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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Unmasking melanoma early

There’s a new diagnostic tool being developed to target melanoma, the deadly form of skin cancer with which more than 10,000 Australians are diagnosed each year.

Unmasking melanoma early
The red arrows show a melanoma tumour. The PET/CT scan on the right shows how the MEL050 tracer highlights the location, size and spread of melanoma. Credit: Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

It’s a chemical compound designed to highlight small traces of these cancer cells in the body.

Melanoma occurs when the cells that make melanin, the dark pigment normally found in the skin, become cancerous. Melanoma cells often spread elsewhere in the body before the primary tumours are detected and removed surgically. Clusters of these melanoma cells can be hard to detect before they grow into tumours by which time they are often incurable.
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Fresh Science 2010

Each year we identify early-career scientists with a discovery and bring them to Melbourne for a communication boot camp. Here are some of their stories.

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Print your own lasers, lights and TV screens

Print your own lasers, lights and TV screens
Jacek Jasieniak sprinkling quantum dots. Credit: Jacek Jasieniak

Imagine printing your own room lighting, lasers, or solar cells from inks you buy at the local newsagent. Jacek Jasieniak and colleagues at CSIRO, the University of Melbourne and the University of Padua in Italy, have developed liquid inks based on quantum dots that can be used to print such devices and in the first demonstration of their technology have produced tiny lasers. Quantum dots are made of semiconductor material grown as nanometre-sized crystals, around a millionth of a millimetre in diameter. The laser colour they produce can be selectively tuned by varying their size.

Cling wrap captures CO2
Colin Scholes operates a test rig for his carbon capture membrane. Credit: CO2 CRC

Cling wrap captures CO2

High tech cling wraps that ‘sieve out’ carbon dioxide from waste gases can help save the world, says Melbourne University chemical engineer, Colin Scholes who developed the technology. The membranes can be fitted to existing chimneys where they capture CO2 for removal and storage. Not only are the new membranes efficient, they are also relatively cheap to produce. They are already being tested on brown coal power stations in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley, Colin says. “We are hoping these membranes will cut emissions from power stations by up to 90 per cent.”

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Improved myopia treatment in sight

New glasses that slow the progression of short-sightedness or myopia are now available. The glasses which incorporate a novel lens design could potentially benefit some of the 3.6 million Australians with myopia and hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

New corrective lenses slow the progression of short-sightedness. Credit: iStockphoto
New corrective lenses slow the progression of short-sightedness. Credit: iStockphoto

Until now, correcting myopia has relied on measuring the clarity of vision at the very centre of the retina. Corrective lenses were designed to provide the wearer with clear central vision but did nothing for peripheral vision. Studies have now shown that short-sightedness progressively worsens in spite of correction using these traditional lenses.

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Delivering sustainable agriculture and biosecurity

PhD student Elena Virtue at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory. Credit: CSIRO
PhD student Elena Virtue at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory. Credit: CSIRO

Across America’s Deep South, farmers are growing Australian-derived cotton and, as a result, slashing their use of pesticides. It’s part of a global drive to increase production and sustainability involving Australian and American researchers, and agritech giants such as Monsanto, Dow Chemical and DuPont. All these companies have agreements with Australian researchers helping to develop the next generation of smart crops. The underlying technologies are being applied to dozens of crops and even to medical research.

Meanwhile, US and Australian scientists are working side by side to enhance biosecurity—fighting deadly new killers such as Nipah virus, ancient plagues such as malaria, and emerging threats to agriculture and the environment. American scientists working in Brisbane are testing biological controls to fight against invasive plants that threaten the Florida Everglades, while NASA technology is helping Australia cope with its locust plagues and teams across both countries are trying to understand what is killing frogs worldwide.

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Sustaining the shrinking footprint

Industry has increased its efficiency from what it was in the past, to the point where its current ecological footprint is a fraction of what it used to be.

Now imagine an industry sector that produces zero waste, is carbon neutral and husbands the earth’s resource endowment for future generations.

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