with partners around the world, including the University of New South Wales.

Most cancer deaths are caused by the cancer spreading from its primary source throughout the body – a process known as metastasis.

Despite that, there has been surprisingly little work done on indicators for the potential for cancers to spread. Cells use ‘traction forces’ to perform various tasks, including maintaining cell shape and moving within tissues.

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AI for a good night’s sleep

Almost one billion people suffer from sleep apnoea. Unfortunately, our current diagnostic metrics are simplistic at best, simply measuring the frequency of breathing cessations.

An Horizon 2020 project, supported in Australia by a $500,000 collaborative National Health and Medical Research Council grant, hopes to address that by coming up with an artificial intelligence solution that takes into account symptoms and comorbidities of sleep apnoea. It will be used to develop individual treatments addressing each patient’s symptoms.

The project is being coordinated by Reykjavik University with 37 partners across Europe and the University of Queensland (UQ) in Australia.

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Malaria vaccine could save 500,000 lives a year

A malaria vaccine being developed by James Cook University researcher Professor Denise Doolan has the potential to save half a million lives a year.

Her research is being supported by grants from the European Union and National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

 “Nearly half the world’s population is at risk from malaria,” says Professor Doolan. “But it’s one of many diseases – particularly in developing tropical economies – that impose a double burden of both infectious and chronic disease. For malaria alone, that’s more than 200 million clinical cases each year.”

While malaria is the immediate target of Professor Doolan’s team, the aim is to establish an approach to vaccine design and to diagnostics development that will be applicable to other conditions such as tuberculosis, hepatitis B and influenza, she says.

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Copenhagen, Leiden and Melbourne tackle stem cells together

€300m funding from Novo Nordisk Foundation brings together experts to advance stem cell medicine therapies

The exciting possibilities of new drugs and therapies using human stem cells to treat heart, respiratory and kidney disease, diabetes, cancer, and other conditions are the focus of a new $468 million Australian-European collaboration of three research institutes, based in Melbourne.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Medicine, known as ‘reNEW’ brings together Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) in Australia, the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, and Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

The centre was made possible through a record stem cell medicine grant of up to €300 million over 10 years from the Novo Nordisk Foundation, an international philanthropic foundation based in Denmark, which focuses on medical treatment and research.

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A old vaccine for new diseases?

For more than a decade, Professor Nigel Curtis of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) in Melbourne has been working on developing the potential for Bacille Calmette-Guérin vaccine (BCG) – a common tuberculosis vaccine – to help protect against an array of other allergies and infections.

Trials suggest BCG improves the performance of the innate immune system – our first line of defence – at least in infants.

But the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic offered an opportunity to expand that study, in collaboration with European researchers, to investigate whether BCG can offer some protection against the SARS-CoV2 – the virus that causes COVID – and other pathogens.

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