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

Does coral help create rain?

Researchers have found that coral reefs may play a key role in cloud formation. Now they’re working to make climate modelling more accurate.

Australian and international scientists, led by QUT’s Professor Zoran Ristovski, spent a month in late 2016 collecting data on airborne particles emitted from the Great Barrier Reef, which they are now analysing.

Continue reading Does coral help create rain?

Technology to save the reefs—Queensland University of Technology

Mapping reefs with drones; robots destroying crown-of-thorns starfish; coral as a rain-maker; and more—researchers at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) are investigating new technologies to protect Australia’s reefs.

Continue reading Technology to save the reefs—Queensland University of Technology

Detection of cancer and PTSD

By 2020, multiple sites worldwide will be trialing a non-invasive test for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The machine can determine if soldiers and emergency workers are prone to the disorder, and if so, they may be rested and not immediately deployed again.

Continue reading Detection of cancer and PTSD

Fighting disease together

Malaria kills 500,000 people every year. And 90 per cent of those are children. Griffith University researchers are screening hundreds of thousands of compounds supplied by Japanese companies to find the right compound with activity against the malaria parasite.

Japan’s Global Health Innovative Technology Fund is supporting the research as part of their search for new ways to fight malaria.

“GHIT is a fund that invests in partnerships between Japanese and non-Japanese entities,” says BT Slingsby, the Executive Director of GHIT.

“Many of those entities are in Australia including The University of Melbourne, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, and Griffith University.”

“Currently we’re working with companies such as Daiichi-Sankyo, Takeda, Mitsubishi Tanabe, and Eisai,” says Griffith University’s Vicky Avery. 

They bring those compounds to us. We then dispense them into plates which contain the parasite we’re trying to kill.  After they’ve been incubated for a period of time we then look to see whether they’ve had an effect in killing the parasites.

“Once one defines a hit, usually it’s the pharmaceutical company that drives forward the further development of that compound to create a drug.

“This collaboration is fantastic in that it has three groups who complement each other,” Vicky says.

The Japanese pharma companies bring expertise in drug discovery and development.  GHIT has managed to pull together significant funding from both global partners as well as the Japanese Government. And Griffith University brings the biology expertise.

Keeping in shape: what happens to red blood cells in storage?

Understanding why red blood cells get out of shape during storage could help improve the effectiveness and safety of blood transfusions.

So, Marie-Anne Balanant and Sarah Barns are combining biological and engineering expertise, to create a model of how different parts of ageing red blood cell membranes react when a force is applied.

They hope to propose strategies to improve blood storage practices and create better transfusion outcomes for patients. 

Continue reading Keeping in shape: what happens to red blood cells in storage?

Measuring the risk of an Australian Zika outbreak

The conditions have been right for Zika virus to spread during the warmer months of past years in Townsville, Cairns and Rockhampton, according to research led by the Australian Red Cross Blood Service.

Using temperature data from January 2015 to December 2016, the team modelled the ability of mosquitoes to spread the virus in four Queensland cities. Brisbane (the fourth city) was the only site where the risk was low.  

“If locations experience outbreaks of dengue, the conditions would also be right for outbreaks of Zika,” says lead researcher Dr Elvina Viennet.

The findings emphasise the need for imported cases to be reported immediately, Elvina says.

Continue reading Measuring the risk of an Australian Zika outbreak

Saving seagrass sanctuaries

Seagrass meadows provide food and habitat for everything from dugongs and birds to fish and tiny crabs.

Using maths to protect seagrass meadows and the communities they support .
Using maths to protect seagrass meadows and the communities they support .

Globally we’re losing over 100 sq. km per year due to dredging, coastal developments and runoff. That’s bad news for the animals they support, and bad news for us too, as seagrass supports healthy coastal fisheries as well as acting as a carbon store.

To see how seagrass can be given a fighting chance, Dr Paul Wu at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers and collaborators have put an extended modelling technique to new use, predicting seagrass health and suggests how some modified human activities could reduce the damage.

Continue reading Saving seagrass sanctuaries

Can algae fuel our future?

We can make biofuels with algae, but can we make them commercially viable?

A University of Queensland (UQ) research team is working towards it – and Siemens, Neste Oil Corp, the Queensland Government and others have joined their quest.

The Solar Biofuels Research Centre is one of the most advanced national facilities investigating the development and use of high-efficiency microalgae production platforms.

Continue reading Can algae fuel our future?

The ageing brain can repair itself

Professor Perry Bartlett is putting people with dementia on treadmills.

Mapping the vast networks of the brain; 10,000 million neurons, each with 10,000 connections. Credit: Queensland Brain Institute
Mapping the vast networks of the brain; 10,000 million neurons, each with 10,000 connections. Credit: Queensland Brain Institute

He has already reversed dementia and recovered spatial memories in mice through exercise. And in 2016 he and colleagues at The University of Queensland will begin clinical trials to see if exercise will have the same impact in people with dementia. Then he’ll look at depression.

Underpinning these projects is the idea that the brain is constantly changing; and that learning, memory, mood, and many other brain functions are in part regulated by the production of new neurons.

Continue reading The ageing brain can repair itself