Modelling brain circuitry

With the help of a revolutionary robot, Professor David Adams and Associate Professor Mirella Dottori are studying neurons, testing drug candidates for chronic pain, and working towards precise, personalised neurological treatment.

David has been studying the neurology of chronic pain, while Mirella is a neural stem cell expert. Based at the University of Wollongong, their collaboration focusses on cells called dorsal root ganglia sensory neurons. These cells sense pressure, temperature, position, touch and pain, and the duo believe they could hold the key to many neurological disorders including chronic pain.

“Many diseases and disorders are caused by altered firing of signals along sensory nerves. Growing human sensory neurons [from stem cells] means we can study their development and function in both health and disease,” says Mirella. Continue reading Modelling brain circuitry

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

Micro-lenses bring new cataract treatments in sight

Stem cells are being used to rapidly test and improve treatments for cataracts, thanks to an innovative solution developed by Dr Michael O’Connor and his team from Western Sydney University.

With novel stem cell technology, Michael has created hundreds of thousands of micro-lenses similar to the ones in the human eye. These micro-lenses offer a way to rapidly improve drug research and offer the potential for lens cell transplants in the future. 

Billions of dollars are spent each year around the world on cataract surgery, and hundreds of millions of dollars treating resulting complications. Continue reading Micro-lenses bring new cataract treatments in sight

Reef rescue

French and Australian scientists are working together to understand how climate change is affecting reef sharks in French Polynesia, why corals in New Caledonia can survive extremes of temperature and acidity, and what fish markets mean for reef health.

Baby sharks

On Mo’orea in French Polynesia, Dr Jodie Rummer leads a project studying baby sharks to see how they will cope with climate change.

“Healthy reefs need healthy predators,” Jodie says. “And healthy predators need healthy reefs.” Continue reading Reef rescue

Quantum computing in silicon

A French-Australian collaboration is setting out to make silicon quantum computing a practical reality.

“I’m excited by our technology because it has the potential to change the world,” says Professor Andrew Dzurak of the University of New South Wales, the quantum computing expert who leads the Australian side of the partnership.

Andrew and his colleagues hope that their work will enable computing capabilities that are out of reach today and perhaps also result in the first universal quantum computer. Continue reading Quantum computing in silicon

A polariton filter turns ordinary laser light into quantum light

An international team of researchers led out of Macquarie University has demonstrated a new approach for converting ordinary laser light into genuine quantum light.

Their approach uses nanometre-thick films made of gallium arsenide, which is a semiconductor material widely used in solar cells. They sandwich the thin films between two mirrors to manipulate the incoming photons.

The photons interact with electron-hole pairs in the semiconductor, forming new chimeric particles called polaritons that carry properties from both the photons and the electron-hole pairs. The polaritons decay after a few picoseconds, and the photons they release exhibit distinct quantum signatures.

The teams’ research was published overnight in the journal Nature Materials.

Continue reading A polariton filter turns ordinary laser light into quantum light

Trees remember heatwaves

An Aussie eucalypt can ‘remember’ past exposure to extreme heat, which makes the tree and its offspring better able to cope with future heatwaves, according to new research from Macquarie University.

This finding could have important implications for restoring ecosystems and climate-proofing forestry, as the number of hot days and heatwaves increase due to climate change.

“Unlike animals, which can bury deeper into the soil or flee to cooler locations, plants are stuck in one spot and so must be able to withstand extreme conditions in situ,” says Dr Rachael Gallagher, senior author of the paper published in the journal Functional Ecology.

Continue reading Trees remember heatwaves

Fuel for the future

Cooking with a hydrogen-powered barbeque

The need to shift from fossil fuels to cleaner energy technologies is becoming more urgent, and Australia’s trading partners are demanding low-emission energy sources.

Electricity production from renewables can be variable, and any excess electricity must be stored for use on days with less wind or sun. Battery systems are used for storage, but they have limitations.

An alternative is to store energy in the form of hydrogen.

Continue reading Fuel for the future