A fibre may help save millions of children in developing countries who die or who are left malnourished from diarrhoea each year.
Graeme Young, AM, of Flinders University, is leading a global project that will test his theory that resistant starch increases zinc absorption in the body.
The Australian Academy of Science recognised five individuals for their career achievements in 2013.
- The search for dark matter was kicked off by Ken Freeman’s discovery that there wasn’t enough matter to hold spiral galaxies like ours together. Continue reading Academy recognition
Dr Georgina Such imagines a miniscule capsule designed like a set of Russian babushka dolls.
The capsule is designed to sneak through the blood stream untouched.
When it finds its target—a cancer cell—it passes into the cell, sheds a layer, finds the part of the cellular machinery it needs to attack, sheds another layer; and then releases its cargo of drugs, destroying the cancer cell and only the cancer cell.
Creating such a capsule may take decades, but Georgina and her colleagues at the University of Melbourne have already developed several materials which have the potential to do the job.
The long-term survival chances of patients with breast cancer plummet if the cancer recurs or spreads to other parts of the body in the process known as metastasis.
So the National Breast Cancer Foundation recently funded a five-year, $5 million National Collaborative Research Program to investigate metastasis and discover potential drugs to stop or slow it. The EMPathy Breast Cancer Network program was also charged with finding ways of diagnosing metastasis before it occurs. The research is highly dependent on the latest sequencing technology and demands the massive computer power and sophisticated data handling techniques of modern bioinformatics.
Continue reading Supercomputer probes cancer crisis point
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
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
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