Can’t see the zebra for the trees; stopping side effects of ageing; brain prize for PM; and Victoria, the heart of medical research

Bulletins, Media bulletins

This afternoon at 5pm Biomedical Research Victoria launches. Melbourne is home to more than 40 per cent of Australia’s medical research. BioMedVic represents them.

Can’t see the zebra for the trees? Deforestation hurts the environment – but afforestation can be bad too, and it’s affecting Africa’s iconic animals (or ‘charismatic megafauna’ as the ecologists like to call them).

Why do we get sick as we age? Can we stop the ‘side-effects’ of ageing? Is the Holy Grail of cancer treatment on the horizon? An international meeting at Manly is tackling inflammation and ageing.

Highlights of the conference include:

  • A US research leader has shown that cells that stop cancer growth also promote inflammation, which is good for wound repair but bad for chronic diseases of ageing – Professor Judith Campisi.
  • The idea of a simple pill that could stop the spread of cancer in the body. Professor Josef Penninger and his colleagues have found a way to help the body’s immune system stop metastasis.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is expected to receive a Pioneer in Healthcare Policy Award in Sydney today for his $200 million dementia initiative, together with US Congressman Chaka Fattah.

And look out for lost scientists in Parliament today and tomorrow for the annual Science Meets Parliament.

Next Monday 24 March is World Tuberculosis Day. We have researchers working across the Asia Pacific available to talk about this returning plague. And there’s a Parliament House briefing led by the Burnet’s Brendan Crabb.

And on Thursday 27 March we’ll release the Nature Publishing Index. Which research institutes dominate in Japan, China and Australia? Who’s winning, who’s slipping behind.

Ageing answers no longer a hard cell

The holy grail of healthy old age may lie in the riddle of cells that stop cancer and hasten age at the same time.

Senescent cells, which stop cancer in its tracks, also promote the inflammation that drives many age-related problems and chronic diseases.

This research will be presented at the Inflammation in Disease and Ageing conference held in Manly this week. The research is being led by Professor Judith Campisi, the head of research labs at San Francisco’s Buck Institute for Research on Ageing and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The conference is organised by the Centenary Institute.

“The good news is that if we can work out a way to maximise the beneficial effects of cell senescence in fighting cancer and wound healing, and minimise the deleterious effects of inflammation in old age, we might reach the Holy Grail of staying healthier for longer,” Professor Campisi says.

Senescent cells develop as a natural defence to suppress cell growth induced by potentially cancer-inducing stress. The cells stop dividing and can no longer form tumours, but the cells remain alive.

Professor Campisi has found that senescent cells secrete compounds that promote inflammation in the surrounding tissue, a natural part of wound healing.

However, in older people the inflammation can contribute to a range of age-related problems and chronic diseases.

For interviews tomorrow (Tuesday) and more information:

  • Toni Stevens, Science in Public, on 0401 763 130 or
  • Jennifer Gamble, Centenary Institute, on 0438 811 395 or
  • Jill Atherton, Centenary Institute, on 0466 166 878 or

Can’t see the lions for the trees

Deforestation hurts the environment and poses a threat to plants, animals and humans. But afforestation is a problem too: for example, when grasslands turn into forest.

As a master’s student in South Africa, Emma Gray studied how the forests were creeping into the savannah, which impacts on the zebras, lions and other iconic African animals.

Now, as a PhD student in Australia, Emma is trying to understand how plant traits affect plant growth.

“This is one of the central questions in ecology, particularly as we try to understand how climate change will affect the distribution of forests, grasslands and other ecosystems,” says Emma.

Her research aims to categorise species based on their traits and how fast they grow. For example, how does the size of leaves or the density of wood affect the growth of a tree?

“It’s nearly impossible to model ‘reality’, when there are so many species to account for. To understand the changes we’re seeing from climate change, we need to simplify ecosystems.”

Emma’s work will contribute to models that could help us predict how climate change affects ecosystems, and help us to understand how plants interact with each other and the environment.

Emma is one of 15 women from around the world awarded one of this year’s $20,000 UNESCO-L’Oréal For Women in Science International Fellowships, which support talented young women scientists to take up research positions in other countries.

She receives her prize in Paris on Wednesday 19 March.

More information at
If you would like to interview Emma, please contact us on (03) 9398 1416 or

Launch of Biomedical Research Victoria

Victorian researchers have contributed to improving the lives of millions of people and their work is an important driver of economic development in the state.

