A compound produced by a pregnant lizard may provide important information on the origins and treatment of cancer in humans, according to zoologist Bridget Murphy from the University of Sydney, who discovered the protein, which is pivotal to the development of the lizard placenta.

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A young Monash University chemist and her colleagues have successfully strengthened insulin’s chemical structure without affecting its activity. Their new insulin won’t require refrigeration.

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Silk could provide a sophisticated new way of monitoring health, Peter Domachuk, a physicist from the University of Sydney, has found.
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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…]


University of Western Sydney (UWS) student Chendur Palaniappan analysed his own tears to find clues to producing better and longer lasting lubricants to help millions of people with painful dry eyes. And the secret is in how proteins and oils interact, he found.

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Researchers at the CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory have developed a new test for foot-and-mouth disease that involves no infectious viral material and can differentiate between infected and vaccinated animals. This ‘DIVA’ test could transform how foot-and-mouth disease is controlled in future, because it’s so inexpensive and does not require infectious virus to produce the reagents.

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Within 6 months of heart disease surgery, up to 60% of patients suffer from their arteries reblocking.

Queensland scientists have discovered a way to precisely deliver drugs to blockage sites in the arteries – preventing complications after surgery to treat heart disease according to developer Anita Thomas and her colleagues at the University of Queensland.

The technique uses antibodies linked to the drugs to ensure they are deposited in the arteries where doctors want them, rather than in other places in the body where they can lead have unacceptable side-effects.

Cardiovascular diseases-which can lead to heart attack, angina and stroke-are the biggest single preventable killer in the developed world, and result in the deaths of at least 17 million people each year.

Most of these diseases are due to a single cause, the blockage of arteries by cholesterol-rich thickenings.

“Surgical techniques have been developed to remove these blockages, but in up to 60% of patients they re-occur within six months,” says Thomas, a post-doctoral fellow at the Australian Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.

“We thought we could use drugs to prevent this from happening, but they have to be carefully targeted.”

Thomas and Prof Julie Campbell observed that the protein fibrin, which is found in blood clots, is deposited in arteries within 10 minutes of surgery to remove the original blockage.

They then confirmed that fibrin could be used to attract antibodies, which they linked to drugs to prevent the artery from becoming re-blocked.

The targeted delivery of these drugs was effective in preventing re-blocking, Thomas found.

It also stopped the drug being dispersed within the blood stream. Because the drug is concentrated where it is of most value, it can be used in low doses with minimal side-effects. And it also promotes rapid healing of the lining of the blood vessel, a significant benefit.

Various parts of the treatment are already being tested. Anita believes that with a little bit more tweaking, we should see the treatment in hospitals within five years.

Anita Thomas is one of 16 early-career scientists presenting their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program sponsored by the Federal and Victorian Governments.


  • Click on photo for higher resolution.
  • Photo credit: Robert Campbell
Anita performing surgical manipulations on blood vessels in a kidney. Anita with some samples in the lab. High res available on request.Photo credit:  Jeremy Patten, The University of Queensland.
Anita with some samples in the lab. High res available on request.Photo credit:  Jeremy Patten, The University of Queensland.  

Studies by University of Adelaide doctoral student Cadence Minge have shown that a high fat diet can cause damage to eggs in ovaries. And when fertilised, these eggs do not develop into normal, healthy embryos.

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How sea slugs fall in love

14 August 2007

in 2007

Scott Cummins and his colleagues at The University of Queensland have uncovered a potent mix of chemicals which acts like a cross between Chanel No 5 and Viagra-but only if you are a sea slug.

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Fats trigger immune defence

14 August 2007

in 2007

Synchrotron light delivers Nature paper for young scientist

Natalie Borg and colleagues from Monash and Melbourne universities have shown for the first time how the body’s immune defence system can be triggered by fats, sugars and other biological compounds, not just by proteins. The research, published recently in Nature, opens the way to potential new treatments for whole areas of disease such as infections, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile-onset diabetes and some types of cancer.

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I am writing to alert you to a health and exercise story which has been released
today as part of the Fresh Science program. A combination of supplements readily
available in health food stores can double the rate at which an exercise program builds muscle and sheds body fat.

It’s all a matter of timing, according to Melbourne researchers.

The researchers found that people who consumed the supplements immediately before exercising with weights gained much more muscle and strength than those who took the same supplements at other times of the day. The supplements used were whey protein, isolated from milk, and creatine monohydrate, extracted from plants.

“This study is the first to demonstrate that timing the consumption of these supplements promotes better results from exercise,” said Dr Paul Cribb the lead researcher, from Victoria University. “This is a simple strategy that most adults could incorporate into their exercise programs.”

Whey protein is a high quality dairy protein which stimulates muscle growth, and is rapidly absorbed by the body.  Creatine monohydrate is thought to aid energy production.  Both supplements are widely available and have been shown in research to provide a variety of health benefits.

Adult males participated in a 10-week supervised resistance training program while consuming the supplements. Those who took the supplements directly before and after exercise showed significantly better improvements in strength and muscle (fat-free) mass compared to a control group. The control group performed the same resistance exercise program and took the same supplement at other times of the day.

The changes in body composition were confirmed by muscle analyses at the cellular and subcellular levels. And the benefits were obtained without the participants’ having to diet or disrupt their normal, healthy eating patterns.

