Saving lives with personalised medicine; exploring neurodegeneration; travel grants for students: EMBL Australia in June

EMBL Australia

In this month’s EMBL Australia newsletter:

Posted on  behalf of Professor Nadia Rosenthal of EMBL Australia.

Speaking in Perth last month Professor Ian Chubb, Australia’s Chief Scientist, said “the world’s challenges are our challenges, international collaboration is essential to address them.”

I couldn’t agree more. Through our alliance with EMBL in Europe, and with the Systems Biology Institute in Japan and elsewhere, EMBL Australia is connecting Australian life scientists with international research leaders tackling big issues in life science, from fundamental biology to the genomics of human disease.

On Monday we’re welcoming Howard Jacob to Melbourne. He’s at the forefront of personalised medicine, bringing genomics out of the lab and into the clinic where they’re already saving lives.

The genomics centre he leads at the Medical College of Wisconsin recently became the first in the world to offer complete whole genome sequencing, from patient consent through to the return of clinical results, to patients worldwide.

Howard will be giving a symposium on Monday afternoon at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, part of the Enhancing Systems Biology program supported by the Victorian state government. He’ll also be presenting a seminar to my colleagues here at ARMI, and speaking at lunch for some alumni of the EMBL.

A week later we will explore neurodegeneration in the first Victorian Systems Biology Collaborative at the Bio21 Institute.

In the coming months, we’ll also welcome:

  • Yannick Schwab, from EMBL, who will present a masterclass in electron microscopy next week in Sydney
  • Hiroki Ueda, a systems biologist from RIKEN, who is a key speaker at the EMBL Australia PhD Course in July;
  • Mike Hucka, a programmer who worked with Hiroaki Kitano to develop the Systems Biology Markup Language; and
  • Hiroaki Kitano, a pioneer of systems biology, who will be back in Australia in October.

I’ll let you know the details of their visits, and where you can meet them, in future issues of this newsletter.

I’m also pleased to offer another 20 Australian students the chance to join the EMBL PhD Symposium in Heidelberg. It’s a great opportunity to expose our brightest young researchers to cutting-edge international research. Last year’s group told us that their trip to Germany helped them forge new connections and find new insight into their own projects.

Finally, congratulations to Stephanie Bissiere, from the Plachta Group at EMBL Australia’s Victorian node, who co-authored a paper recently published in PNAS about the way the brain rewires itself after damage or injury. I look forward to hearing about the next phase of this research, which could potentially lead to treatments for Alzheimer’s and stroke.

Getting personal (medicine) with Howard Jacob

Howard Jacob is getting genomics out of the research lab and into the clinic. See him at seminars at Monash and Parkville.howard_jacob

Howard is at the forefront of personalised medicine. He and his colleagues successfully treated a five year old with a life threatening digestive condition in 2010, sequencing the boy’s genome to find a rare mutation.

He says we need to not just talk about how personal genomes will change medicine. It’s time to use it now especially for undiagnosed conditions.

“Today we go to see our physicians or healthcare providers when we are sick, which is truly more disease care than health care. The ability to ready the entire genetic code of people at birth will allow us to start moving medicine from being reactive to prospective.

“While we have the technology today to start the process, there is a critical need to develop many new technologies from data generation, and data analysis to data knowledge and clinical implementation.

“The solutions will come from people with strong backgrounds in science, mathematics, computer science and engineering, as well as health care teams.”

Professor Howard Jacob is Chair of Genetics and Director of the Human and Molecular Genetics Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin, where he’s building a $60 million institute to pursue his ideas.

Back in the research lab his team is building and implementing genomic ‘tools’ in the whole animal. They’re trying to find the genetic basis of end stage renal disease, hypertension, type 1 diabetes, and a range of heart conditions.

Howard is visiting Melbourne in June as a guest of the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) at Monash University and SBI Australia, the local node of Japan’s Systems Biology Institute.

See Howard speak in Melbourne next week

Monday 3 June at 3pm
Personalised medicine: a young life saved through genomics and systems biology.
A symposium at The Royal Children’s Hospital. This is the first symposium in the Enhancing Systems Biology program and is being hosted by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.
More details at:

Tuesday 4 June at 12pm
Transitioning from reactive medicine to prospective medicine – the role of personalized medicine.
ARMI External Speaker Series at Monash University.
More information:

He will also be speaking at a lunch for invited EMBL alumni on Wednesday 5 June.

