CNBP research wins Young Scientist Award

18 July 2019:

CNBP research fellow Dr Lindsay Parker, of Macquarie University, has won an award for the best research paper from an investigator under 40, at an international conference in Rome.

Lindsay’s work is aimed at better understanding molecules ex-pressed in the brain during pain, brain diseases and brain cancer. This could lead to improved precision drugs that specifically target only the unhealthy cells in the brain.

She won a “Young Scientist Award” at the 41st PIERS (Photonics & Electromagnetics Research Symposium) held at the University of Rome in June.

Her paper, “Utilising Glycobiology for Fluorescent Nanodiamond Uptake and Imaging in the Central Nervous System” was in the category “Remote Sensing, Inverse Problems, Imaging, Radar & Sensing”.

The paper, in collaboration with RMIT University and the University of Colorado Boulder, investigated the ability of lectin-coated fluorescent nanodiamonds to recognise specific central nervous system cell types.

The prize included cash, and an invitation to the Symposium Banquet held at Palazzo Brancaccio. Lindsay also received travel awards from MQ University Primary Carer Support for Conference Attendance ($2000) and MQ Research Centre for Diamond Science and Technology ($1000) which meant her partner and baby William were also able to be in Rome with her as she worked.

While she was in Europe, Lindsay took the opportunity to give invited talks at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague and at the University of Groningen in Netherlands while visiting two other labs working in similar research areas to her synthetic nanochemistry expert Dr Petr Cigler and nanobiotechnology expert A/Prof Romana Schirhagl.

Diamonds improve orthopaedic implants

17 July 2019:

3D printing of titanium has made patient-specific orthopaedic implants possible, promising to dramatically improve many people’s quality of life.

But, despite the huge potential, there are still significant problems to overcome, particularly in how the implants integrate with human tissue and bone.

Associate Professor Kate Fox from RMIT University in Melbourne, an Associate Investigator with the CNBP, led the team which, in a previous study, showed that a thin film coating of diamond could provide a better surface for cells to interact.

A new paper, Engineering the Interface: Nanodiamond Coating on 3D-Printed Titanium Promotes Mammalian Cell Growth and Inhibits Staphylococcus aureus Colonization expands on that work.

It describes how applying a nanodiamond (ND) coating on to the 3D printed titanium increased the cell density of both skin bone cells after three days of growth compared to the uncoated 3D printed titanium.

The study also showed an 88% reduction of Staphylococcus aureus – or Golden Staph – adherence to ND-coated substrates compared to those without.

This study, whose lead author is Aaquil Rifai, from RMIT, paves a way to create antifouling structures for biomedical implants.

You can read the paper here.

Journal: ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces

Publication Title:  Engineering the Interface: Nanodiamond Coating on 3D-Printed Titanium Promotes Mammalian Cell Growth and Inhibits Staphylococcus aureus Colonization

Authors: Aaqil Rifai*, Nhiem Tran, Philipp Reineck, Aaron Elbourne, Edwin Mayes, Avik Sarker, Chaitali Dekiwadia, Elena P. Ivanova, Russell J. Crawford, Takeshi Ohshima, Brant C. Gibsonm, Andrew D. Greentree, Elena Pirogova, and Kate Fox*

Abstract:  Additively manufactured selective laser melted titanium (SLM-Ti) opens the possibility of tailored medical implants for patients. Despite orthopedic implant advancements, significant problems remain with regard to suboptimal osseointegration at the interface between the implant and the surrounding tissue. Here, we show that applying a nanodiamond (ND) coating onto SLM-Ti scaffolds provides an improved surface for mammalian cell growth while inhibiting colonization of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Owing to the simplicity of our methodology, the approach is suitable for coating SLM-Ti geometries. The ND coating achieved 32 and 29% increases in cell density of human dermal fibroblasts and osteoblasts, respectively, after 3 days of incubation compared with the uncoated SLM-Ti substratum. This increase in cell density complements an 88% reduction in S. aureus detected on the ND-coated SLM-Ti substrata. This study paves a way to create facile antifouling SLM-Ti structures for biomedical implants.