Cribb argues that this information is not only important for athletes, but has much wider application. “Athletic performance and vanity aside, building muscle is a vital part of healthy ageing. An age-associated loss of muscle is thought to initiate many illnesses that shorten our lifespan such as osteoporosis, type-II diabetes, and heart disease.”

“This is one of very few studies that provides data on a safe, cost-effective strategy that can help maintain muscle mass through life.”

AST Sports Science supplied the supplements used in this research.

Paul Cribb is one of 16 Fresh Scientists who are presenting their research to school students and the general public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program hosted by the Melbourne Museum and sponsored by the Federal and Victorian governments, New Scientist, The Australian and Quantum Communications Victoria.  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.

Fighting septic shock

8 August 2006

in 2006

A potential new treatment for septic shock and other inflammatory diseases has been discovered by Monash Institute researchers.

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A new system for directing radiation to target cells has been developed in Melbourne. The new targeting system has the potential to specifically destroy cancer cells with minimal damage to healthy tissues.

The new targeting concept, for which an international patent is pending, uses a special class of radioactive atoms for which the radiation damage is confined to the molecules immediately adjacent to the radioactive atom.

The cell-killing effect is maximised by directing the radiation to the genetic material (DNA) of the target cell, with little effect on neighbouring cells.

“We expect that our targeting system will be particularly useful for small clusters of cancer cells, such as those that spread throughout the body when a cancer becomes more advanced,” says Dr Tom Karagiannis, research officer with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre where the system was devised.

Conventional cancer therapies such as surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy have resulted in a steady decline in cancer mortality rates over the years.  Only chemotherapy has the potential to be effective when the cancer has spread throughout the body, but often it is not effective.

Latest figures from the World Health Organization show that about 50 percent of cancer patients still die in developed countries and about 80 percent die in developing countries.

A unique feature of the cancer targeting system is the highly focussed damage caused by the radioactive isotopes used – most of the radiation damage is within a distance of only a few millionths of a millimetre.  This means they can kill cancer cells without causing significant damage to normal cells.

The new technology combines knowledge from a wide range of scientific disciplines, including radiation biology, chemistry and immunology, Dr Karagiannis says.  The key ingredient is a complex composite drug, made by attaching the radioactive atom to a DNA-binding molecule, which in turn is linked to a cancer-targeting protein such as an antibody.

“Our radiolabelled DNA-binding drug alone provided a very efficient ‘molecular bomb’ for destroying cells,” says Dr Karagiannis. “But it could not discriminate between cancer cells and healthy cells.”

To make a ‘smarter’ drug, researchers took advantage of the fact that many cancer cells express high levels of certain proteins on their cell surface. Antibodies that bind specifically to these surface proteins were used as vehicles to target the lethal damage to cancer cells.

“Our strategy builds on the growing interest in antibodies as cancer therapeutics,” says Associate Professor Roger Martin, Tom’s supervisor who has been working on the project concept for the past three decades.

“There are a currently only a handful of such anticancer-antibodies that have been approved for therapy and many others that are in clinical trials.”

Proof-of-principle studies with the new targeting system have yielded very promising results with cell cultures, but a commercial partner is required for further development.

Tom 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.

Not a dry eye in the house

17 August 2005

in 2005

What are tears made of?

A new understanding of the composition of tears, based on work by a young Sydney researcher, may bring relief to the millions of people worldwide who suffer from the eye irritation, constant blinking and sensitivity to wind, smoke or air conditioning known as ‘dry eye’.

Tears are not just water. During each blink of the eye, water is mixed with oil and mucous components, and then distributed over the surface of the eye. In people with dry eye, this tear film dries very quickly-about 5 seconds as opposed to 20 seconds normally.

“Dry eye is one of the most common eye problems, particularly in Australia. Globally about one in five suffers from it,” says Sophia Tragoulias , who undertook research into the problem at the Vision Cooperative Research Centre in Sydney, and is now working for Parexel International. “To solve the problem, we need to able to produce a good tear film.”

By comparing the surface characteristics of complete tear films with those of the component compounds, Tragoulias was able to develop a more accurate picture of the structure of the film itself. She was able to show that the film actually consists of an outer oily layer containing several different types of proteins and mucous. Underneath this, in contact with the eye surface, is a second layer composed of the same components, but in different proportions.

“Current treatments for dry eye usually involve rewetting drops, which mostly add to the watery component of tears. But this can provide temporary relief, but it doesn’t help to produce a stable tear film to solve the problem. We believe, with our new knowledge of the structure of the tear film, we can potentially design better contact lenses, and tailor more effective drops to soothe dry eye.”

Although dry eye can occur at any age, it is estimated that nearly three quarters of people over 65 experience it. Dry eye is also a major problem for about three quarters of the people who wear contact lenses. More than half the people who discontinue using contact lenses give dryness and discomfort as the reason for doing so.

Sophia is one of 13 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. 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.

Sydney researchers have discovered how a specific protein causes scar tissue to be made in the lungs of asthmatic patients. [click to continue…]

Plants can listen in on bacterial communication and can even mimic this communication, possibly in an attempt to stop any attacks, according to a breakthrough in scientific understanding announced today in Melbourne. [click to continue…]