Category Archives: news

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Cell surface sensors could advance precision medicine

1 October 2019:

Researchers have found a way to identify multiple cell signalling proteins using a single cell rather than the billions of cells used previously.

The new measurement technology, developed by researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale Biophotonics, brings precision medicine a step closer.

“Cells secrete various messenger molecules, such as cytokines. They may indicate the presence of a disease or act as a driver of key therapeutic effects,” says Dr Guozhen Liu, lead author of paper detailing the technology.

The method, termed OnCELISA, uses antibodies attached on specially engineered cell surfaces to capture cytokine molecules before they have a chance to disperse away from the cell.

The secreted messenger proteins such as cytokines are reported, at the single cell level, by using fluorescent magnetic nanoparticles.

Cytokines secreted from cells play a critical role in controlling many physiological functions, including immunity, inflammation, response to cancer, and tissue repair.

 

The image represents our sensor during the process of detecting cytokine molecules being secreted from cells. The sensor is represented by a pair of Y-shaped antibodies, the capture antibody (purple stem) and the detection antibody (pink stem).

The OnCELISA system can be used for ultrasensitive monitoring of cytokine release by individual cells, and it can also help discover cell populations with therapeutic value.

“The ability to identify and select cell populations based on their cytokine release is particularly valuable in commercial cell technologies and it can help develop unique products, such as future non-opioid pain relief” says Dr Liu.

“Importantly, our design uses commercially available reagents only, so it can be easily reproduced by others,” she adds.

While the published work focuses on specific proinflammatory cytokines IL-6 and IL-1β, the method is potentially suitable for a broad range of other secreted proteins and cell types.

The new technique represents an advance on traditional methods such as the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) that detect average levels of secreted molecules from cell ensembles.

The OnCELISA takes the ELISA approach to its absolute extreme, by detecting cytokines on the surface of individual, single live cells.

The publication has been reported by prestigious iScience journal and can be found at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2589004219303578.

Journal: iScience

Publication Title: A Nanoparticle-Based Affinity Sensor that Identifies and Selects Highly Cytokine-Secreting Cells

Authors: Guozhen Liu; Christina Bursill; Siân P.Cartland; Ayad G.Anwer; Lindsay M.Parker; Kaixin Zhang; Shilun Feng; Meng He; David W.Inglis; Mary M.Kavurma; Mark R.Hutchinson; Ewa M.Goldys

Summary: We developed a universal method termed OnCELISA to detect cytokine secretion from individual cells by applying a capture technology on the cell membrane. OnCELISA uses fluorescent magnetic nanoparticles as assay reporters that enable detection on a single-cell level in microscopy and flow cytometry and fluorimetry in cell ensembles. This system is flexible and can be modified to detect different cytokines from a broad range of cytokine-secreting cells. Using OnCELISA we have been able to select and sort highly cytokine-secreting cells and identify cytokine-secreting expression profiles of different cell populations in vitro and ex vivo. We show that this system can be used for ultrasensitive monitoring of cytokines in the complex biological environment of atherosclerosis that contains multiple cell types. The ability to identify and select cell populations based on their cytokine expression characteristics is valuable in a host of applications that require the monitoring of disease progression.

Link: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.isci.2019.09.019

Science by the Sea 2019

23 September 2019:

By Patrick Capon and Kathryn Palasis

The current academic landscape demands ‘Publish or Perish’, but how do you make sure your publication stands out from the rest? Luckily for us, CNBP has identified this issue and developed a residential masterclass with a dual purpose of giving young researchers the opportunity to workshop a range of different manuscripts while growing team culture. Continue reading

“Hackathon” to build interdisciplinary teams

16 September: By Dr Andrew Care

The 2019 BioNetwork “hackathon” Event was held last week at Macquarie University (MQ). The CNBP-sponsored event promoted interdisciplinarity between the different departments on campus in order to foster innovation and successful collaborations for early-career researchers. The event was modeled as a “hackathon”  in order to develop team building in an interdisciplinary context and develop new ideas based on challenges presented by clinicians from MQ Hospital.

