Category Archives: news

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Future Fellowship success for CNBP researchers

13 August 2018:

In exciting grant funding news, ARC Future Fellowships were recently awarded to the following CNBP researchers:

Prof Mark Hutchinson (CNBP Director, pictured) – University of Adelaide. Measuring pain in livestock: mechanisms, objective biomarkers and treatments.

Dr Ivan Maksymov (CNBP Researcher Fellow) – RMIT University. Nonlinear optical effects with low-power non-laser light.

Dr Steven Wiederman (CNBP Associate Investigator) – University of Adelaide. From insects to robots: how brains make predictions and ignore distractions.

The Future Fellowships scheme supports research in areas of critical national importance by giving outstanding researchers incentives to conduct their research in Australia. Each Future Fellow recipient will receive salary and on-cost support for four years, and up to $50,000 in additional funding per year for other essential costs directly related to their project.

Congratulations to all Fellowship recipients who will now be able to further develop and advance their innovative areas of research! Further information on Fellowship projects are available from the ARC web site.

Open Day at the University of Adelaide

12 August 2018:

The CNBP team at the University of Adelaide had their light-based science, advanced new tools and innovative startup companies on show at this year’s Open Day, Sunday 12 August, 2018.

Members of the public and aspiring students had the opportunity to see ultra small 3D imaging needles from Miniprobes, the sensor from MEQ Probe that utilises spectral analysis to objectively determine the quality of meat in seconds, and chemistry demonstrations from CNBP PhD students Aimee Horsfall, Kathryn Palasis & Patrick Capon demonstrating a pH Universal Indicator.

The Open Day showcases the University’s programs, facilities, and staff, with the aim of helping those individuals who are thinking about entering higher-education study. CNBP’s efforts were focused on displaying the benefits and career opportunities possible in the biophotonics space (academically and commercially) following a strong undergraduate degree in science.

Below – Photos from the Open Day. Top photo shows a demonstration of pH levels. Bottom photo shows Prof Mark Hutchinson, CNBP Director demonstrating the “MEQ Meat Probe”.

CNBP shines at RMIT Open Day

12 August 2018:

250 members of the public including families and potential students visited CNBP laboratories at RMIT University, Sunday 12th August, 2018, as a part of the institution’s Open Day activity.

Learning about the science of light, as well as sensing and imaging at the nanoscale, attendees were able to tour the biophotonics and cryogenic confocal laboratories, as well as experience first hand, demonstrations which included fluorescence microscopy.

“At times, the labs were packed with interested and engaged prospective students and their friends and families, said CNBP Deputy Director and RMIT node leader A/Prof Brant Gibson.

“It was amazing to hear the passion for science by some of the prospective students – some really knew what they wanted to study and some didn’t.”

“There was also excellent feedback from public regarding the the passion from my team when discussing CNBP research and why it is having such an impact for society, he says.”

Below – Emma Wilson demonstrating fluorescence microscopy! Bottom photo – Dr Philipp Reineck demonstrating fluorescence with UV light in the lab.

A kids focus at Sydney Science Festival

10 August 2018:

Over one hundred primary school children saw CNBP and Macquarie University researchers Dr Martin Ploschner (pictured) and Dr Annemarie Nadort present fun-filled light-focused science demonstrations at the Australian Museum as a part of National Science Week and the Sydney Science Festival for 2018.

Dr Martin Ploschner demonstrated how every-day items such as soap, detergent, money, and identity documents will glow or fluoresce when UV light is shone on them. Also demonstrated was the ‘glow affect’ from natural organisms such as scorpions, green leaves and bacteria on pistachios.

Dr Annemarie Nadort showed the children how they could see a network of blood vessels in their own tongue with a special microscope camera, facilitating an understanding of the human body and the tools needed to be able to see within it.

“The kids were amazed by seeing the continuous flow of red blood cells in the vessels. They were described as being like ‘in a rollercoaster’ or ‘like little ants walking on paths’, said Dr Nadort.

“It was great to see the excitement and interest from kids as young as six at our stand. Hopefully we managed to play a small role in promoting an ongoing interest in science in these bright and eager minds,” she said.

Below – Dr Annemarie Nadort and Dr Martin Ploschner demonstrate the wonders of science to children at the Australian Museum.

New nanoparticles help detect deep-tissue cancers

6 August 2018:

Researchers have developed a new form of nanoparticle and associated imaging technique that can detect multiple disease biomarkers, including those for breast cancer, found in deep-tissue in the body.

