Welcome to the Imaging Centre of Excellence

ARC Centre of Excellence for Advanced Molecular Imaging

Posted on behalf of James Whisstock, Director Imaging CoE

Welcome to my first bulletin as director of the Imaging CoE—the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging.

The Centre was announced by the ARC in December last year and we’re moving towards launch later this year.

Our chief investigators – at Monash, Melbourne, La Trobe, UNSW, UQ and our partner organisations are pulling their research plans together. We’ve got a chief operating officer and a website ready to roll, and we’ll be advertising for new students and post docs shortly.

The ARC has provided us with our core budget of $28 million over seven years, and the contributing organisations and partners have pledged more than $10 million.

The Centre is all about understanding how our immune systems function at the molecular level by developing and using new microscopy and imaging techniques. Our work will underpin the development of new drugs and therapies to control our immune response and treat infection and disease.

We’ve already got some results on the board with important papers on gut immunity and on the molecular trigger of coeliac disease. Much more on the way.

This monthly newsletter will tell you about where we are and how we are going, provide you with information on key events and contact points, and introduce you to our team in offices, laboratories, microscope and synchrotron facilities across Australia and Europe.

In this issue we:

We are at the start of a fascinating journey of discovery.

Please feel free to share this newsletter with interested colleagues, and do of course let me know if you do not want to receive future issues.


James Whisstock
Director, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging
Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Monash University

First papers: the Centre is already generating outcomes

Even before its official launch the Imaging CoE has hit the ground running.

Papers led by Chief Investigators (CIs) of the Centre have recently appeared in significant international journals such as Nature, Nature Structural and Molecular Biology (both highlighted below) and Nature Communications. And a research team led by a Centre CI has had two papers accepted by the important international chemistry journal, Angewandte Chemie.

T-cell activation by transitory antigens

T-cell activation by transitory antigens

In a report to Nature on 2 April, a collaborative research team revealed it had identified the precise molecular key that triggers the mysterious immune cell sentries known as mucosal-associated invariant T cells (MAITs) and sends them into action. Among others, the study was led by CI Prof Jamie Rossjohn of Monash University. CI Prof David Fairlie of the University of Queensland was a senior author, and both were corresponding authors. They worked with colleagues from The University of Melbourne, University College, Cork, and the Australian Synchrotron.

MAIT cells, which line our guts, lungs and mouths, constitute up to 10 per cent of the T cells of our immune system. The published work provides the starting point to understanding how this first line of defence functions, and what happens when it goes wrong. The study should lead to new ways of diagnosing and treating inflammatory bowel disease, peptic ulcers and even TB, and also to novel protective vaccines.

Last year members of the research team won an Australian Museum Eureka Prize for determining that MAIT cells detect reactive intermediates in the synthesis of vitamin B2 (riboflavin) by invasive bacteria and fungi. The latest discovery narrows the trigger down to a small group of compounds produced by specific bacteria and fungi associated with several diseases.

The work is an early win for the Centre. “We want to unravel the complex molecular interactions that define how we fight disease,” says Jamie Rossjohn. “This remarkable research collaboration shows us how to do it.”

T cell receptor (space filling, on top) binds to the DQ2 molecule (ribbon and mesh)

T cell receptor (space filling, on top) binds to the DQ2 molecule (ribbon and mesh)

Later in the month, Jamie and his research group at Monash University, were involved in another collaborative paper with researchers from Leiden University in the Netherlands and the Boston company ImmunsanT, this time published in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.

The group determined the molecular details of the interaction that triggers celiac disease, between the immune system and gluten. In celiacs, this interaction leads to inflammation of the lining of the small intestine, which can make them feel like they have contracted food poisoning after eating a slice of toast. The published study opens the way to potential treatments and diagnostics. The research grabbed media attention with coverage by ABC Radio, The Herald Sun and SBS online to name a few.

Two papers involving Prof David Fairlie’s research group at Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience have been accepted for publication by the International Edition of Angewandte Chemie. The researchers investigated the properties of cyclic peptides and their ability to mimic proteins. Stay tuned to the newsletter for more details after these papers are published.

