genetics

yee-lian-chew-feature

The link between a specific gene and brain cell ageing may reveal valuable lessons for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, a Sydney scientist has found.

Yee Lian Chew, a PhD candidate at The University of Sydney, found that when levels of the TAU gene in a worm model were either too low or too high, the brain cells aged faster and the animals lived for a shorter period.

“Diseases of the aging brain are poorly understood,” says Yee Lian. “Our finding provides exciting new information on how the brain ages, and also suggests that we should target this gene in future treatments for dementia patients.”

The human TAU gene has been implicated in brain aging disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Yee Lian says worms are an exceptional way to study brain ageing as their transparent nature allow her to easily examine the changes that emerge in older brain cells and to study how fast the brain ages.

“Humans are certainly more complex than worms, but at a molecular level there are many striking similarities,” she says. “The lack of complexity is also an advantage – worms have 302 brain cells whereas humans have billions. It is much simpler to study brain aging in an animal where individual cells can be easily observed.”

NSW State Finalist: Yee Lian Chew, The University of Sydney

http://freshscience.org.au/2013/worms-reveal-link

Lucie Rankin

The discovery of a gene’s essential role in generating rare intestinal immune cells may hold hope for those with celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome, say Melbourne scientists.

Lucille Rankin and a team at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute discovered that the gene, T-bet, is important for the production of innate lymphoid cells, (ILCs) and is stimulated by the proteins from leafy greens, raising questions about the effect of food on our genes and immune system.

“Discovery of the T-bet molecule that make these immune cells paves the way for understanding how we might manipulate these cells and repair the communication breakdown that occurs in diseases such as IBS,” says Lucille, who did the research as part of her PhD.

ILCs help to promote good bacteria and the healing of small abrasions on the intestinal wall. Leafy green vegetables previously have been shown to have an important role in the production of ILCs. Lucille and her team discovered that the T-best molecule may be a possible pathway for this action.

The intestine makes up 70 per cent of our immune system and it is home to trillions of good bacteria that keep us healthy.  Immune cells in the intestine must be clever enough to tell the difference between good, health-promoting bacteria, harmless food particles and nasty disease-causing bacteria, which it must destroy.

When the communication system in the intestine breaks down, immune cells get confused and can begin to attack good bacteria and the intestinal lining, which results in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and colitis.  However, we still don’t know exactly how this happens and what causes such debilitating ailments.

Victoria State Finalist: Lucie Rankin, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

Tamara

Placental stem cells may hold the key to early prevention and the possibility of a cure for cerebral palsy, Melbourne scientists have found

Dr Tamara Yawno and her colleagues from Monash Institute of Medical Research have shown that stem cells derived from discarded placentas reduced brain injury in sheep with cerebral palsy (CP).

“The project’s initial positive outcomes are a vital first step in our understanding of whether stem cells track to the injured brain, reduce the fetal stress and inflammatory response to injury, and whether they also take on the properties of other brain cells at the site of injury,” Tamara says.

“Our group has been particularly interested in the use of placental stem cells because they are easily accessible, obtained from the discarded human placenta, and therefore do not have the limitations of adult and embryonic stem cells,” she says.

Brain damage that leads to cerebral palsy mainly occurs before birth. However, interventions are limited to physical therapies, which are used to reduce disabilities associated with CP.  Many parents with CP children are looking overseas for stem cell therapy.

“Stem cells offer the potential for great therapeutic benefit for a number of debilitating human conditions,” Tamara says.

She says the next step is to understand the cell’s mechanisms of action with a view to progressing to clinical trials.

Victoria State Finalist: Tamara Yawno, Monash Institute of Medical Research

Belinda Brown

Physical activity may prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by lowering levels of a toxic protein in the blood and brain, Perth scientists have found.

Belinda Brown and a group of researchers from Edith Cowan University and McCusker Alzheimer’s Research Foundation found that individuals undertaking higher levels of physical activity had lower levels of beta-amyloid, the protein that causes brain cell death in Alzheimer’s.

“The toxic protein causes cell death, which leads to brain shrinkage and is found in high levels in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. We found that individuals participating in higher levels of physical activity had lower levels of this protein,” says Belinda, the study’s lead author.

The study, which involved 550 healthy patients over 60 years old, also showed that individuals with a higher genetic risk of Alzheimer’s disease received the greatest benefit from physical activity, with reduced toxic protein levels in their brains.

There are an estimated 35.6 million people currently living with dementia worldwide and this number is expected to quadruple by 2050. With Alzheimer’s disease the leading cause of dementia and with no cure available, interest has turned toward lifestyle factors that may prevent the onset of the disease.

Previous research has suggested a link between physical activity and a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease; however, little is understood about the driving force behind this association.

WA State Finalist: Belinda Brown, Edith Cowan University

Genetics can be used to shape plants underground so they absorb water better

Recent discoveries by a University of Queensland agricultural scientist provide the basis for custom designing plant roots. Her discovery is already being used by plant breeders to develop drought-resistant sorghum crops. [click to continue…]

The human body incorporates multiple fail-safe mechanisms to protect it against the “friendly fire” from its immune system known as autoimmune disease, Charis Teh and colleagues at the John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR) at the Australian National University have found.

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Cell death genes essential for cancer therapy identified.


New research has uncovered why certain cancers don’t respond to conventional chemotherapy, highlighting the need to match treatments to cancers better. [click to continue…]

tropical_rock_lobster2A team of Queensland researchers have discovered that lobsters, prawns and other crustaceans have evolved a unique way of making colours: making the complex patterns appreciated by biologists and connoisseurs of seafood.