Reported in the science journal ‘Nature Nanotechnology’, the research opens up a new avenue in minimally invasive disease diagnosis and will potentially have widespread use both for biomedical research and for clinical applications.

“The use of nanoparticles for bio-imaging of disease is an exciting and fast-moving area of science,” says research author Dr Yiqing Lu (pictured) at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP), Macquarie University.

“Specially designed nanoparticles can be placed in biological samples or injected into specific sites of the body and then ‘excited’ by introduced light such as that from a laser or an optical fibre,” he says.

“Disease biomarkers targeted by these nanoparticles then reveal themselves, by emitting their own specific wavelength signatures which are able to be identified and imaged.”

A major limitation however is that only a single disease biomarker at a time is able to be distinguished and quantified in the body using this type of detection technique.

“Detection of multiple biomarkers (known as multiplexing) in the body has been a major challenge for researchers,” says Dr Lu.

“The tissue environment is extremely complex—full of light absorbing and scattering elements such as blood, muscle and cartilage. And introducing multiple nanoparticles to a site, operating at multiple wavelengths to detect multiple biomarkers, produces too much interference. It makes it extremely difficult to determine accurately if a range of disease biomarkers are present.”

What Dr Lu and the research team have done to solve this issue has been to engineer innovative nanoparticles that emit light at the same frequency (near infrared light) but that are able to be coded to emit light for set periods of time (in the microsecond-to-millisecond time range).

“It is the duration of the light-emission and the biomarker reaction to this timed amount of light (known as luminescence lifetime) that produces a clearly identifiable molecular signature,” he says.

“Multiple disease biomarkers can be clearly identified and imaged based on this approach as there are no overlapping wavelengths interfering with the reading.”

“This enables high-contrast optical biomedical imaging that can detect multiple disease biomarkers all at the one time.” says Dr Lu.

In an exciting breakthrough in laboratory testing, the innovative nanoparticles have been able to detect multiple forms of breast cancer tumours in mice.

“We’re extremely excited where this work is taking us,” says Professor Fan Zhang at Fudan University (China) and joint-lead author on the research publication.

“We were able to successfully detect and identify key biomarkers for a number of different sub-types of breast cancer.”

“This technique has the potential to provide a low-invasive method of determining if breast cancer is present, as well as the form of breast cancer, without the need to take tissue samples via biopsy.”

“Ultimately our novel nanoparticles will enable quantitative assessment for a wide range of disease and cancer biomarkers, all at one time. The technique will be able to be used for early-stage disease screening and potentially utilised in integrated therapy,” says Professor Fan Zhang.

Professor Jim Piper, CNBP node leader at Macquarie University and also an author on the paper is similarly upbeat with the results that have been obtained.

“This is a major advance in a long-term effort at our Centre at Macquarie University to develop innovative techniques for simultaneous detection of multiple disease markers in humans and animals,” he says.

“Next steps in our research collaboration are to further refine the nanoparticles, to examine issues related to a clinical roll-out of the technology and to explore further applications and disease areas where this technique could be best utilised.”

Reported in the prestigious journal ‘Nature Nanotechnology’, the international team of researchers involved with the study are based at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP), Macquarie University and Fudan University, China.

Notably, the work is an extension of previous nanoparticle-imaging research undertaken by Dr Lu at Macquarie University which has been awarded a patent in the United States and China, and which has already been licensed with commercial partners.

Journal: Nature Nanotechnology.

Publication title: Lifetime-engineered NIR-II nanoparticles unlock multiplexed in vivo imaging.

Authors: Yong Fan, Peiyuan Wang, Yiqing Lu, Rui Wang, Lei Zhou, Xianlin Zheng, Xiaomin Li, James A. Piper & Fan Zhang.

Below: A stylised image of cancer detecting nanoparticles in the body. Credit: Yong Fan.

Into the inner unknown

26 July 2018:

Touching on issues as diverse as space science, natural disasters, pollution and extreme biology, Yr 7- 12 high school students had the opportunity to gain insight into humanity’s big issues at a three day Macquarie University outreach event held in association with the organisation ‘One Giant Leap (Australia)’.

As a part of this event activity, CNBP’s Dr Annemarie Nadort undertook two separate outreach presentations to approximately 50 students, explaining the human body, the biology of blood, the physics of light and the potential of non invasive optical clinical technologies that could potentially be applied to humans in space.

