Three prestigious Victorian science and innovation awards are now open with grants for overseas study missions to help emerging scientists and researchers; a A$50,000 prize to recognise leading Victorians and their discoveries; and funding, support and networks to help outstanding international scientists and researchers join Victoria’s science and innovation communities.
The Minister for Innovation, the Hon Louise Asher has officially opened calls for the 2013 Victoria Prize for Science and Innovation and the Victoria Fellowships and is encouraging Victorian scientists and researchers to apply. In addition, veski is also calling for applications for the 2013 veski innovation fellowships.
Do you know an outstanding international scientist or researcher considering joining Victoria’s science and innovation communities? If so, veski has opened an additional round of the 2013 veski innovation fellowships and is seeking applications in the fields of biotechnology, biomedical, advanced manufacturing, environmental technologies and the enabling sciences and technologies.
Is there a leading Victorian who has made, or has the potential to make, a significant scientific discovery or technological innovation? Nominate them for a 2013 Victoria Prize for Science & Innovation valued at A$50,000 in either the life or physical sciences.
Have you worked with, or are you, an emerging scientist or researcher who would benefit from an overseas study mission grant? If so, apply for a 2013 Victoria Fellowship valued at up to A$18,000.
Past Victoria Prize for Science and Innovation winners have included individuals recognised for their contributions to the treatment of heart disease, the discovery of a new class of anti-influenza virus drugs, bioinformatics, stormwater management, and the development of the world’s first plastic bank note.
Since 1998, there have been 84 Victoria Fellowships awarded to enable early career researchers in science, engineering and technology to undertake international study missions.
In the past eight years veski has awarded 16 innovation fellowships worth more than A$3.2 million and established many successful partnerships with Victorian host organisations.
Nominations and applications for these three prestigious awards close towards the end of June 2013. Visit www.veski.org.au/fellowships for closing dates, application and nomination forms and further information.
Julia L Page, CEO
The Salamander’s remarkable immune system is behind its incredible ability to regrow limbs.
Scientists have now found that it may also be responsible for the fascinating creature’s capacity to regenerate spinal cords, brain tissue and even parts of their hearts.
Researchers from the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) at Monash University have discovered that when immune cells known as macrophages were systemically removed, salamanders lost their ability to regenerate limbs and instead formed scar tissue.
Dr James Godwin, a Fellow in the laboratory of ARMI Director Professor Nadia Rosenthal, told the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that the findings brought researchers closer to understanding what conditions were needed for regeneration.
“Previously, we thought that macrophages were negative for regeneration, and this research shows that that’s not the case – if the macrophages are not present in the early phases of healing, regeneration does not occur,” Dr Godwin said.
“Now, we need to find out exactly how these macrophages are contributing to regeneration. Down the road, this could lead to therapies that tweak the human immune system down a more regenerative pathway.”
Salamanders restore tissue on any part of the body including organs affected by illness or injury. The regenerated tissue is scar free and replicates the site before injury.
Dr Godwin said salamanders could now be regarded as a template of what perfect regeneration could look like.
Aside from “holy grail” applications, such as healing spinal cord and brain injuries, Dr Godwin believes that studying the healing processes of salamanders could lead to new treatments for a number of common conditions, such as heart and liver diseases, which are linked to fibrosis or scarring. Promotion of scar-free healing would also dramatically improve patients’ recovery following surgery.
“We need to know exactly what salamanders do and how they do it well, so we can reverse-engineer that into human therapies,” Dr Godwin said.
Melbourne researchers have uncovered new genes that cause severe seizure disorders in babies and early childhood.
It is hoped that this discovery will lead to new diagnostic tests and promises improved outcomes.
Epileptic encephalopathies are severe seizure disorders occurring in infants and children. The seizures are accompanied by slow development and intellectual problems.
Clinical study leader, Professor Ingrid Scheffer, who is a paediatric neurologist and researcher from the University of Melbourne and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health said finding the cause of the seizures was the first step in developing treatments.
These findings have important implications for making a diagnosis in patients, optimising therapy and genetic counselling for families,” she said.
The study published in Nature Genetics, revealed two new genes associated with these severe epilepsies. In the study, researchers analysed the genes of 500 children who have epileptic encephalopathies.
Using recent advances in genetic testing, next generation sequencing of a gene panel was performed. Researchers analysed 65 genes of which 19 had previously been associated with epileptic encephalopathies and 46 were hypothesized to potentially cause these devastating disorders.
