Category Archives: Uncategorized

“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 

Shedding light on nanoparticles for better bio-imaging

25 July 2019:

CNBP researcher Dr Nafisa Zohora has been awarded her PhD in applied physics by Melbourne’s RMIT University. Her research project looked at materials that could be used as an alternative to available fluorophores – the fluorescent chemical compounds used in a variety of biological research projects.

The discoveries of the project solves a significant problem that was stopping scientists obtaining good images of biological samples.

Fluorophores are used to stain specific cells, for example, which are then observed and analysed by a fluorescence microscope. They are used as biomarkers to identify a range of bioactive molecules such as antibodies or proteins.

But for the fluorophores to re-emit light, they must first absorb it in a process known as “excitation” – usually brought about with a laser.

The problem is, though, that some compounds just do not absorb enough with low power excitation to produce enough fluorescence to be seen under the microscope. But higher power, from greater exposure to a laser for example, can also generate so much heat that the sample is destroyed.

The fluorophores are also inclined to lose their ability to emit within a few seconds with repeated exposure to the laser, not giving enough time to take a good image.

Nafisa set out to find a solution to both these issues. She began by studying the commercially available nanoparticle fluorophores such as cuprous oxide (Cu2O), titanium dioxide (TiO2) and zinc oxide (ZnO) but couldn’t find the properties she was looking for.

She then decided to synthesise her own nanoparticles.

After two years of hard work, she had successfully developed a methodology to synthesis Cu2O nanocubes that become very bright with a very low power excitation.

What’s more they are photostable for several hours under repeated exposure to a laser – so both problems solved!

In a follow-up collaboration with the University of Adelaide, Nafisa tested the nanoparticles for their toxicity to cells, giving them a clean bill.

Her work uncovering the exceptional properties of the synthesised Cu2O nanoparticles opens up new possible applications in detecting antigens and other long-term bio-imaging applications.

Nafisa’s supervisors were Professor Brant Gibson (Physics, RMIT University), Dr Ahmad Kandjani (Chemistry, RMIT University) and Professor Mark Hutchinson (The University of Adelaide). She completed her PhD on 1 July 2019, and her graduation ceremony will be in December.

What is Nanoscale Biophotonics?

15 July 2019:

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.

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

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

 

Pop-up science

25 May 2019:

CNBP researchers Dr Georgina Sylvia and Dr Erin Smith (in conjunction with Children’s University Adelaide) have taken their love of science to the public, demonstrating fun-filled experiments to budding young scientists at a ‘pop-up’ event titled ‘The Magic and Wonder of Science’. The event took place as part of the biennial ‘Dream Big Children’s Festival’, held in South Australia, May-June, 2019.

Attendees at the ‘pop-up’ outreach event saw science working in practice as well as real-life applications of differing scientific elements.

“We demonstrated numerous experiments to our audience including creating ‘Elephant’s Toothpaste’. This is a foamy substance caused by the rapid decomposition of hydrogen peroxide,” says Georgina.

“Other experiments included a demonstration of atmospheric pressure with a jar of water, as well as the use of liquid nitrogen to freeze an everyday egg in a fry-pan. We wanted to inspire our young audience and to open their minds to the everyday science that exists all around them,” she says.

“Our show aimed to be a blend of entertainment and education with plenty of humor and laughs as well.”

Below – Erin and Georgina putting on their scientific show!

 

Cancer research to the public

20 May 2019:

CNBP AI at Macquarie University and Early Career Fellow at the Cancer Institute NSW, Dr Andrew Care, has presented his research to a packed house at a ‘Pint of Science’ public outreach and engagement event, 20th May 2019.

Held at the Nags Head Hotel, Glebe, Sydney, Dr Care talked about the latest in cancer research with a particular focus on a newly discovered class of biologically-derived nanoparticles (protein nanocages), and how they can be genetically-engineered to target and destroy tumours.

“Taking my science out to the public was great fun,” he says. “But more importantly it was a good opportunity to highlight that positive advances we are making in the fight against disease thanks to ongoing research investment in Australia,” he said.

Dr Care added, “I checked out Pint of Science for the first time last year. I saw a great talk by Dr Orazio Vittorio a cancer biologist from Children’s Cancer Institute Australia. After a chat at the pub about our research, we started a collaboration. A year later Orazio and I are developing an exciting new tool for cancer treatment! Together, we’ve also obtained research funding, and we’re about to file a patent and to publish our first paper together. None of this would have possible without Pint!”