“It was great to talk with such enthused students,” said Annemarie. “There were some great questions about how we can image deep inside the body and the many challenges that we face in being able to do so successfully.”

Below – Students are given a demonstration of a clinical micro-circulation imager by Dr Nadort. Using the device, blood cells and vessels under the tongue are able to be seen on the screen.

Engineering protein-based nanoparticles

23 July 2018:

A new review paper has been published in the journal ‘Genes’ featuring two CNBP Associate Investigators as co-authors, Dr Andrew Care (Cancer Institute NSW) and Dr Anwar Sunna (Macquarie University).

Titled, ‘Bioengineering Strategies for Protein-based Nanoparticles’, the paper focuses on the tools available to custom-engineer protein-based nanoparticles for different applications, including those in nanomedicine and biotechnology.

First author of the paper, and co-supervised by Dr Care and Dr Sunna is Ms Dennis Diaz (pictured left in photo).

Journal: Genes.

Publication title: Bioengineering Strategies for Protein-Based Nanoparticles.

Authors: Dennis Diaz, Andrew Care and Anwar Sunna.

Abstract: In recent years, the practical application of protein-based nanoparticles (PNPs) has expanded rapidly into areas like drug delivery, vaccine development, and biocatalysis. PNPs possess unique features that make them attractive as potential platforms for a variety of nanobiotechnological applications. They self-assemble from multiple protein subunits into hollow monodisperse structures; they are highly stable, biocompatible, and biodegradable; and their external components and encapsulation properties can be readily manipulated by chemical or genetic strategies. Moreover, their complex and perfect symmetry have motivated researchers to mimic their properties in order to create de novo protein assemblies. This review focuses on recent advances in the bioengineering and bioconjugation of PNPs and the implementation of synthetic biology concepts to exploit and enhance PNP’s intrinsic properties and to impart them with novel functionalities.

A photoresponsive LPD system developed

19 July 2018:

CNBP researchers have published a paper reporting on  the development of a novel photoresponsive liposome-polycation-DNA (LPD) platform. Lead author on the paper was Wenjie Chen (pictured).

Journal: Journal of Materials Chemistry B.

Publication title: Photoresponsive endosomal escape enhances gene delivery using liposome-polycation-DNA (LPD) nanovector.

Authors: Wenjie Chen, Wei Deng, Xin Xu, Xiang Zhao, Jenny Nhu Vo, Ayad G. Anwer, Thomas C. Williams, Haixin Cui, Ewa M. Goldys.

Abstract: Lipid-based nanocarriers with stimuli responsiveness have been utilized as controlled release systems for gene/drug delivery applications. In our work, by taking advantage of high complexation capbility of polycations and the light triggered property, we designed a novel photoresponsive liposome-polycation-DNA (LPD) platform. This LPD carrier incorporates verteporfin (VP) in lipid bilayers and the complex of polyethylenimine (PEI)/plasmid DNA (pDNA) encoding EGFP (polyplex) in the central cavities of liposomes. The liposomes were formulated with cationic lipids, PEGylated neutral lipids and cholesterol molecules, which improve their stability and cellular uptake in the serum-containing media. We evaluated the nanocomplex stability by monitoring size changes over six days, and the celluar uptake of nanocomplex by imaging the intracellular route. We also demonstrated light triggered the cytoplasmic release of pDNA upon irradiation with a 690 nm LED light source. Furthermore this light triggered mechanism has been studied at subcellular level. The activated release is driven by the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) from VP after light illumination. These ROS oxidize and destabilize the liposomal and endolysosomal membranes, leading to the release of pDNA into the cytosol and subsequent gene transfer activities. Light-triggered endolysosomal escape of pDNA at different time points was confirmed by quantitative analysis of colocalization between pDNA and endolysosomes. The increased expression of the reporter EGFP in human colorectal cancer cells was also quantified after light illumination at various time points. The efficiency of this photo-induced gene transfection was demonstrated to be more than double compared to non-irradiated controls. Additionally, we observed reduced cytotoxicity of the LPDs compared with the polyplexes alone. This study have thus shown that light-triggered and biocompatible LPDs enable improved control of efficient gene delivery which will be beneficial for future gene therapies.