Their work will help with conservation, aquaculture and may even lead to a new food colourant. And all the colours come from just one molecule.

The colour of seafood is directly linked to its acceptability as food. Highly coloured lobsters and prawns attract a premium price. And for the crustaceans themselves, it’s a matter of survival. [click to continue…]

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Researchers at The University of Queensland (UQ) have developed a way to deliver drugs which can specifically shut down cancer-causing genes in tumour cells while sparing normal healthy tissues.

Sherry Wu in the lab. Credit: Sherry Wu

Sherry Wu in the lab. Credit: Sherry Wu

They are currently looking at cervical cancer. While cervical cancer vaccines – co-developed by Professor Ian Frazer at UQ – are reducing the chances of infection with the virus that causes the cancer, many thousands of women worldwide are likely to contract cervical cancer in the next few decades.

Fresh Scientist Ms Sherry Wu hopes the new technique, which involves the use of coatings rich in fats, will hasten the application of RNA interference or gene-silencing, a technology which can inactivate individual genes. Using this technology, she and her colleagues observed a 70% reduction in tumour size in a cervical cancer mouse model. [click to continue…]

Dr Fiona Hogan is DNA fingerprinting Australian owls with the help of feathers and a keen public.

Her work is transforming our understanding of the night life of owls, normally notoriously secretive.

From a single feather, this Deakin University researcher can determine the species, sex, and identity of individual birds. She has already found a pair of powerful owls who have mated together for at least 10 consecutive years, and that those breeding in urban areas are typically more closely related than those which breed in the bush. [click to continue…]

It may be possible to halt cancer in its tracks by blocking a gene critical to building tumour supply lines, according to new research carried out at the University of Queensland.

Most tumours need a blood supply to grow.

Researchers at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience have found that when new blood vessels form – in developing embryos and in tumours – a gene, known as Sox18, switches on for just 48 hours.

“In adult mice, we have found that interfering with this gene reduces tumour growth by up to 80 percent,” says postdoctoral scientist Dr Neville Young. “A surprisingly large number of people carry microscopic tumours inside their bodies but these cells never develop into disease.

“One of the reasons these cancerous cells do not rage out of control is that they never establish a blood supply to feed them. Those unlucky enough to develop malignant tumours often do so when cancerous cells co-opt the body’s own blood supply.”

Sox18 has an important role to play in helping specialised cells travel to the right position and then form the tubes needed for blood flow.

Dr Young says that targeting blood vessels was not a new concept in the fight against cancer, but that one of the big problems was the side effects of current treatments.

“The novel thing about targeting Sox18 is that it is only turned on in new blood vessels feeding the growing tumour,” he says. “It does not seem to affect any other blood vessels in the body. By attacking only Sox18 we might be able to stop these new vessels forming while leaving the rest of the blood supply alone.”

The next step is to test whether researchers can manufacture a drug for humans that can mimic the observed effects in mice. They also need to design a delivery system to get the drug to the growing blood vessel cells to switch Sox18 off.

The early stages of this research are already underway with preliminary results expected within two years. This is dependent on ongoing funding for this research.

Neville is one of 13 Fresh Scientists who are presenting their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program sponsored by the Federal and Victorian Governments. One of the Fresh Scientists will win a trip to the UK courtesy of the British Council to present his or her work to the Royal Institution.

The world’s fastest growing abalone—the tropical donkey’s ear abalone, Haliotis asinina—can be bred to grow rapidly and reliably for aquaculture, Queensland biologists have found. And that makes it potentially a high value alternative crop for struggling prawn farmers. [click to continue…]

Researchers at Prince Henry’s Institute in Melbourne have discovered how an extra copy of a gene halts the process of becoming a boy.

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Edwina Sutton and colleagues at the University of Adelaide have been busily turning female mice into males.

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RESEARCHERS in Sydney have discovered that an enzyme only found in immune cells plays a key role in promoting rheumatoid arthritis. The work raises the possibility of new and better treatments for the painful and debilitating condition, which affects about one in a thousand Australians of all ages.

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GeneBalls: barcoding DNA

31 August 2004

in 2004

Millions of genetic tests using just one drop of blood

Queensland PhD student Angus Johnston has invented a unique technology with the potential to test for hundreds of diseases, cancers and genes in one, cheap, test. He hopes that within five years the technology will be available in a desktop unit for less than $30,000.

“This is a unique, patented technology that has the potential to revolutionise genetic testing,” said Angus Johnston, PhD student and co-inventor of the technology.

“A simple machine could be installed in a doctor’s surgery which would give almost instantaneous feedback on which diseases the patient is susceptible.”

GeneBalls would not only help diagnosing cancer and other diseases, but also give an early warning for diseases like heart disease. With this early warning the patient can make lifestyle changes before any symptoms occur.

Geneballs can currently look at 12 genes in one test, but in the next 12 months we plan to increase this number to tens or hundreds of thousands. The existing technology, is too expensive and inaccurate for clinical applications.

It’s been an exciting journey for the student researcher. “I’ve had the opportunity to do a PhD that’s led to direct commercial outcomes,” says Angus. “It’s exciting to do the research and see it turn into two international patents and a shareholding in a company which is commercialising the technology.”

GeneBalls are tiny particles one tenth the diameter of a human hair and work like a barcode on items in a supermarket.  Each tiny bead contains a mixture of fluorescent dyes and is coated with DNA.  If a patient has DNA the same as DNA on one of the GeneBalls, their DNA will stuck to the GeneBall

Angus is one of 15 Fresh Scientists presenting their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program hosted by the State Library of Victoria.

For photos go to www.freshscience.org

Images:

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Electron microscope images of GeneBalls