Key Words: nanodiamond, antifouling, 3D printing, biomaterial, implants

What is Nanoscale Biophotonics?

Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics have an early hurdle to jump when trying to explain their research to friends, family and the general public.

What on earth is nanoscale biophotonics?

While nothing about the field could exactly be called “simple”, it does become easier to understand when we realise that light can be put to some unusual uses.

And in biophotonics, that is as a tool to measure and detect all manner of things, from the genes that give away the presence of a pathogen, to chemicals released as part of our bodies reactions to the environment, and the fatty deposits that could mean you are at risk of a heart attack.

Dr Georgina Sylva, a recent winner of a A$20,000 #STEMstart grant, simplifies matters by breaking the definition of “nanoscale biophotonics” down for us.

“Nanoscale means things that are on a really, really tiny scale. Things that are a nanometre in size”.

At that scale (and a nanometre is equal to one billionth of a metre) it is way beyond the limitations of an ordinary microscope to see – and that’s where light comes in.

“Biophotonics refers to studying and understanding biology using light,” says Georgina.

“Photonics is how we play with light and how we use light. We are able to use the properties of light – the way that it can act as a particle or a wave to see very small things – to detect, to sense, to image, to measure things.

“Nanoscale biophotonics allows us to get a really good close-up image of what’s happening in a biological environment. The whole point of that is to understand how we can solve biological problems.”

Until nanoscale biophotonics, we have been in the dark about much of the activity inside human cells because we didn’t have the right technology to see them. But by using light we can measure almost anything – the chemicals released at the precise moment a human egg is fertilised, for example, or the Ph of a baby’s blood during birth to detect the risk of oxygen deprivation.

Just as astronomy’s Hubble Telescope has allowed us to suddenly view exoplanets and distant galaxies, nanoscale biophotonics has revealed our “inner space”, a new world for scientists to explore.

So, what are the applications of nanoscale biophotonics, and how might this field influence health and medicine? Read our next blog post How nanoscale biophotonics is already making our lives better.

Australia wins ‘bronze’ at global neurophotonics summer school

10 July 2019:

A mini-project to map the hearing capability of zebrafish won Adelaide-based PhD student Mengke Han third prize at global neurophotonics summer school that brought some the world’s brightest minds together in Quebec, Canada in June.

Mengke represented Australia at the Frontiers in Neurophotonics Summer School, where researchers and students spent 10 days discovering the latest advances in live cell optical imaging techniques.

With a focus on the up-close workings of the nervous system, the school combined tutorials and hands-on experiments, delivered by experts in photonics and neuroscience.

“We used a relatively new and very powerful imaging technique called two-photon microscopy, to map the brain and neurons of living zebrafish,” Mengke says.

Mengke’s experiment setup

“Zebrafish are small and transparent so they are a convenient species to study in the lab.

“But everything we learn about zebrafish ear development and function, can be applied to human medicine. We can even test human genes in a zebrafish to see what influence they might have on hearing problems.”

With an undergraduate degree in biology and a master’s in physics, Mengke’s current PhD research looks at the development of voltage-sensitive nanoparticles for real-time monitoring of brain activity.

She is based at the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS), School of Physical Sciences, the University of Adelaide. She is also member of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP).

Through the looking glass

Mark Hutchinson8 July 2019:

The paper, Stereochemistry and innate immune recognition, opens the door to potential future treatments for sepsis, chronic pain and other conditions that cause inflammation.

The paper’s origins can be traced back nearly 15 years to when CNBP Director Mark Hutchinson began work on a project as a post-doc in the US with Prof Linda Watkins’ team. The goal was to identify the molecular drivers and detection systems involved in causing chronic pain. It began a long journey, in the course of which Mark helped identify one of the detection systems – the Toll Like Receptor 4, or TLR4.

This discovery in turn uncovered a range of other detection and drug action properties of the TLR4 system, including the novel activity of the mirror image structures of a range of chemicals which had previously been thought to lack biological activity.

One of these new discoveries is highlighted in this paper.

