Bionic pioneer, Menzies scholars and Australian research of note

Bulletins, Media bulletins, Oz Research of Note

Here’s a rundown on some stories this week, plus our weekly overview on what we saw last week that you may have missed.

Tonight, Graeme Clark, inventor of Australia’s bionic ear will be announced as the winner of the $50,000 CSL Florey Medal (note: announcement embargoed until 5pm Melbourne time).

On Tuesday, the National Press Excellence in Health Journalism awards will be held at the National Press Club – Melbourne film-maker Sonya Pemberton has been short-listed.

On Wednesday, Blamey & Saunders Hearing (formerly Australia Hears) officially launches its new office and new name.

For 30 years the Menzies Foundation has been awarding scholarships to graduates in the health sciences, engineering, law and the humanities.

The 2011 Menzies Memorial Scholars will be announced on Thursday – more information closer to the date.

And in case you missed any Australian research of note, read here.

Bionic ear pioneer wins the $50,000 CSL Florey Medal for 2011

Now Graeme Clark is looking for a better ear using his first recipient’s cochlear gift

Ceremony: 7 pm, 21 Nov, Mural Hall, Parliament House Canberra

Australian bionic ear pioneer Professor Graeme Clark will receive the CSL Florey Medal tonight in the presence of 90 of his peers at the 2011 Association of Australian Medical Research Institute’s annual dinner in the Mural Hall at Parliament House Canberra.

Over the past thirty years hundreds of thousands of people have had their lives transformed by Graeme Clark’s invention. Thirty-three years after Rod Saunders became the first recipient of Clark’s bionic ear, Graeme is returning to the laboratory to improve the bionic ear, and the new generation of bionic devices following it.

Today he announced that he will be joining NICTA, Australia’s national ICT Research Centre of Excellence, to help them close the gap between electronics and the brain – making better connections and enabling a bionic ear that would provide true hi-fi hearing.

And, he will bring to the laboratory precious brain and ear samples donated by Rod Saunders, the first recipient of the bionic ear. Rod died in 2007 and bequeathed his body to medical science.

In winning the CSL Florey Medal, Graeme joins an elite bunch of Australian medical researchers following in the footsteps of Howard Florey who developed penicillin.

They include:

  • Nobel Laureates Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, for discovering that bacteria cause stomach ulcers;
  • Jacques Miller, who unravelled the role of the thymus in the immune system;
  • Colin Masters, for his pivotal work on Alzheimer’s disease;
  • Peter Coleman, who unveiled the structure of the ‘flu virus, leading to the anti-‘flu drug Relenza;
  • Ian Frazer, for the development of the vaccine against cervical cancer.

The medal has been presented every two years since 1998 by Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS).

The prize money has doubled this year thanks to the support of CSL. “We deeply appreciate the support of CSL. This is a time when medical research needs champions, and with CSL’s help we are recognising and promoting those champions to all Australians and the next generation,” says Elektra Spathopoulos, AIPS executive director.

“Graeme Clark is a fitting winner,” says CSL’s Chief Scientist, Dr Andrew Cuthbertson. “Professor Clark had a big idea and took it through a tortuous scientific and regulatory path to create a device that has transformed the lives of people around the world. His ideas have seeded many other initiatives in bionics.”

Now 76, Graeme shows little sign of slowing down. “I don’t think I’m genetically engineered to wind down, but I’m trying hard, for my family’s sake.”

More information, photos and links at

Media contacts

Tuesday: Sonya Pemberton nominated for National Press Club Excellence in Health award

Melbourne-based science writer and film-maker Sonya Pemberton has been nominated for a National Press Excellence in Health Journalism award to be announced at the National Press Club.

She was nominated for her film Immortal, which shows the astonishing discovery made by a team of scientists led by Australian-born Professor Elizabeth Blackburn: a key to unlimited life and endless youth in cells.

On Tuesday 22 November the award will be given out in Canberra, but Sonya is currently in Europe for her next project, which focuses on vaccination.

She’s looking at the measles epidemic sweeping France that started when just one 10-year old school girl brought the disease back from holidays to a cluster of low vaccination.

Wednesday: Australia Hears becomes Blamey & Saunders Hearing

Peter Blamey and Elaine Saunders, the scientists behind Australia’s new self-fitted digital hearing aids, have renamed their company to avoid confusion with other hearing aid suppliers.

The name change, to Blamey & Saunders Hearing, coincides with their move into bigger premises in East Melbourne, to accommodate more staff, more stock and a bigger audiology clinic. And they are now selling their hearing aid products under the IHearYou™ brand name.

Blamey & Saunders Hearing’s new name and new office are being launched officially by Michelle Gallaher, CEO of the BioMelbourne Network, on Wednesday 23 November.

The new contact details are:

Blamey & Saunders Hearing Pty Ltd

364 Albert Street
East Melbourne VIC 3002

Phone (03) 9008 6371
Fax (03) 8678 1266



Thursday: Menzies Foundation Scholars

The effect of diet on brain function; whether virtual reality can be used for rehabilitation of arm movements following traumatic brain injury; how chemotherapy damages nerves; and the role of engineering in sustainable development-these are just some of the issues being tackled by this year’s crop of Menzies scholars.