Results revealed that mutations that caused epileptic encephalopathy were found in 52 out of the 500 patients – more than 10% of the study population.
Mutations were found in 15 of the 65 genes, including two new genes, CHD2 and SYNGAP1, which had not previously been found to cause epileptic encephalopathies.
“This is a very exciting breakthrough which could lead to dramatic benefits in the lives of the children who suffer this condition,” Professor Scheffer said.
These genes will now become a diagnostic test for children with these severe epilepsies and enable genetic counselling in their families.
Collaborators on the study included geneticists from the University of Washington, US and paediatric neurologists from around Australia, New Zealand, Denmark and Israel. The study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia and the National Institutes of Health, US.
Many a project is conceived or deal signed over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. So it was with the inception of the BioMelbourne Network’s ‘Connecting Women in Biotechnology Luncheon’ five years ago. It was from these humble beginnings that years later up to 400 women from the life sciences sector gather once a year to celebrate the successes of their female counterparts.
The commitment to this luncheon was both strong and immediate. Early on people threw their support behind this event and continue to do so today. Why? The short answer is networking.
We are all aware we are working in a fast paced industry, with its rapid technological progress and ever changing complexity in legal, financial and regulatory landscapes. It has therefore become increasingly more important to be well-connected. No one individual can possibly know all the answers but those who succeed know the people who do.
The life sciences industry in Victoria is extremely well networked. The willingness of individuals within the sector to pass on their experience and contribute to our communal knowledge, is the envy of other Australian states. It is perhaps this circumstance that will go towards bolstering women and encouraging them to aspire to leadership roles within our biotechnology sector.
Over the past five years the Network has seen a growing pool of talented C-suite women earning their stripes in commercialisation and becoming increasingly more attractive for non-executive director and board positions and indeed filling them. In the tradition of the Women’s Lunch, many of these women have been interviewed about their chosen career path and what has attracted them to the life sciences industry.
Past interviewees have included Dr Kerry Hegarty (CEO, Sienna Cancer Diagnostics), Dr Elaine Saunders (CEO, Blamey & Saunders Hearing), Dr Esra Ogru (CEO, Phosphagenics), Dr Jackie Fairley (CEO, Starpharma Holdings), Dr Sue MacLeman (Senior Vice President, Mesoblast) and Ms Brigitte Smith (Chair and Director at Viveve, Inc., Managing Director GBS Ventures). They have often spoken about the atypical paths they have travelled to arrive in the life sciences sector and the benefits of what diversity brings to a company and the broader industry.
With increasing numbers of successful female role models keen to share their experiences, mentor the next generation and most importantly introduce their female colleagues to people within their own professional networks that will prove vital in growing the number of women in leadership roles. This is something that our male colleagues have been performing well over many years but instead of occurring at a luncheon it may have been at the golf course.
If the ‘Connecting Women in Biotechnology Luncheon’ can still be a conduit to foster relationships between today’s role models and the next generation of future life science leaders, its support will be just as enthusiastic as it was five years ago.
The next event is on Friday 31st May 2013.
An Australian bionic eye is now rapidly becoming a reality. With the announcement last year that a prototype bionic eye device had been implanted in three people in Melbourne, there has been intense interest from around the world in the promise of this research.
What will the benefits be for patients? What challenges are researchers working to overcome?
The Melbourne School of Engineering at the University of Melbourne, invites you to learn more about what the future of the bionic eye holds at the School’s upcoming Dean’s lecture ‘From Technology to Sight – Looking into the future of the bionic eye’. This free public lecture will be presented by Professor Anthony Burkitt, Director of Bionic Vision Australia.
6.00–7:00 pm Tuesday 28 May 2013
Lecture Theatre A, The Elisabeth Murdoch Building (134)
Spencer Road, The University of Melbourne
The Dean’s Lecture Series is a demonstration of the Melbourne School of Engineering’s strong commitment to society, through a dynamic exchange of knowledge and ideas.
Australian researchers have identified an extraordinary pathway through which human body parts could be grown by using 3D technology.
Tissue material is soon to be produced using 3D printing at a biofabrications research unit at Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital in collaboration with The University of Wollongong’s Centre for Electromaterials Science.
The biofabrication unit scientists have already begun animal trials to reproduce skin, cartilage, arteries and heart valves.
Biomaterials fabrication, a combination of nanomaterials science, high-speed data communications and additive manufacturing, could use a patient’s own cells to create made to fit, functioning replacement organs.