Neurodegeneration – from lab to clinic with systems biology

A Victorian Systems Biology Collaborative, 11 June at the Bio21 Institute, University of Melbourne.

Understanding neurodegeneration is one of the big life science challenges. It’s attracting massive international investment but the complexity of the brain means there will be no simple answers.

At the collaborative you’ll hear three researchers approach the topic of neurodegeneration from three different perspectives:

  • Dr Danny Hatters from Bio21 will talk about the development of an essential framework that facilitates basic research into the pathology of Huntington’s disease, and the proteins which cause this neurodegenerative condition
  • Professor Nellie Georgiou-Karistianis, a Monash University psychologist will discuss bringing clinical research into neuroimaging and investigating new biomarkers for imaging the progress of Huntington’s disease
  • Professor Colin Masters, Executive Director of the Mental Health Research Institute and Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne, will discuss his translational research which brings clinical and research knowledge together to develop better diagnostics and treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

The presentation will be followed by a Q&A session, a reception and networking opportunity, and the launch of the Enhancing Systems Biology in Victoria program.

The program is being undertaken by SBI Australia and supported by the Victorian Government. It includes collaborative forums, symposia and workshops.

More information about this event and speakers’ abstracts at:

Enhancing Systems Biology in Victoria

The Howard Jacob symposium and the neurodegeneration collaborative are both part of a Victorian government backed program to foster collaboration and encourage a culture of networking across disciplines, and enhance the profile of systems biology in Victoria.

The Enhancing Systems Biology in Victoria program is being run by SBI Australia, a node of the Systems Biology Institute, Japan. SBI Australia is an initiative of EMBL Australia, and is based at Monash University.

The full program of events will include:

  • quarterly collaboratives, where three researchers – one basic, one clinical and one translational – will speak about their research, followed by a question and answer session
  • visits by international speakers, to showcase international advances in systems biology
  • training workshops around specific technical skills for systems biology research
  • a Victorian state systems biology capability map and gap analysis.

Read more about the program at

Join the EMBL PhD Symposium with a travel grant from EMBL Australia

Australian PhD students are invited to apply for one of 20 travel grants to attend the 15th EMBL PhD Symposium in Heidelberg, Germany.

Apply online at

The Symposium brings together fellow students from around the world for a three-day series of talks by leading experts but also by students themselves. It’s an opportunity to make connections with students from around the world and get new insight into your own research direction.

The program is organised each year by first-year PhD students at EMBL, and includes networking opportunities, poster sessions and workshops with experts.

This year’s program has been announced, with talks and presentations on the theme “Competition in Biology – The Race for Survival from Molecules to Systems”:

From enzyme catalysis to ecosystems dynamics, biology is riddled with competition. DNA sequences compete for transcription factor binding to be expressed, cells in communities often compete for resources, pathogens compete against host immune systems, and on a larger scale, organisms compete against each other for limited resources in their environment.

Speakers at this year’s conference include:

  • Matthew Chang, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
  • Kevin Foster, University of Oxford, UK
  • Ron Fouchier, Erasmus MC, the Netherlands
  • George Kassiotis, MRC National Institute for Medical Research, UK
  • Rebecca Kilner, University of Cambridge, UK
  • Eva Kisdi, University of Helsinki, Finland
  • Eduardo Moreno, University of Bern, Switzerland
  • Sarah Reece, University of Edinburgh, UK
  • Marilyn J. Roossinck, Pennsylvania State University, USA
  • John Sutherland, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, UK
  • Gregory Velicer, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Switzerland
  • Jörg Vogel, Universität Würzburg, Germany

For more details and an online application form, head to

“What is Bioinformatics?”

The Australian Bioinformatics Network has produced two videos to explain bioinformatics.

Australian Bioinformatics Network Director David Lovell said that the videos aim to increase awareness and appreciation of bioinformatics so that bioscientists, decision-makers and even the general public can get a better understanding of what bioinformatics is and why it matters.

“Rather than add to the wealth of written definitions, we put this question to bioinformaticians, biologists and other quantitative bioscientists to give you a take on what bioinformatics means to real, live people,” he said.

Watch the videos on Slideshare:

Events and meetings around the country

Who do you want to see at the systems biology conference in Melbourne next year?

Planning is underway for ICSB2014, the 15th International Systems Biology Conference which is being held in Melbourne from 14-18 September 2014.

The scientific committee want to hear from the community about on who you want to see and what you want to talk about at the conference.