Five of the scholarships will be presented at an Awards dinner to be held at the Menzies Foundation in Melbourne on Thursday 24 November.

Each year the Menzies Foundation provides scholarships for graduates to pursue studies in the allied health sciences, engineering, law, and medical research, as well as to attend Harvard University. This year nine scholarships have been awarded.

For further information, please contact Niall Byrne or Tim Thwaites at Science in Public (03) 9398 1416.

Oz Research of Note

Australian science discoveries you may have missed from the past week:

  1. Corals can sense what’s coming
  2. Managing the risks of extreme weather events
  3. Sunken islands found in Indian Ocean
  4. Spinal cord treatment offers hope
  5. No such thing as empty space
  6. Mini-strokes provide health warning
  7. Stop signal discovered for skin cancer
  8. Tiny gene. Big melanoma risk
  9. Uncertainty fear and eating disorders linked
  10. Magnetic treatment improves stroke patients’ ability to communicate
  11. Researchers closer to the super bug puzzle
  12. Stem cell research hopes to repair brain cell damage of Parkinson’s disease
  13. Monitoring technology to help maintain seniors’ independence
  14. Eradicating cane toads with ‘their own medicine’;
  15. Clothing, food and electricity impact most on water footprint
  16. Human activity pulling the plug on a vital carbon sink
  17. Brain link with restless legs
  18. Giving up driving not all bad: study
  19. New light shed on world’s deadliest pandemic mystery
  20. Australia’s first fowl cholera vaccine
  21. UQ researchers develop new method for studying gene activity

Corals can sense what’s comingI

Australian scientists have thrown new light on the mechanism behind the mass death of corals worldwide as the Earth’s climate warms. A team of scientists from Townsville has shown that as sea water begins to warm a complex cascade of molecular signals is triggered leading up to the self-inflicted death of corals and their symbiotic algae .

Lead author Dr Tracy Ainsworth, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

Scientific Reports, Nature;

Managing the risks of extreme weather events

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presented findings from its special report Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation on Friday 18 November. Three Australian lead authors were involved with the report.

Prof Neville Nicholls, Monash University; Prof John Handmer, RMIT University; Dr Kathleen McInnes, Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research

Sunken islands found in Indian Ocean

In the remote waters of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth, scientists have discovered two sunken islands, almost the size of Tasmania, which were once part of the supercontinent Gondwana. The data collected could significantly change our understanding of the way in which India, Australia and Antarctica broke off from Gondwana.

Dr Simon Williams, University of Sydney

Spinal cord treatment offers hope

Brisbane researchers have developed a promising new treatment for spinal cord injury in animals, which could eventually prevent paralysis in thousands of people worldwide every year. The treatment, which combined vascular endothelial and platelet-derived proteins, was applied to animals immediately after spinal cord injury, and evaluated after one and three month periods.

Dr Ben Goss, Institute for Health and Biomedical Innovation, QUT

Journal of Neurotrauma;

No such thing as empty space

An ingenious experiment in which tiny parcels of light, or photons, are produced out of empty space has confirmed a long-standing theory that a vacuum contains quantum fluctuations of energy. In a landmark result, an international team of researchers has demonstrated for the first time a strange phenomenon known as the dynamical Casimir effect, or DCE for short.

Prof Tim Duty, School of Physics, UNSW


Mini-strokes provide health warning

Patients who suffer stroke-like attacks can have mortality rates 20 per cent higher than the general population, new research finds, leading to calls for better stroke prevention strategies for those who experience a transient ischemic attack (TIA). In one of the largest studies of its kind ever conducted, more than 20,000 adults hospitalised in New South Wales between 2000-2007 with a TIA were compared against the general population for mortality rates.

Dr Melina Gattellari, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, UNSW


Stop signal discovered for skin cancer

A new understanding what stops a common form of skin cancer from developing could make new cancer treatments and prevention available to the public in five years. An international team of scientists led by Melbourne researchers has discovered a gene that helps protect the body from squamous cell cancer (SCC) of the skin. The Cancer Council estimates that two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70 with SCC being one of the most common forms.

Prof Stephen Jane and Dr Charbel Darido, Department of Medicine at the Alfred Hospital, Monash University

Cancer Cell;

Tiny gene. Big melanoma risk

Queensland medical researchers, as part of an international study, have found a variant in the MITF gene which can significantly increase the risk of melanoma. The MITF gene is responsible for regulating pigmentation and melanoma development, but this small mutation can have a large impact on melanoma risk. Individuals possessing this genetic variant have a 250% increased risk of developing melanoma – which is as significant to melanoma risk as traits such as having red hair, say the researchers.

Dr Stuart MacGregor, Queensland Institute of Medical Research


Uncertainty fear and eating disorders linked

People who fear the unknown or view uncertainty as especially negative or threatening are more likely to report symptoms of eating disorders, according to new Australian research.

