Enlisting the brain’s immune cells to fight MS

The brain’s specialist cleaning cells play a key role in neurodegenerative diseases, and they may also hold the secret to new treatments for the likes of MS and Alzheimer’s.

Professor Colin Pouton and his team at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences found a way to isolate microglia, the immune cells of the brain, from stem cells. Better yet, they made the cells fluorescent so their activity can be tracked, opening up new avenues of research.

Professor Trevor Kilpatrick and his colleagues at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health think Colin’s engineered cells just might be the key to creating a revolutionary treatment for multiple sclerosis. Continue reading Enlisting the brain’s immune cells to fight MS

How reprogramming cells turns back time

For the past decade scientists have been able to reprogram skin cells, nasal cells and other mature cells to become pluripotent stem cells that can turn into any cell type in the human body. How it works is only starting to become clear.

Teams led by Professors Ryan Lister at the University of Western Australia, Jose Polo at Monash University and Ernst Wolvetang at The University of Queensland are working together to understand how this process occurs, whether all cell types follow the same path to becoming pluripotent cells, and if this impacts their ability to mimic disease in the laboratory.

Through a series of collaborations over the last ten years the scientists have uncovered a number of stem cell secrets, opening the door for more targeted research and, ultimately, treatments for diseases. Continue reading How reprogramming cells turns back time

Building tools for brain repair

Professor James Bourne and his team are laying the groundwork for using stem cell transplants to treat brain trauma with the discovery of an anti-scarring agent and new biomaterials to support transplanted cells.

“What we’re doing is a prelude to direct stem cell research. We hope to give potential stem cell therapies for brain trauma the best chance of success,” James says.

He and his team at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University are studying nonhuman primates to understand how to create the best environments for repair after brain injury. Continue reading Building tools for brain repair

“Who will help me?”

People suffering from serious illnesses are turning to unproven and risky stem cell therapies in growing numbers. Researchers are trying to understand why—and how to provide better information and support.

Stem cells have been saving lives for decades, largely through bone marrow and cord blood transplants treating leukaemia and other blood diseases. Unproven treatments are booming, however, with clinics in Australia and around the world spruiking cures for conditions from osteoarthritis and MS to dementia and diabetes.

Associate Professor Megan Munsie and her colleagues in Stem Cells Australia’s Engagement, Ethics and Policy Program have heard many tales of patients spending thousands of dollars on treatments that often have no benefit and may be harmful or even deadly. Continue reading “Who will help me?”

Mini-kidneys tell two sides of a genetic story

Gene editing technology combined with stem cells provides a powerful new way to study genetic kidney diseases and their treatments.

Melbourne researchers have used mini-kidney ‘organoids’ grown in the lab to unravel the mystery of why Mainzer-Saldino syndrome, a rare disease involving a single defective gene, causes life-threatening kidney damage. In doing so, they’ve proven an approach that can be used to study a whole range of other genetic kidney diseases. Continue reading Mini-kidneys tell two sides of a genetic story

Printing in metal

Australia’s pioneering 3D metal printing technology is now at work in Toulouse, printing components for the French aerospace company, Safran Power Units.

3D printing has the potential to transform manufacturing, allowing rapid prototyping of components, and the creation of lighter and more efficient components that would be impossible to make using traditional casting technologies. But there are many challenges to overcome to ensure that the components meet the intense engineering and regulatory requirements of the aerospace industry. Continue reading Printing in metal

What the universe is made of

The massive team that helped discover the Higgs boson is now hunting more exotic particles, including dark matter.

The ATLAS collaboration involves more than 3,000 physicists from around the world. In 2012, results from ATLAS were vital to the discovery of the Higgs boson, the particle that gives mass to everything in the Universe.

The 7000-tonne ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider on the border of France and Switzerland tracks up to a billion collisions between high-energy protons each second. French and Australian physicists are at the forefront of efforts to decipher this torrent of data. Continue reading What the universe is made of

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