For the first time, the mirror image of a well-used receptor blocker, norbinaltorphimine, has been found to be able to block the interaction of TLR4 with MD2, a protein that plays an important part in the body’s immune response.

You can read the paper here.

Journal: FASEB – the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

Publication Title:  Stereochemistry and innate immune recognition: (+)-norbinaltorphimine targets myeloid differentiation protein 2 and inhibits toll-like receptor 4 signaling

Authors:  Xiaozheng Zhang, Yinghua Peng, Peter M. Grace, Matthew D. Metcalf, Andrew J. Kwilasz, Yibo Wang, Tianshu Zhang, Siru Wu, Brandon R. Selfridge, Philip S. Portoghese, Kenner C. Rice, Linda R. Watkins, Mark R. Hutchinson, and Xiaohui Wang

Abstract: Deregulation of innate immune TLR4 signaling contributes to various diseases including neuropathic pain and drug addiction. Naltrexone is one of the rare TLR4 antagonists with good blood-brain barrier permeability and showing no stereoselectivity for TLR4. By linking 2 naltrexone units through a rigid pyrrole spacer, the bivalent ligand norbinaltorphimine was formed. Interestingly, (+)-norbinaltorphimine ((+)-1) showed ∼25 times better TLR4 antagonist activity than naltrexone in microglia BV-2 cell line, whereas (−)-norbinaltorphimine ((−)-1) lost TLR4 activity. The enantioselectivity of norbinaltorphimine was further confirmed in primary microglia, astrocytes, and macrophages. The activities of meso isomer of norbinaltorphimine and the molecular dynamic simulation results demonstrate that the stereochemistry of (+)-1 is derived from the (+)-naltrexone pharmacophore. Moreover, (+)-1 significantly increased and prolonged morphine analgesia in vivo. The efficacy of (+)-1 is long lasting. This is the first report showing enantioselective modulation of the innate immune TLR signaling.

Key Words: norbinaltorphimine; enantioselective modulation; TLR4; MD-2; morphine analgesia

Shedding light on golden staph

3 July 2019:

A groundbreaking new technique will slash the time it takes to detect potentially lethal golden staph infection from two days to just two hours.

Researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) targeted the bacterium with a luminescent DNA probe.

“This allows us to find the “needle in the haystack” because only the “needle” lights up,” says Dr Nima Sayyadi, Research Fellow at the Macquarie University node of the CNBP and lead author on the paper.

Golden staph, or Staphylococcus aureus, lives on the skin or in the nose. It is usually harmless, but if it enters the skin through a cut it can cause a range of infections, which in some cases are fatal.

Dr Nima Sayyadi in the lab

In the most at-risk patients, such as the elderly, it is vital to identify the infection and begin treatment with appropriate antibiotics as soon as possible. However, current identification techniques require culturing cells for up to two days to provide a positive infection result.

The new approach, known as Time-Gated Luminescent in Situ Hybridization (LISH), takes just two hours and could have a range of other applications. While it cannot yet separately identify drug resistance strains of golden staph, researchers are working on it.

CNBP scientists are also working on a range of transformational research projects based on the luminescence based detection of single cells in human body fluid samples, which will help them label antibodies and molecules as well as DNA.

“We’ve also done work in prostate cancer and bladder cancer where the target cell can be quickly and easily identified in urine samples,” says Project Lead and CNBP node leader at Macquarie University, Professor James Piper AM.

The research was reported in the journal Molecules, which you can read here.

Luminescent In Situ Hybridization (LISH)

Nanodiamonds are a wound’s best friend

2 July 2019, By Amanda Abraham.

Band-aids and bandages are remarkable. A simple invention allows us to cover, treat and protect injuries until they have time to heal. But they come with a big drawback – the only way we can check how well the wound is healing, is by removing them.

This means that sometimes infections are detected only after they take hold, which can lead to increased recovery times and the need for additional medications and care.
Now imagine a technology that enables us to track the healing process without needing to remove the bandage.