“Talking at Pint of Science this year is my way of giving back and saying thanks for making a great collaboration happen…and maybe to find another awesome collaborator lurking in the pub again,” he concludes.

Dr Care’s research group combines techniques from synthetic biology and nanomedicine for the targeted treatment of cancer. More information on his exciting work can be found in his profile here.

Below – Dr Care presenting his research at Pint of Science, Sydney 2019.

Cutting-edge biosensing applications of CRISPR reviewed

14 January 2019:

A new paper by CNBP researchers and colleagues (including CNBP Associate Investigator Guozhen Liu, UNSW Sydney) reviews cutting-edge biosensing applications of CRISPR.

Journal: Trends in Biotechnology.

Publication title:  CRISPR/Cas Systems towards Next-Generation Biosensing.

Authors: Yi Li, Shiyuan Li, Jin Wang and Guozhen Liu.

Abstract: Beyond its remarkable genome editing ability, the CRISPR/Cas9 effector has also been utilized in biosensing applications. The recent discovery of the collateral RNA cleavage activity of the Cas13a effector has sparked even greater interest in developing novel biosensing technologies for nucleic acid detection and promised significant advances in CRISPR diagnostics. Now, along with the discovery of Cas12 collateral cleavage activities on single stranded DNA (ssDNA), several CRISPR/Cas systems have been established for detecting various targets, including bacteria, viruses, cancer mutations, and
others. Based on key Cas effectors, we provide a detailed classification of CRISPR/Cas biosensing systems and propose their future utility. As the field continues to mature, CRISPR/Cas systems have the potential to become promising candidates for next-generation diagnostic biosensing platforms.

New CNBP research node at Griffith University

29 May 2018:

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) has announced today that Griffith University has become a collaborating partner and will host a CNBP research node at its Institute for Glycomics on the Southport, Gold Coast campus.

As a research node and collaborating partner of the CNBP, Griffith University joins the University of Adelaide, Macquarie University and RMIT University as a core member of the Centre of Excellence.

The Griffith based CNBP research node, headed-up by Associate Professor Daniel Kolarich (pictured top left)  from the University’s ‘Institute for Glycomics’, will add to CNBP’s research capability in the development of next-generation light-based tools that can sense and image at a cellular and molecular level.

“Our team has specialised glycan knowledge and expertise that will aid the Centre in its objectives of improving understanding and knowledge of cell-communication and the nanoscale molecular interactions in the living body,” says A/Prof Kolarich.

Mark Hutchinson, CNBP Director and Professor at the University of Adelaide welcomed Griffith University as a new partner to the Centre.

“A/Prof Kolarich and his team are world-class scientists with exceptional knowledge and skills in glycomics. They have state-of-the-art facilities and will add significantly to CNBP’s investigative strength, helping us to achieve the highest levels of research excellence,” he says.

For further information, a media release is available online from the CNBP web site.

Below – Formalities are completed with the handover of the CNBP partnership plaque at the Institute for Glycomics.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

CNBP outreach at MQ ‘Career Ready Day’

10 May 2018:

CNBP’s Dr Annemarie Nadort has shone a light on biophotonics, microcirculation, medical device development and a career in science to an audience of 35 Yr 9-10 high school students, at an outreach session at Macquarie University, May 10th, 2018.

The students, attending the University as a part of a ‘career-ready’ day, were given a quick tutorial on blood and light and were then given a hands-on demonstration of a clinical microcirculation imager that was able to provide a real-time view of red blood cells circulating in capillaries under the tongue.

Students were then given a brief history of the imager’s development and then asked how they could potentially improve a mark-two version of the device from a biological, physics, engineering, IT and software perspective. This explained Dr Nadort was the sort of critical thinking required to kick-start a career in medical device design and development; and the skills that could be learnt from undertaking higher education study.

Feedback from the students was extremely positive. Half a dozen students tried the imager under their own tongues. Seeing the body’s cells operate in real-time on a large screen proved insightful and engaging to all in the room.

Below – Dr Annemarie Nadort explains to students how we can use light to see blood using innovative new tools and techniques.