Big data for life

Australian and European researchers are finding the secrets of cancer and the immune system hiding in the numbers.

From his lab at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), Irish-born researcher David Lynn is combining computational and big data analysis with experimental approaches to unpicking biological networks at the molecular level. Continue reading Big data for life

Fixing hearts by finding out what makes them tick

You can learn a lot about hearts by trying to build one from scratch. A pair of scientists have grown ‘beating’ human heart muscle tissue from stem cells and are exploring cardiac regeneration.

Developmental biologist Associate Professor Enzo Porrello became interested in how newborn mammal hearts can regenerate while working in Dallas, Texas at one of the leading labs researching heart development.

Associate Professor James Hudson has a background in chemical and biological engineering. In Germany, he developed bioengineering techniques to make force-generating human heart tissue at the University Medical Center in Göttingen. Continue reading Fixing hearts by finding out what makes them tick

Studying heart development one cell at a time

Examining how individual heart cells develop is revealing how the cells make decisions to form a working heart.

Once an adult heart is damaged, it has no ability to heal itself. Dr Nathan Palpant at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland and Associate Professor Joseph Powell at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and the University of New South Wales are trying to understand how that might be changed by tracking individual stem cells along their journey to becoming heart cells.

“Heart development is a difficult and complicated process, but we think the answers to heart repair are likely to lie in understanding heart development,” Nathan says. “So we are using stem cells to model development as it occurs in our bodies.” Continue reading Studying heart development one cell at a time

Clearing corneas and restoring vision

The eye’s cornea depends on stem cells to help maintain transparency. If disease or trauma deplete stem cell reservoirs, a rapid and painful loss of vision soon follows.

Professor Stephanie Watson and Professor Nick Di Girolamo have used stem cells to repair their patients’ vision. It’s the culmination of a 15-year collaboration to restore sight in Australians with corneal disease.

Stephanie is an international leader in research and innovation with the University of Sydney and is also a practising corneal surgeon. She met Nick as an early career scientist through a research group at the University of New South Wales and they discovered their shared interest. Nick is now a Director with the School of Medical Sciences at UNSW. Continue reading Clearing corneas and restoring vision

Enlisting the brain’s immune cells to fight MS

The brain’s specialist cleaning cells play a key role in neurodegenerative diseases, and they may also hold the secret to new treatments for the likes of MS and Alzheimer’s.

Professor Colin Pouton and his team at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences found a way to isolate microglia, the immune cells of the brain, from stem cells. Better yet, they made the cells fluorescent so their activity can be tracked, opening up new avenues of research.

Professor Trevor Kilpatrick and his colleagues at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health think Colin’s engineered cells just might be the key to creating a revolutionary treatment for multiple sclerosis. Continue reading Enlisting the brain’s immune cells to fight MS

Building tools for brain repair

Professor James Bourne and his team are laying the groundwork for using stem cell transplants to treat brain trauma with the discovery of an anti-scarring agent and new biomaterials to support transplanted cells.

“What we’re doing is a prelude to direct stem cell research. We hope to give potential stem cell therapies for brain trauma the best chance of success,” James says.

He and his team at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University are studying nonhuman primates to understand how to create the best environments for repair after brain injury. Continue reading Building tools for brain repair

Mini-kidneys tell two sides of a genetic story

Gene editing technology combined with stem cells provides a powerful new way to study genetic kidney diseases and their treatments.

Melbourne researchers have used mini-kidney ‘organoids’ grown in the lab to unravel the mystery of why Mainzer-Saldino syndrome, a rare disease involving a single defective gene, causes life-threatening kidney damage. In doing so, they’ve proven an approach that can be used to study a whole range of other genetic kidney diseases. Continue reading Mini-kidneys tell two sides of a genetic story

Keeping ahead of a child killer: stopping gastro from birth

UPDATE 22 February 2018:  

A vaccine has been developed against rotavirus, which is the common cause  of severe diarrhoea and a killer of approximately 215,000 children under five globally each year.

The oral vaccine was given in three single doses, the first within five days of birth. After three doses of RV3-BB administered from birth:

  • 94 per cent of infants were protected in their first year of life against severe rotavirus gastroenteritis
  • 75 per cent of infants were protected to 18 months of age.

The success of the RV3-BB vaccine is the culmination of more than four decades of work, which started with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s Professor Ruth Bishop and the discovery of rotavirus in 1973.

The trial was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and PT BioFarma.

Read the full media release on the MCRI website.

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A new rotavirus vaccine should soon be available thanks to a collaboration between PT Bio Farma and researchers in Melbourne and Yogyakarta. The new ‘RV3’ vaccine is aimed at protecting babies from birth, improving protection and simplifying delivery.

The current vaccine, available in Australia and only on the private market in Indonesia, can only be administered from six weeks of age.

Continue reading Keeping ahead of a child killer: stopping gastro from birth

Australian Science Prizes 2016

Clunies Ross Awards

Dr Elaine Saunders has made premium hearing aids more affordable and easier to use. She and her team have built on Australia’s bionic ear technologies to create a system where you can: test your hearing online; buy your hearing aid online and receive it set up ready for you; and adjust the hearing aid with your smartphone while you’re at the pub, dancing, or watching TV.

Credit: Blamey Saunders

Continue reading Australian Science Prizes 2016

Fighting dust-mite allergies with fish oil

Kids born to mums who’d taken high doses of fish oil in pregnancy were less likely to have some types of allergies, Adelaide researchers have found.

The trial, run by the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), was the largest in the world to look at the effects of Omega-3—commonly found in fish oil—on allergies in children.

Continue reading Fighting dust-mite allergies with fish oil