The technology allows objects to be created using computer software and a 3D printer which builds the object up layer by layer. Living cells can be printed using bio-ink to build tissue and organs.
The technology has previously been used to make buildings.
The research team behind the project hope that the process could eventually do away with the need for organ transplants: “It’s possible to print devices and structures that can be implanted in human bodies and these devices can have cells grown on them so that bodily functions can be replicated on these very tiny devices”.
“In the future, these sorts of devices will be able to recreate parts of people’s joints and bones, conceivably, in the future, even organs,” he said
The Australian technique incorporates living cells into the layered printing process, with a 95 per cent survival rate for the cells. It is anticipated that the new tissues will be cleared for human use in three to five years. Recreating more complex, complete organs is not expected for a decade.
It is hoped that the technology to print out individualised body organs will potentially increase average life span.
New research has challenged established notions of how a powerful protein called p53 guards against cancer development.
A discovery by Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researchers has defied the conventional belief that p53’s primary role in the fight against cancer was to regulate cell survival and cell division.
They have found that the protein may have far more complex weaponry to suppress tumours which is to become the basis for future research.
The p53 protein’s functions are normally stimulated by potentially cancer-causing events, such as DNA damage from ultraviolet radiation (a cause of skin cancer), or the over-activity of cancer-causing genes.
Dr Ana Janic, Ms Liz Valente and Professor Andreas Strasser from the Molecular Genetics of Cancer division at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have been dissecting the processes that are controlled by p53, to discover how this protein can suppress cancer development.
Dr Janic said many scientists believed that the most important processes activated by p53 to prevent cancer formation were stopping cells with DNA damage from dividing until the DNA could be repaired – and making cells die if they had sustained irreparable genetic damage.
“Changes that make damaged cells become long-lived and divide uncontrollably are key features of cancer formation. Because p53 can control cell survival and cell division, it was assumed that these two processes constituted the critical functions that p53 used to prevent cancer.
“The purpose of our research was to examine whether this assumption was correct.” Dr Janic said.
Ms Valente said the team compared cells that lacked p53 with cells in which p53 could not regulate cell survival and cell division.
“In the past 20 years it has become clear which proteins are activated by p53 to block cell division and promote cell death
“We were able to remove all of these proteins, called p21, Puma and Noxa, from cells. This completely disabled the ability of p53 to stop cell division and trigger cell death.
“But to our surprise, p53 could still prevent cancer formation, even without being able to make cells die or stop dividing after DNA damage,” Ms Valente said.
Professor Strasser said the team’s discovery had upended the understanding of how p53 functions: “When p53’s cancer-suppressing function was first discovered, it was important to understand how this protein functioned. Many scientists had concluded that regulation of cell death and division were the key roles of p53,” he said.
“Our findings have re-opened the question of how p53 functions.
“My suspicion is that it is not one protein but several with very many critical functions that work together to prevent cancer formation by coordinating the proper repair of damaged DNA, rather than stopping cells from dividing or killing them.
“Further research to decipher how these processes are integrated will be an important step towards understanding the tumour-suppressing function of p53 function. This knowledge, in turn, may then be exploited to develop improved cancer therapies,” Professor Strasser said.
The research was supported by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (US), Cancer Council Victoria, the Lady Tata Memorial Trust, the Beatriu de Pinós Fellowship (European Union/Spain), and the Victorian Government.
The Victorian State Government has joined with a global life sciences company to launch a new initiative to connect Victorian life sciences companies with international counterparts.
Building Global Bridges is an initiative of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Centre (MLSC) which seeks to promote collaboration and idea exchange between life sciences companies around the world.
It is also designed to stimulate the development of new products or processes intended for commercialisation.
The Victorian State Government is contributing A$1 million to the initiative and matched-funding grants of between A$100,000 and A$500,000 are available for eligible Victorian life sciences companies.”
Victoria’s Minister for Technology, Gordon Rich-Phillips, said applications were now open for local life sciences companies to collaborate with Massachusetts life sciences companies.
Building Global Bridges will enable Victorian and Massachusetts company partners from biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, diagnostics and bioinformatics to submit project applications.
“The new initiative is expected to accelerate late-stage life sciences R&D projects being undertaken by a Victorian company in collaboration with a Massachusetts company.
Building Global Bridges will benefit the Victorian life sciences industry by providing greater opportunities to develop products, processes and services.