This technology is being worked on by a group of CNBP researchers based at RMIT University who presented their research at a Physics in the Pub event held in Hawthorn last week.

The CNBP team in action at Physics in the Pub. The costume is a finger!

The team explained that by using nanodiamonds in a ‘smart dressing’, researchers are able to detect temperature changes within or surrounding a wound – a common indication of infection – without removing the bandage.

This would give doctors and nurses the ability to track the healing progress without having to remove and re-apply the dressing.

Dr Amanda Abraham, who presented alongside Qiang Sun, Daniel Stavrevski and Donbi Bai, explained that the topic was chosen because “almost everyone has experienced the pain of band-aid removal. Using nanodiamonds could save the patient further discomfort, and speed up the healing process by providing treatment only when needed.”

Physics in the Pub is an informal, light-hearted night where physicists, astronomers, theoreticians, engineers and educators share their love of science over a refreshing beverage. The event is supported by the AIP, and ARC Centres of Excellence CNBP, OzGrav, FLEET and Exciton Science.

New probe to detect hydrogen peroxide

10 June 2019:

A team of CNBP researchers have published a new paper discussing the design and application of a micro fabricated needle-like probe to measure hydrogen peroxide.  This new microfluidic tool has applications for monitoring dynamic chemical reactions in analytical chemistry and biological systems.

Journal: RSC Advances

Publication Title: Microfabricated needle for hydrogen peroxide detection

Authors: Shilun Feng, Sandhya Clement, Yonggang Zhu, Ewa M. Goldys and David W. Inglis

Abstract:  A microfabricated needle-like probe has been designed and applied for hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) sampling and detection using a commercial, single-step fluorescent H2O2 assay. In this work, droplets of the assay reagent are generated and sent to the needle tip using a mineral-oil carrier fluid. At the needle tip, the sample is drawn into the device through 100 mm long hydrophilic capillaries by negative pressure. The sampled fluid is immediately merged with the assay droplet and carried away to mix and react, producing a sequence of droplets representing the H2O2 concentration as a function of time. We have characterized the assay fluorescence for small variations in the sample volume. With the calibration, we can calculate the concentration of H2O2 in the sampled liquid from the size and intensity of each merged droplet. This is a microfluidic data-logger system for on-site continuous sampling, controlled reaction, signal storage and on-line quantitative detection. It is a useful tool for monitoring dynamic chemical reactions in analytical chemistry and biological applications.

Key words: Microfluidics, probe, H2O2, analytics chemistry

Research award for Ms Megan Lim

5 June 2019:  Congratulations to PhD Student Ms Megan Lim who was awarded the Robinson’s Research Institute Prize for Best presentation in the field of reproduction, pregnancy or child health at The Australian Society for Medical Research (ASMR) conference.

Megan’s oral presentation was titled “Investigation of haemoglobin as an antioxidant to reduce reactive oxygen species during the in vitro maturation of moues cumulus-oocyte com.

Megan would like to thank my supervisor Dr Kylie Dunning and lab colleagues for their feedback during her practice talks, and also the Biological Challenges meeting attendees who gave her  helpful insights for her project.  “Thank you for your words of encouragement and support!”

What is the potential for CRISPT/Cas Multiplex Biosensing?

29 May 2019:

Recent publication by CNBP PhD student Mr Yi Li and team at the University of New South Wales explores the challenges and opportunities of working with CRISPR /Cas for multiplex detection

Journal: Trends in Biotechnology

Publication TitleCRISPR/Cas Multiplexed Biosensing: A Challenge or an Insurmountable Obstacle?

Authors: Yi Li, Linyang Liu, Guozhen Liu

Abstract:  Performing multiplex detection is still an elusive goal for molecular diagnostics. CRISPR/Cas-based biosensing has demonstrated potential for multiplex detection. Instead of being an insurmountable obstacle, CRISPR/Cas multiplexed biosensing is a realistic challenge with some recent successful applications. Strategic considerations are required to fully explore its potential in multiplex diagnostics.

Key Words:

CRISPR/Cas; multiplex; biosensing; diagnostics; nucleic acid detection