This afternoon at 5pm, Biomedical Research Victoria will be launched by Gordon Rich-Phillips, Victoria’s Minister for Technology.

Biomedical Research Victoria represents the teaching hospitals, universities, research institutions, CSIRO, and other organisations whose scientists have contributed to improving the lives of millions of people and whose internationally recognised work is an important driver of economic development in the state.

Biomedical Research Victoria will provide a mechanism for this remarkable community to work effectively with government to create the policies, infrastructure and supportive environment necessary to tackle major scientific problems and compete successfully with the emerging life sciences centres in the region.

Biomedical Research Victoria was formerly known as the Bio21 Cluster. It was established in 2001, as an initiative of the University of Melbourne, Melbourne Health, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) and the State Government of Victoria.

For more information and interviews contact Jan Tennent, CEO Biomedical Research Victoria, (03) 8344 1937, 0418 637 613

Read more about the organisation and its members at:

Follow them on Twitter: @BioMedVic and @BioMedVicCEO

Science Meets Parliament

Scientists have descended on Canberra this week for the annual Science Meets Parliament summit.

Today they’re going on a ‘guided tour through the policy factory’ with Subho Banerjee, deputy secretary of the Department of Industry.

And Bill Shorten – leader of the opposition and shadow minister for science – spoke to them this morning.

He said that science should be a national, political priority and that it should underpin Australia’s prosperity.

He also called on Australia’s scientific community to do more to stand up against “gossip and conspiracy theorists”, and to emphasise the ‘retail benefits’ of research to the individual.

Tomorrow, the scientists will make the case for research in individual meetings with MPs from all sides of Parliament.

For interviews: Catriona Jackson, CEO of Science and Technology Australia (the host of the event),, (02) 6257 2891, 0417 142 238

Read more about SmP at:
And follow the conversation on Twitter at #smp2014 and @ScienceAU

Brain award for Prime Minister Abbott

We think this is being awarded today and that the Prime Minister is sending an envoy. It’s not our story but something we heard about.

The Pioneer in Healthcare Policy Award is presented to lawmakers who have demonstrated visionary policies laws that have contributed to the advancement of science, technology, education, and medicine.

The past recipients of this prestigious award include California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (2008), U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (2009), U.S. Senator Harry Reid (2010), U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (2011), Canadian Parliament Member Kirsty Duncan (2012), U.S. Congressman Jim Moran (2013), Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (2013), and Congressman Earl Blumenauer (2013).

This year, Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott and the US Congressman Chaka Fattah are the recipients of this prestigious award. Prime Minister Abbott is recognized for his visionary support of brain research through his $200M dementia initiative in Australia.

Congressman Fattah is honored due to his impressive track record in promoting neuroscience legislation through the US Congress including his significant role in President Obama’s BRAIN initiative.

Full (US) release is online:
Media contact: Dr Kuldip Sidhu,, +61 401 766 055

Coming up: World Tuberculosis Day – Monday 24 March

Australia has one of the lowest incidence rates of tuberculosis (TB) in the world. But our neighbours aren’t so lucky.

According to the World Health Organisation, in 2012, our region had the most new patients anywhere in the world, with 60 per cent of new cases of TB occurring in Asia.

TB is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide due to a single infectious agent.

And TB is getting harder to treat. TB develops resistance to more and more of the antibiotics used to treat it and new varieties of the disease take hold which are deadlier and harder to treat.

Australians scientists are working to understand and fight the disease. We’ll have more on that closer to World TB Day, on Monday 24 March with researchers who can talk about the impact of the disease in our region and of the risks for Australia.

There’s also a briefing at Parliament House on Australia’s potential leadership role in TB control and the problem of drug resistant TB on our doorstep led by Brendan Crabb and colleagues from the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in TB control and others.

Who’s leading research in Asia and the Pacific? Find out on Thursday 27 March

Each year Nature reviews the research performance of Asia-Pacific countries and institutions based on publications in Nature family journals.

The Nature Publishing Index 2013 Asia-Pacific will be out on Thursday 27 March (Australian time).

The index measures the output of research articles from nations and institutions to provide a snapshot of research in the Asia-Pacific. Which institutes are climbing? Which are falling? Who will be top in Australia? Will China pass Japan?

It is based on work published in the 18 Nature-branded primary research journals over the 2013 calendar year.

We will have more details available on embargo next week.