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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Australian scientists elected to Royal Society

Four of Australia’s most accomplished scientists have been elected to the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence, the Royal Society of London.

PROF IAN FRAZER LAUNCHES THE CERVICAL CANCER VACCINE GARDASIL. CREDIT: UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND

Prof Ian Frazer, Prof Alan Cowman, Prof Mark Randolph and Dr Patrick Tam join 40 other scientists to be elected to the Royal Society in 2011, which celebrated its 350th anniversary last year.

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Could we grow drugs using sunflowers?

Queensland researchers believe future cancer drugs could be grown in sunflowers and ultimately delivered as a seed ‘pill’.

PHOTO: DRUGS COULD BE GROWN IN SUNFLOWERS. CREDIT: CDANNA2003
They’re a long way from that outcome. But, as they reported to the XVIII International Botanical Congress in Melbourne earlier this year, they have already shown that sunflowers make a precursor to cancer drugs as part of their defence against insect attack.

The precursor, a small ring-like protein fragment known as SFTI, has already shown potential as a cancer treatment. Until now, however, it has been considered too expensive to produce by conventional means.
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Building a better banana

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are supporting the efforts of Queensland University of Technology scientists to design a better banana.

James Dale and a better banana palm for Africa. Credit: QUT
James Dale and a better banana palm for Africa. Credit: QUT

The researchers have already added provitamin A—a compound the body converts to Vitamin A—to the East African Highland banana. Now they are working to boost the iron content of the cooking banana that is a staple food of Uganda.

Led by Prof James Dale, director of University’s Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities, the researchers are working with the Ugandan National Agricultural Research Organisation to modify the bananas genetically to raise their micronutrient levels, and then develop disease-resistant strains to distribute to East African farmers. The research is being funded by a $10-million grant from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global Health Program.

James and his team developed efficient technology for raising nutrient levels in Cavendish bananas through to field trials in Queensland and then transferred it to Uganda. Ugandan scientists are now using these methods to modify East African Highland bananas genetically to increase their biosynthesis of provitamin A and their accumulation of iron.

Part of the project includes ensuring Ugandans will accept the new fruit, which has deep yellow flesh, thanks to the addition of the Vitamin A precursor, beta-carotene.

Saving koalas by vaccination

The first Australian trials have started of a vaccine to prevent koalas from contracting and spreading the deadly sexually transmitted disease, chlamydia.

Saving koalas by vaccination
Professor Peter Timms is trialling a Chlamydia vaccine for koalas. Credit: QUT

The trials—supervised by Prof Peter Timms and Prof Ken Beagley from Queensland University of Technology (QUT)’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation—have been undertaken safely both in healthy koalas and koalas that already have chlamydial disease. All vaccinated koalas developed a good immune response to the anti-chlamydia vaccine, which shows great promise of making a significant impact on the disease in the near future.

Chlamydia is a major threat to the continued survival of koalas. Almost all populations in Australia are affected by the disease. It is a significant cause of infertility, urinary tract infections, and inflammation in the lining of the eye which often leads to blindness.

Koala numbers are declining across virtually its whole range. In the Koala Coast region of southeast Queensland in 2008 it was estimated that 2332 koalas had been lost in a three-year monitoring period. That represented a 51 per cent decrease.

By studying chlamydial disease in koalas, QUT researchers hope to understand the condition better in general. They believe their work may also hold the key to developing a successful vaccine for use against the human sexually transmitted disease Chlamydia trachomatis, a major cause of infertility in women.

Photo: Professor Peter Timms is trialling a Chlamydia vaccine for koalas.
Credit: QUT

Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, QUT, Peter Timms, Tel: +61 7 3138 6199, p.timms@qut.edu.au; www.ihbi.qut.edu.au/

Is that you in the video?

Is that you in the video?
Clinton Fookes is technical director of QUT’s Airports of the Future. Credit: Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

A Queensland University of Technology (QUT) engineer is developing techniques to automatically identify people in surveillance videos and recognise their movement and behaviour.

The explosion of video surveillance to make public places safer, says Dr Clinton Fookes of the University’s School of Engineering Systems, has created a new challenge for researchers—to make sense of what cameras and computers see. So he is investigating ways to extract and interpret important information from these visual sources.

The data generated by the proliferation of surveillance cameras, as well as the countless images and videos online, he says, are impossible to intelligently use without sophisticated computer vision technology that can automatically extract information from these sources, collate and report on it in real time.

As Clinton’s work is ideally suited to improving security in public places such as airports, one of his roles is technical director of QUT’s Airports of the Future—a major research project aimed at improving the experience of passengers passing through Australia’s airports.

His research in this field could lead to new discoveries in a range of areas including human-computer interaction, security, medical imaging and robotics.

Photo: Clinton Fookes is technical director of QUT’s Airports of the Future.
Credit: QUT

School of Engineering Systems, QUT, Clinton Fookes, Tel: + 61 7 3138 2458, c.fookes@qut.edu.au, staff.qut.edu.au/staff/fookes/

Science collaboration improves health

Dr Ian Frazer Administers the first Australian Gardasil Vaccination. Credit: University of Queensland
Dr Ian Frazer Administers the first Australian Gardasil Vaccination. Credit: University of Queensland

Australia’s impact on world health has been profound: from devices helping deaf children hear, to cancer-preventing vaccines and even the development of penicillin. But there is much more to come. Australians are working, often with researchers from the United States, on hundreds of projects including medical spin-outs from genome research, HIV vaccines, the use of phones to diagnose mental illnesses, and a suite of drugs to prevent and treat obesity and diabetes.

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Searching the southern sky, and unchaining the internet

Gemini North. Credit: Gemini
Gemini North. Credit: Gemini

Through their unique view of the southern sky, Australian researchers are unraveling the secrets of the cosmos—and they’re doing it with a huge helping hand from the US. In return, Australian astronomer engineers have helped change the world via discoveries that have unchained notebook computers, made flight safer, improved CT scans, and delivered clearer sound. Now, Australia and the US are working together to design the next generation of telescopes: the Giant Magellan optical telescope to be constructed in Chile; the gravitational observatories looking for echoes from the Big Bang; and what will be the world’s largest radio telescope— the Square Kilometre Array.

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Traveling at Mach 5: Defense and materials science in action

US Aircraft Carrier USS Nimitz which will be protected by Nulka Credit: U.S. Navy/James Mitchell
US Aircraft Carrier USS Nimitz which will be protected by Nulka Credit: U.S. Navy/James Mitchell

Blink and you’ll certainly miss it. Australian and US defense scientists have conducted two of 10 test flights of rockets that use revolutionary scramjet propulsion at the Woomera Test Range in South Australia. The rockets travel at hypersonic speeds of more than Mach 5—that’s well over 3,000 miles per hour. More conventionally, an Australian-designed missile that masquerades as a ship has been selected to protect US aircraft carriers. But it’s not just rocket science where Australian and US collaborations have raced ahead. Artificial intelligence research could see manned and unmanned aircraft fly in the same airspace. Australian materials have been incorporated into the latest American aircraft. And quantum computers could soon be solving the knottiest of problems, now that Australian scientists have pointed the way to building them.

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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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