The initiative is a key component of Victoria’s Technology Plan for the Future – Biotechnology – a A$55 million plan to support Victoria’s life science industry and drive greater use of biotechnology across other industries.”
Through the MLSC, Massachusetts is investing in the growth of the state’s life sciences super cluster. These investments are being made under the Massachusetts Life Sciences Initiative, passed by the Massachusetts State Legislature and signed into law by its Governor Deval Patrick in 2008.
President and CEO of MLSC, Dr Susan Windham-Bannister, said no single country or region alone could solve the challenge of developing the next generation of drugs and medical devices: “The breakthroughs of tomorrow will only be possible through collaboration like that which we are fostering between Massachusetts and Victoria,” Dr Windham-Bannister said.
The announcement comes as part of a Victorian life sciences mission to the BIO2013 International Convention in Chicago, led by Minister Rich-Phillips. The convention is the largest global event for the biotechnology industry, offering key networking and partnering opportunities and providing insights into major industry trends.
Australian researchers have developed the first vaccine that can be designed to defeat the myriad varieties of malaria strains around the world.
Human trials of the new vaccine will begin next year using a genetically-modified strain of the malaria parasite to protect people at risk from malaria infection.
It has been developed by a team of researchers led by Dr Krystal Evans, Professor Louis Schofield and Professor Alan Cowman from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’s Infection and Immunity division, and Professor James McCarthy from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research.
Malaria kills about 700,000 people a year, mostly children aged under five and pregnant women. Despite the urgent need for a malaria vaccine, no effective vaccine currently exists.
Half the world’s population is said to be at risk of contracting malaria, with the disease concentrated in tropical and subtropical regions – including many of Australia’s near neighbours.
The new vaccine targets the blood stage of malaria infection – which is responsible for headache, fever, shivering and joint pain.
Dr Evans said that the vaccine’s design was based on years of research which had identified critical molecules in the malaria parasite that could be recognised by the immune system.
The manufacture and trial of the vaccine is being supported by an Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Development Grant. This will allow the manufacture of the vaccine in sufficient quantities and standards for human trials.
Dr Evans said if the trials were successful, the vaccine could be modified to match regional and species variants of the malaria parasite.
Professor Schofield said The NHMRC Development Grant scheme had allowed researchers to develop vaccine research projects from the laboratory through to clinical trials – a stage of research that was difficult to fund.
“We are also grateful for the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided seed funding that was vital for the early stages of the project,” he said.
What will you see with a bionic eye? This is a question we often get asked at Bionic Vision Australia (BVA). And it’s not an easy one to answer, because each patient’s experience will, inevitably, be as unique and individual as they are.
Nevertheless, we do our best to explain that vision with a bionic eye will allow patients to navigate safely in their immediate environment, improving their mobility and independence. Further, with a greater number of electrodes, we hope patients will be able to recognise faces and read large print.
That usually answers the question, but a description like this doesn’t really do justice to what people will actually experience.
Enter Matias Maturana, one of BVA’s vision processing engineers and mobile application development extraordinaire. Matias came up with a simple app that simulates the sort of vision a bionic eye might provide. (Emphasis is on the word might, because until patients are using a real bionic eye, it’s difficult to be sure. Even then, it might not always be clear what the experience is like for them.)
The Bionic Eye app uses the camera on your mobile or tablet device to show in ‘phosphenes’ or ‘spots of light’ what a person with a bionic eye might see. It’s helping us out a lot with answering this question at events and in meetings. Also, just for fun, the app lets you take photos using bionic vision.
How to download
- Search for “Bionic Eye” in the Play Store on your Android mobile or tablet device
- Download the Bionic Eye App by Vision Spiral (look for the BVA eye logo)
- Follow the prompt to download Open CV Manager (free platform to run the app)
- Use the ‘options’ settings in the app to switch from camera to phosphene view. You can also change the number and size of the phosphenes.
Tell us what you think! Post your bionic vision pictures to BVA’s Twitter or Facebook page, along with any feedback you might have about the app’s functionality. For the moment, the Bionic Eye App is only available on Android devices. The iOS version for iPhone and iPad is coming soon.
So get downloading, get bionic and send us your bionic vision intel from BIO 2013!
Bionic Vision Australiais developing a retinal implant, or bionic eye, capable of restoring a sense of vision to people with blindness caused by degenerative retinal conditions. The first patient study with an early prototype is underway with three participants. Pending further funding, researchers hope to be ready for the next round of patient tests by the end of 2013.
Marketing and Communications Manager, Bionic Vision Australia