X-ray triggered nano-bubbles to target cancer

13 July 2018:

Innovative drug filled nano-bubbles, able to be successfully triggered in the body by X-rays, have been developed by CNBP and Macquarie University researchers, paving the way for a new range of cancer treatments for patients.

The tiny bubbles, known as liposomes, are commonly used in pharmacology to encapsulate drugs, making them more effective in the treatment of disease. Researchers have now been able to engineer these liposomes to discharge their drug cargo on-demand, once activated by standard X-rays. Initial testing has shown this technique to be highly efficient in killing bowel cancer cells.

“The development and application of various nanomaterial designs for drug delivery is currently a key focus area in nanomedicine,” says lead author of the research Dr Wei Deng (pictured), Associate Investigator at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) and scientist at Macquarie University when the research was undertaken.

“Liposomes are already well established as an extremely effective drug-delivery system. Made out of similar material as cell membranes, these ‘bubbles’ are relatively simple to prepare, can be filled with appropriate medications and then injected into specific parts of the body. The issue however, is in controlling the timely release of the drug from the liposome,” she says.

“We have ensured that the liposomes release their drug pay-load at exactly the right time and in exactly the right place to ensure the most effective treatment. One way of doing this is to trigger the collapse of the liposome when and where it is needed. Our X-ray triggerable liposomes allow this on-demand drug-release to occur,” says Dr Wei Deng.

“The approach we took was to embed gold nanoparticles and the photo-sensitive molecule verteporfin into the wall of the liposome.”

“The radiation from the X-ray causes the verteporfin to react and to produce highly reactive singlet oxygen which then destabilises the liposomal membrane, causing the release of the drug,” says Dr Wei Deng.

“The gold nanoparticles are added into the mix as they focus the X-ray energy. This enhances the singlet oxygen generation and hence improves the speed of the membrane breakup”, she says.

Read the full media release here.

Journal: Nature Communications.

Publication title: Controlled gene and drug release from a liposomal delivery platform triggered by X-ray radiation.

Authors: Wei Deng, Wenjie Chen, Sandhya Clement, Anna Guller, Zhenjun Zhao, Alexander Engel & Ewa M. Goldys.

Below – Dr Wei Deng.

Research translation is focus of CNBP workshop

11 July 2018:

The take-home message from CNBP’s two day ‘Research Translation’ workshop, held in Adelaide, the 5th and 6th of July, was that high quality science can change people’s lives and that the research that CNBP undertakes is truly transformative with huge translation potential.

Over 75 CNBP researchers, students, partners and invited guests attended the workshop which was based at the University of Adelaide on Day One and which then moved to the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institution (SAHMRI) on Day Two.

During the workshop CNBP researchers worked in small groups with senior clinicians to learn about clinical problems and discuss how their research could be translated. They also heard from several leading clinicians about what it’s like to be part of a clinical translation project.

Additional talks described clinical translation from ‘the other side’ – with technical researchers explaining the steps involved in translating a new technology, and drawing on their real-world experiences and outlining key learnings that had been made. Dr Anne Collins then brought insight from a commercial perspective, providing a detailed case study of one of Trajan Scientific and Medical’s most recent market products.

A number of CNBP researchers, from all nodes across the Centre, then presented brief updates on clinically-related projects that are currently underway. This culminated in a master-class led and coordinated by CNBP CI Nicki Packer on seeing nanoparticles at super resolution in cells.

CNBP Director Prof Mark Hutchinson wrapped-up workshop proceedings noting that he had been highly impressed with the science and information presented and encouraged the CNBP team to keep ‘commercialisation impact’ top of mind as this was one of the Centre’s core values.

Prof Rob McLaughlin, Founder of Miniprobes and Senior CNBP Investigator, who helped host the event noted, “We’d like express our gratitude to all of the clinicians who made the workshop such a success: Jillian Clark, Rob Fitridge, Adam Wells, Phan Nguyen, Nam Nguyen, Tarik Sammour, Hidde Kroon, Sam Parvar and Nagendra Dudi-Venkata. Our thanks also to Anne Collins from Trajan Scientific and Medical, and Andrew Abell.”

Informal feedback from attendees at the event was that they had experienced a highly informative and rewarding two days of translational workshop activity.

Note – a brief visual video of the event has been produced by Dr Johan Verjans here.

Below – Dr Johan Verjans CNBP AI at SAHMRI discusses the need to work closely with clinicians to successfully translate research into the clinical environment.