Melbourne veterinary researchers are using genomic techniques and bioinformatics to lead them to new specific candidate drugs for the treatment of a devastating parasite known as barber’s pole worm, which causes anaemia, deaths and massive production losses in the sheep industry.
Using the latest gene sequencing technology and the supercomputers of the Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative, Prof Robin Gasser’s research group from the University of Melbourne’s Veterinary School have been able to compare barber’s pole worm’s DNA and RNA with that of other organisms in order to track down genes essential to the worm’s growth, development, reproduction and survival. Continue reading Parasites betrayed by their genome→
Flash flooding, brought on by sudden torrential rain, killed dozens of people in Australia in 2011. Because of their very nature, it has been difficult to provide effective warnings. And that is a significant gap in Australia’s natural disaster management, according to the submission of RMIT University’s Centre for Risk and Community Safety to the 2011 Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry.
We now have the technology to deliver such warnings, says director of the Centre, Prof John Handmer. “But using it would raise issues about how quickly both the authorities and people at risk are prepared to make critical decisions when they receive the information.”
Prostate and other soft-tissue cancers are often treated with radioactive sources implanted or inserted into the body. But monitoring the dose is problematic.
Medical physicists at Melbourne’s RMIT University are developing a technique to monitor the radiation dose more accurately.
In high dose rate brachytherapy, tumours are targeted by radioactive sources temporarily inserted into the body.
“Until now, it has not been possible to check at the time of delivery whether the doses received by the tumour and by surrounding healthy tissue matched the planned levels,” says Dr Rick Franich, Medical Radiation Physics group leader at the University’s Health Innovations Research Institute. Continue reading Curing cancer with radiation – safely→
Fire fighters should identify what are potentially the worst-case events and prepare for them, even if they are extremely unlikely to occur, says Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre psychology researcher Claire Johnson.
“A failure to consider worst-case scenario possibilities has been implicated in a number of high-profile investigations into Australian bushfire disasters,” says Claire, who submitted her PhD thesis on worst-case scenario planning to La Trobe University in Melbourne in March this year.
For instance, the inquiries following the Canberra bushfires in 2003 and the Wangary fires on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula in 2006 both suggested lack of considering the worst contributed to an underestimation of the threat posed. Continue reading Preparing for the worst→
Seven days. Three months. We can now get accurate rainfall and temperature forecasts for these periods, but what if a farmer had access to quality outlooks that sat between the two—multi-week forecasts?
Multi-week forecasts would allow farmers to make better harvesting and sowing decisions before or after drought or flood events.
The secrets of a molecular assassin could lead to more effective treatments for cancer and viral diseases, better therapy for autoimmune conditions, and a deeper understanding of the body’s defences enabling the development of more tightly focused immunosuppressive drugs.
These are just some of the wide-ranging possibilities arising from research which has revealed the structure and function of the protein perforin, a front-line weapon in the body’s fight against rogue cells.
A pivotal role was played by 2006 Science Minister’s Life Scientist of the Year, molecular biologist Prof James Whisstock and his research team at Monash University. It was research fellow Dr Ruby Law who finally worked out how to grow crystals of perforin. And the team was then able to collaborate with Dr Tom Caradoc-Davies of the micro-crystallography beamline at the nearby Australian Synchrotron to reveal its complete molecular structure. Continue reading How a molecular assassin operates→
New computer models are challenging the conventional wisdom in marine science.
These models have revealed for example that: large populations of jellyfish and squid indicate a marine ecosystem in trouble; not all fish populations increase when fishing is reduced—some species actually decline; and, sharks and tuna can use jellyfish as junk food to see them through lean periods.
Physicist Dr Amanda Barnard has been using supercomputers to find the balance between sun protection and potential toxicity in a new generation of sunscreens which employ nanoparticles.
The metal oxide nanoparticles which block solar radiation are so small they cannot be seen, so the sunscreen appears transparent. But if the particles are too small, they can produce toxic levels of free radicals.
Amanda, who heads CSIRO’s Virtual Nanoscience Laboratory, has been able to come up with a trade-off—the optimum size of particle to provide maximum UV protection for minimal toxicity while maintaining transparency—by modelling the relevant interactions on a supercomputer. Continue reading Saving our skins→
Dr Benjamin Kile of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research in Melbourne has found why the blood cells responsible for clotting—platelets—have a short shelf life at the blood bank.
There’s a molecular clock ticking away inside them that triggers their death. He’s also discovered a gene critical for the production of blood stem cells in our bone marrow that happens to be responsible for a range of cancers.
These major discoveries earned Ben the 2010 Science Minister’s Prize for Life Scientist of the Year. Now he is trying to use them to extend the life of blood bank products, and get to the heart of some of the big questions in cancer. Continue reading The life and death of blood cells→
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