The event hosted a prestigious panel of speakers, and included an opening address from MQ Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Prof. Sakkie Pretorius and an introduction to the university’s health research priorities by Dr. Brenton Hamdorf, Director of Academic and Research Partnerships. Neurosurgeons and clinical researchers  A./Prof Andrew Davidson and A./Prof. Antonio di Leva presented modern challenges relating to brain cancer research. In the afternoon session, attendees had the opportunity to hear talks from Dr. Sumit Raniga on Orthopaedic Biomechanics and Prof. Lars Ittner on the new MQ Dementia Research Centre.

More than 60 attendants – including CNBP ECRs, came to the event during the day, a majority of which participated in the group activities which resulted in pitch presentations judged by a panel of experts. Generous contributions from the CNBP and others funded prizes for the pitch presentations and poster session, and collaborative grants for interdepartmental projects.

On behalf of the BioNetwork Organisation Committee we would like to thank all of the speakers, sponsors and attendees. We hope MQ and CNBP members will take part in this event again next year, and that the BioNetwork will become a useful outlet for networking and interdisciplinary collaboration on campus.

 

Image: DVCR Prof Sakkie Pretorius opening address 

CNBP welcomes UNSW engineering to the fold

10 September 2019:

CNBP has officially welcomed UNSW, one of the world’s leaders at translational engineering research, as its newest node.

In addition to the official open by UNSW Engineering Dean Professor Mark Hoffman, CNPB Director Professor Mark Hutchinson took the opportunity to lay out the CNBP mission and its accomplishments at an industry showcase. Continue reading

How Bollywood boost Australia’s brainpower

3 September 2019:

In the 10 years since graduating with a degree in biotechnology from university in her home state of Odisha in India, Minakshi Das has covered a lot of ground – both physically and in her studies.

First she did her masters in Biomedical Engineering at Gachon University in South Korea followed by a year’s work as a research fellow at a biotech company. Continue reading

Prestigious research award for emerging fertility leader

26 August 2019: 

Dr Kylie Dunning is motivated by creating a world where fewer couples struggle with infertility, an often invisible and stigmatised health challenge facing more than 15% of Australian couples. With lived experience herself of the challenges of starting a family, Dr Dunning is paving the way for couples to experience better, and more effective fertility care, through the creation of exciting new technologies. Continue reading

Super-resolution method could bring nanoscale microscopy to every lab

Friday 16 August:

CNBP researchers have unlocked the potential to transform microscopy at the nanoscale from a costly, complex option to an everyday laboratory tool, available in every lab.

The technique, described in a paper by lead authors Dr Denitza Denkova and Dr Martin Ploschner, which has been dubbed upconversion super-linear excitation-emission – or uSEE – microscopy, can be used not only for observation but also for the activation of biological structures with super-resolution.

This opens new avenues in optogenetics for precise activation of neurons in the brain or for targeted delivery of drugs with increased sub-cellular precision.

Standard optical microscopes can image cells and bacteria but not their nanoscale features which are blurred by a physical effect called diffraction.

Optical microscopes have evolved over the last two decades in order to bypass this diffraction limit; however, these so-called super-resolution techniques typically require expensive and elaborated instrumentation or imaging procedures.

“We have identified a particular type of fluorescent markers, upconversion nanoparticles, which can enter into a regime where light emitted from the particles grows abruptly – in a super-linear fashion – when increasing the excitation light intensity,” Martin says. “Our key discovery is that if this effect is exploited under the right imaging conditions, any standard scanning optical microscope can spontaneously image with super-resolution.”

The discovery addresses a key challenge for microscopy – the so-called diffraction limit. This prevents optical microscopes from seeing very small features clearly as, when the size and distance between the features start reaching the nanoscale range, they begin to blur together and appear as one.

And that is a problem for biologists to observe nanoscale samples – which is what researchers tackling some of our toughest health challenges need to do all the time.
Little wonder then that accessing the world that lies beyond this diffraction limit has become a holy grail for optical microscopy researchers over the past two decades.

In 2014, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to three scientists, who developed three different techniques, capable of tricking physics to overcome the diffraction limit.
This landmark work set the scene for an explosion of so-called super-resolution techniques, which have led to revolutionary discoveries.