They’re seeking suggestions on:

  • session themes
  • workshop topics
  • international speakers
  • keynote Australian speakers

The conference is an opportunity for everyone already using a systems biology approach to meet international researchers in the field and for the rest of us to find out how systems biology can transform our research.

Please send your thoughts to the conference management team, to, by Friday 21 June.

And you can find out more about the conference at:

2013 Winter School in Mathematical and Computational Biology

Explore the connections between maths and biology, and learn to use the tools of bioinformatics at the 2013 Winter School in Mathematical and Computational Biology

Registration is now open at:

And students can apply for a competitive travel bursary at:

Through extended lectures, software demos, and interactive discussions, each day of the Winter School will include introductory and advanced sessions, with lecturers who’ve been chosen for their ability to make their topic accessible to and exciting for a non-specialist audience.

The school, held at the Queensland Bioscience Precinct at the University of Queensland, from 1-5 July, is designed to introduce mathematical and computational biology and bioinformatics to advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students, postdoctoral researchers and anyone who’d like to refresh their skills.

This year’s topics include:

  • next generation sequencing and bioinformatics
  • NGS, mutations, disease and algorithms
  • ecologies and populations
  • systems and synthetic biology

The full program and list of speakers is online at

To subscribe to Winter School news, send an email to:

Next Generation Sequencing Hands-on Workshop in Perth

Curtin University, 19-21 June, 2013

This is a practical three day hands-on course is designed for bench biologists, PhD students or early career postdoctoral researchers with no or basic bioinformatics experience who are planning or currently using NGS approaches in their research area. It will include a half-day introduction to the command line interface.

This course is designed to familiarise participants with next Generation Sequence data analysis and to provide hands-on computational experience in analysis of NGS data using common analytical approaches for ChIP-seq, RNA-Seq data and de novo genome assembly.

Registration has closed but for more information on the program contact: Catherine Shang, or Annette Mcgrath

Read more of the program at:

The course is one of a series around Australia, based on a program from the EMBL-EBI in Hixton, UK, offered jointly by BioPlatforms Australia, CSIRO and EMBL Australia.

Upcoming events and deadlines

If you have events to add to the EMBL Australia events calendar, drop us a note on with the details and a link for more information.


3 June – Enhancing Systems Biology Symposium: Howard Jacob, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

3 to 6 June – Correlative Light Electron Microscopy (CLEM) Masterclass, University of Sydney (registrations close 16 April)

3 to 10 June – International Course in Yeast Systems Biology, Gothenburg, Sweden

7 to 10 June – EMBO | EMBL Symposium, Cardiac Biology: From Development to Regenerative Medicine, Heidelberg, Germany

11 June – Victorian Systems Biology Collaborative: Neurodegeneration forum and networking event

19 to 21 June – Next Generataion Sequencing Hands-On Workshop, Curtin University, Perth

30 June to 12 July – EMBL Australia PhD School, Melbourne


1 to 5 July – Winter School in Mathematical and Computational Biology, University of Queensland


29 August to 4 September –  International Systems Biology Conference, Copenhagen


29 Sept – 3 Oct – ComBio 2013, Perth

30 Sept to 4 Oct – Practical Workshop on High-Throughput Sequencing Data Analysis, OIST, Okinawa, Japan


21 to 23 Nov – EMBL PhD Symposium, Competition in Biology: The Race for Survival from Molecules to Systems, Heidelberg, Germany

Australia’s membership of EMBL

EMBL – the European Molecular Biology Laboratory – is Europe’s flagship for the life sciences. The Australian government joined EMBL as an Associate Member in 2008.

EMBL Australia was created to maximise the benefits of Australia’s associate membership of EMBL. It creates opportunities for:

  • internationalising Australian research
  • empowering and training our best early career researchers/research leaders
  • embedding powerful new enabling tools such as bioinformatics and systems biology in Australian life science.

EMBL Australia comprises:

  • Victorian node at Monash University, with two research groups and SBI Australia (Systems Biology Institute)
  • South Australian node at SAHMRI, opening in 2013 with three research groups
  • Queensland node at the University of Queensland with the Bioinformatics Resource Australia and plans for future research groups
  • NSW node at the University of Sydney with one research group (currently based in Europe) and plans for future research groups
  • Australian Bioinformatics Network, based at CSIRO
  • A node will be developed at the University of Western Australia as funds and opportunities arise.

EMBL Australia is an unincorporated joint venture between members of the Group of Eight universities and the CSIRO, supported by the Australian government

Read more about EMBL Australia at:

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