Ms Alice Heikkonen, Department of Psychology, ANU

Magnetic treatment improves stroke patients’ ability to communicate

Magnetic stimulation of the brain could help improve language skills of stroke survivors with aphasia, according to research in Queensland. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is a non-invasive method that seeks to target brain activity, with the intention of facilitating the reorganisation of brain regions to alter language behaviours. The treatment involves placing a coil on the head which uses electromagnetic induction to induce weak electric currents by means of a changing magnetic field.

Dr Caroline Barwood, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, UQ

The European Journal of Neurology;

Researchers closer to the super bug puzzle

By using whole-genome DNA sequencing of strains obtained from patients during persistent bloodstream infections, Melbourne researchers have discovered how golden staph can make one small change to its DNA and then develop resistance to the last-line antibiotic, vancomycin.

Dr Timothy Stinear, A/Prof Ben Howden, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Melbourne

PLoS Pathogens;

Stem cell research hopes to repair brain cell damage of Parkinson’s disease

Australian scientists have developed a new technique using stem cells to replace damaged cells in Parkinson’s disease. The technique could be developed for application in other degenerative conditions.

Dr Clare Parish, Dr Lachlan Thompson, Florey Neuroscience Institutes, University of Melbourne

Monitoring technology to help maintain seniors’ independence

Seniors should be able to continue living an independent lifestyle in the comfort of their own home thanks tonew in-home monitoring technology being trialled on selected Illawarra residents. The system provides vital information on the day to day wellbeing of seniors who choose to remain in their own homes by recording data based on energy consumption in the household. The daily routine of each household will be mapped; with the monitor sending out an alert should an irregularity appear.

Prof Gordon Wallace, Australian Research Council Centre for Excellence for Electromaterials Science, University of Wollongong

Eradicating cane toads with ‘their own medicine’

Sydney University biologists have discovered cane toad tadpoles (Bufo marinus) communicate using chemicals excreted into the water, a finding that may help to impede the cane toad invasion of the Kimberley region.

Dr Michael Crossland, Prof Rick Shine, University of Sydney

Clothing, food and electricity impact most on water footprint

A new Melbourne study reveals that clothing, food and electricity are the three biggest culprits for a household’s high water usage. The indirect, or embodied, water usage of an entire household over 50 years – which includes the construction and maintenance of the house, all belongings, food, clothing and other consumable items, financial services, cars and holidays – is equivalent to filling 54 Olympic swimming pools. It represents 94% of a household’s water footprint.

Dr Robert Crawford, University of Melbourne

Building Research & Information;

Human activity pulling the plug on a vital carbon sink

Human activity is significantly weakening the ability of coastal ecosystems to dampen the impacts of rising CO2 levels, according to a new study by Sydney environmental scientists. The team has recommended that a high priority be placed on protecting and conserving seagrass, salt marsh and mangrove ecosystems.

Dr Peter Macreadie, Prof Peter Ralph, Prof Greg Skilbeck, University of Technology, Sydney

Global Change Biology;

Brain link with restless legs

Researchers have found that people with restless legs syndrome – a disorder that causes a powerful urge to move the legs, particularly at night – have reduced function in an area of the brain important for controlling movement. Preliminary results from a new study at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) suggest that people with this disorder have up to 80 per cent less function in this brain region compared with healthy people.

A/Prof Kay Double, NHMRC Senior Research Fellow, Neuroscience Research Australia

Giving up driving not all bad: study

Older people who give up driving report positive life impacts and say it’s not all doom and gloom, according to new research from Canberra.

Ms Sarah Walker, ANU

New light shed on world’s deadliest pandemic mystery

Queensland research into the world’s most deadly influenza pandemic in 1918 has shed light on a major medical mystery. The study examined US and Commonwealth military records and controversially suggests that the presence of two different viruses is the reason the second wave of the pandemic was so much deadlier. The conclusions highlight the importance of acquired immunity and the use of modern vaccinations.

Prof G. Dennis Shanks, Centre for Military & Veterans’ Health, UQ

Lancet Infectious Diseases;

Australia’s first fowl cholera vaccine

Australia’s first live vaccine for fowl cholera in chickens, recently registered and approved for sale, is the result of a breakthrough in bacterial modification by Monash University researchers. Highly contagious fowl cholera is a problem in all poultry-producing countries, particularly where the birds are intensively reared, and also due to organic and free-range practices. Treatment is very difficult due to the fast progression of the disease and so vaccination of layers and breeders, is considered a better option.

Prof Ben Adler, Director, ARC Centre of Excellence in Structural and Functional Microbial Genomics

UQ researchers develop new method for studying gene activity

Researchers from UQ, Harvard University and RocheNimblegen Inc. have developed a new method for examining genetic information that reveals clues to understanding gene structure and activity in the body. The method allows researchers to delve further than ever before into the human genome. It involves combining existing gene capture techniques with state-of-the-art ‘deep sequencing’ technology. Deep sequencing enables millions of different DNA molecules to be read in parallel.

Dr Tim Mercer, Prof John Mattick, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, UQ

Nature Biotechnology;