Read more

Working to make things work

Behind every great research centre is someone who makes it tick—and in the case of the Imaging CoE, that someone is the Chief Operating Officer, Manoj Sridhar.

He is the person responsible for all aspects of the Centre’s operations—from establishing its website to paying the bills; from building strategic relationships with its industry partners, such as Leica and Zeiss, to tracking its performance and reporting to the ARC.

“My role is to work with our Director, James Whisstock and the Chief Investigators (CIs) to plan and manage the Centre’s objectives in each of its four key areas of operation—research, training, outreach, and commercialisation. I want to ensure we deliver a high quality research output, which addresses the key questions of how immune systems function. I want us to provide exceptional training for PhD students, post docs, as well as high quality outreach to the general public, state government and industry partners. And we will look to translate the knowledge we gain through research into tangible outcomes for society through commercialisation.”

But that does not mean Manoj is a manager without empathy for the research of the Centre. He grew up in Singapore with a love of physics, and pursued that interest by living and working in the US for nine years, while he completed a PhD at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Read more

Keep in touch anywhere, anytime

Looking for career opportunities in the Centre? Keen to understand our technologies, collaborate or just looking for training or an event? The answers to your questions are on the Centre website which is now open for business at: www.imagingcoe.org

“Its primary role is to inform people about the Centre and what we do,” according to the Centre’s Chief Operating Officer, Manoj Sridhar. “But it will also tell you about what is and has been happening, provide notice of upcoming events and jobs, and keep you informed of how the Centre is tracking. In addition, you will be able to find statistics, annual reports, publications, all issues of this newsletter and media releases and stories of our research.”

Academy honours Centre researcher

Jamie Rossjohn.

Jamie Rossjohn.

Congratulations to Imaging CoE Chief Investigator (CI) Prof Jamie Rossjohn of Monash University, who was admitted as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (FAA) at the Shine Dome in Canberra on Tuesday 27 May. Jamie’s election by his peers as a Fellow, which was announced in late March, is one of the highest honours Australian science can bestow.

The citation reads, “for his research into the structural basis for T cell recognition of foreign antigens, which has had a profound impact on our understanding of immune recognition, particularly in autoimmunity and drug and food hypersensitivities”. Two papers relating to this work have recently been published in Nature journals (see above).

“It is very humbling for my research to be recognised in this manner,” says Jamie, a National Health and Medical Research Council Australia Fellow.

“The Centre will provide me with opportunities to undertake new lines of investigation in this field of immune recognition. Access to major national infrastructure, such as the Australian Synchrotron, is also crucial to maintain a competitive edge internationally,” he said.

Positions, positions, positions

To achieve its aims, the Imaging CoE will recruit the best students and researchers nationally and internationally. Over the Centre’s lifetime, a total of 41 PhD top-up scholarships and 27 postdoctoral positions will be offered, with the first positions becoming available from June. They will be advertised on the Centre website and in this newsletter. So please check regularly.

Heads up for our launch

The official launch of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Advanced Molecular Imaging (also known as the Imaging CoE) will be held at Monash University in August. Further details: times, dates, activities and dignitaries will be posted on the website soon and also provided in the next newsletter.

About the Centre

The goals of the Centre are to build Australia’s knowledge, capabilities and capacity in advanced molecular imaging and immunology by:
undertaking large scale, transformative, interdisciplinary and collaborative research

  • developing innovative imaging technologies, products and IP
  • establishing a centre that will link national and international networks of universities, research infrastructure and industry
  • attracting and mentoring early and mid-career interdisciplinary researchers, and
  • establishing a strong, nationwide, outreach program, with a focus on communicating our scientific discoveries to key stakeholders and the general public.

The ARC Centre of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging is funded by the Australian Research Council and administered by Monash University. The Centre comprises of:

Collaborating Organisations: La Trobe University, The University of Melbourne, The University of New South Wales, The University of Queensland.

Partner Organisations: Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, Australian Synchrotron, Carl Zeiss Pty Ltd, Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron, Germany, Leica Microsystems Pty Ltd, University of Warwick, UK.

Visit our website: www.imagingcoe.org
Follow us on Twitter: ImagingCoE
Send us an email: director@imagingcoe.org