So far, however, all of these methods have had significant drawbacks. They are far from user-friendly and require either complicated and costly equipment or elaborated image processing, which often leads to imaging artefacts.

When it comes to 3D imaging, there are even more complications.

All the methods until now also require increasing the illumination power to increase the resolution – but that presents particular problems in the world of biology, where excessive light can harm a fragile specimen.

Denitza’s and Martin’s team took a novel approach to the problem. They wanted to make super-resolution possible on a confocal microscope, without set-up modifications or image processing, so that it would be available for use in any lab at practically no extra cost.

Their key discovery was that they could use a standard scanning optical microscope as a 3D super-resolution machine by imaging “upconversion” nanoparticles, potentially bound to the biological structure being studied. Unlike other super-resolution methods, uSEE microscopy offers better resolution at lower powers, and so minimises the damage to biological samples.

But it is not just the amount of light. Its colour also influences the photo-damage and the resolution. For example, UV- light is more harmful, but since it yields a better resolution, most of the super-resolution methods work in the UV and visible wavelengths.

However, in recent years biologists have become increasingly interested in using near-infrared light. It is less harmful and also allows imaging deeper in the tissue. But it does require a sacrifice in resolution, and the field of super-resolution has a very limited pool of fluorophores and techniques which work in the near-infrared regime.

Conveniently, the upconversion nanoparticles, on which the fluorescent markers employed in uSEE microscopy are based, are excited in the desired near-infrared colour spectrum. They are becoming increasingly popular as biological markers as they offer numerous other advantages for biology, including stable optical performance and possibility for multi-colour imaging.

Numerous papers have been published in the recent years about imaging of such particles for bio-applications. However, the effect of spontaneous super-resolution remains overlooked, mainly because the composition of the particles has not been fine-tuned for this application or the particles were not imaged under suitable conditions.

The CNBP team identified a particular nanoparticle composition which provides a strong improvement of the resolution. To make it easier for the end-user, the researchers developed a theoretical framework to optimise the particles and the imaging parameters for their own laboratory setting.

The concept of this method has been around for decades, and several groups have tried to put it into practice, but they either couldn’t identify fluorescent labels with adequate photo-physics, or the imaging conditions were not suitable to achieve bio-imaging in a convenient laboratory setting.

The CNBP team has shown for the first time that the technique can be used in a 3D biological environment, with biologically convenient particles which are both easy to work with and do not harm the samples.

This new methodological toolbox has the potential to go beyond the applications for which it has so far been used. It can be extended to a much broader imaging context, opening new avenues in the research of super-linear emitters and combining them with other imaging modalities to improve their performance.

Journal: Nature Communications

Publication Title: 3D sub-diffraction imaging in a conventional confocal configuration by exploiting super-linear emitters

Authors: Denitza Denkova, Martin Ploschner, Minakshi Das, Lindsay M. Parker, Xianlin Zheng, Yiqing Lu, Antony Orth, Nicolle H. Packer & James A. Piper

Abstract: Sub-diffraction microscopy enables bio-imaging with unprecedented clarity. However, most super-resolution methods require complex, costly purpose-built systems, involve image post-processing and struggle with sub-diffraction imaging in 3D. Here, we realize a conceptually different super-resolution approach which circumvents these limitations and enables 3D sub-diffraction imaging on conventional confocal microscopes. We refer to it as super-linear excitation-emission (SEE) microscopy, as it relies on markers with super-linear dependence of the emission on the excitation power. Super-linear markers proposed here are upconversion nanoparticles of NaYF4, doped with 20% Yb and unconventionally high 8% Tm, which are conveniently excited in the near-infrared biological window. We develop a computational framework calculating the 3D resolution for any viable scanning beam shape and excitation-emission probe profile. Imaging of colominic acid-coated upconversion nanoparticles endocytosed by neuronal cells, at resolutions twice better than the diffraction limit both in lateral and axial directions, illustrates the applicability of SEE microscopy for sub-cellular biology.

Link: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-11603-0