BrainPark will reveal the science of beating addiction

Australians have some of the highest rates of unhealthy habits in the world, including excessive eating, drinking, gambling, and recreational drug use. These habits are making us stressed and unhappy, and contributing to poor physical and mental health. 

Breaking a habit is hard. Beating major compulsive problems, like addictions or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), is even harder. Eighty per cent of people who need help don’t get it, and 80 per cent of those who do seek help relapse within a year.

“Our current solutions aren’t good enough: many are difficult to access, many are ineffective. And there’s a huge amount of stigma attached,” says Dr Rebecca Segrave, Deputy Director of Monash University’s new BrainPark facility.

At BrainPark, world-leading scientists and health professionals are combining new technologies and lifestyle-based treatments to empower people to change their own brains and create healthy habits.

Continue reading BrainPark will reveal the science of beating addiction

A different kind of tablet to test for early childhood attention difficulties

An electronic astronaut is helping researchers spot the difference between normal four-year-old energy and the signs of attention difficulties.

TALI (Training Attention and Learning Initiative) Detect is a series of short games for tablet computers. It’s been made possible by combining 20 years of neuroscientific research at Monash Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences (MICCN) with the expertise of Australian game developer Torus Games.    

Continue reading A different kind of tablet to test for early childhood attention difficulties

An expert guide to raising teens

Being a teenager is tough—on teenagers and their parents. While there’s lots of advice on the internet, sorting the credible from the questionable can be difficult.

But hundreds of parents around Australia found that accessing a free, online support program improved their parenting skills and confidence, according to two randomised controlled studies from 2015 to 2017.  

The program, called Partners in Parenting (PiP), was developed by experts at Monash University and The University of Melbourne.

Continue reading An expert guide to raising teens

Peptides to fight pain

A new approach to the global chronic pain problem

Chronic pain affects around 20 per cent of the world’s population at any one time. It is the most common reason people seek medical help in Australia. Chronic pain often goes hand in hand with anxiety and depression.

Short chains of amino acids—known as peptides—may offer hope. A collaboration between neurobiologists at The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health at The University of Melbourne and CNRS units affiliated with the Universities of Bordeaux and Strasbourg has made significant progress towards an entirely new approach to treating pain.

Continue reading Peptides to fight pain

Cancer, maths and evolution

Shifting the cancer battleground

 A new French-Australian joint cancer laboratory is forging a new way to study cancer by joining experts from different fields including mathematics, cell biology, evolutionary biology, and behavioural ecology.

Cancer is not only a major cause of human death worldwide, but also a disease that affects all multicellular organisms. Despite this, oncology and other biological sciences such as ecology and evolution have developed in relative isolation, according to Dr Beata Ujvari from the Roles of Cancer in Ecology and Evolution International Associated Laboratory at Deakin University. 

“We know that there is a clear reciprocal interaction between malignant cells and their hosts, with malignant cells evolving in response to the organism’s defence mechanisms,” Beata says.

“Cancer also directly and indirectly impacts the physiology, immunology and behaviour of organisms. But very little is actually known of the evolutionary impact of these complex relationships. We are changing that with this type of research, which has rarely been explored before,” Beata says.

The goal is to transform the understanding of cancer, its origin, how to halt its progression, and to prevent therapeutic failures. At the same time, the role of cancer in ecosystem functioning is something that ecologists need to consider.

Researchers say that cancer’s impact on ecosystems could be significant. It can influence an individual’s competitive and dispersal abilities, susceptibility to pathogens and vulnerability to predation. In some cases, such as the facial tumour disease that afflicts Tasmanian devils, it can heavily impact a species.

The joint laboratory is a collaboration between: Dr Frederic Thomas of the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Cancer Research at the National Scientific Research Centre (CNRS) in France; Deakin University; and the University of Tasmania, Australia. In Australia, the team has partnered with the Tasmanian Government’s Save the Tasmanian Devil Program and Zoos Victoria.

Banner image : Cancer can have a significant impact on species – such as the Tasmanian devil – and even whole ecosystems. Credit: JJ Harrison

The hunt for shapeshifting cancer cells

For a long time, doctors and patients have dreamed of precision oncology, a process that allows specific, effective treatments for individual tumours.

In the past, the complex nature of tumours has made this impossible.

“Within a tumour, there are many different cell populations, each doing different things and behaving in different ways. Most cells will be killed by chemotherapy, but some are not,” says Associate Professor Frederic Hollande of The University of Melbourne.

Continue reading The hunt for shapeshifting cancer cells

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.

——

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

Fresh Science

Fresh Science helps Australian early-career researchers find their story and their voice.

Over the past 20 years Fresh Science has trained and empowered more than 500 future leaders in science to engage with the community, media, government and industry.

In 2016, we chose 60 researchers around the country, trained them, and gave them the chance to present their science in pubs, school talks and to the media. Here are a few of their stories.

Continue reading Fresh Science

Quantum computers with photons

The idea behind quantum computing has been around for almost half a century, but getting to a point where quantum effects can be created experimentally has taken a long time.

Now that materials physics and photonics have caught up, the race is on to devise and construct a quantum device that can out-compute today’s solid-state silicon supercomputers.

And Swinburne is leading the way with the use of photons.

Continue reading Quantum computers with photons