- Time to die: killing cells to save lives
- World’s smallest, brightest nano-flashlights finding a diseased needle in a haystack
- The much-maligned appendix: not just for grass eaters
- Making blood on demand with stem cells?
Last night three outstanding medical researchers were among the winners of the 2015 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, announced at a gala Award Dinner at Sydney Town Hall. And an up-and-coming medical researcher won the secondary school prize for unveiling the secrets of the appendix in her video – in which her Nobel Prize-winning grandfather also makes an appearance.
A total of 16 prizes were given for outstanding contributions to Australian science.
Established in 1827, the Australian Museum is the nation’s first museum and one of its foremost scientific research, educational and cultural institutions. The Eureka Prizes are the most comprehensive national science awards, honouring excellence in Research and Innovation, Leadership, Science Communication and Journalism, and School Science.
Time to die: killing cells to save lives
Melbourne researchers have found a new use for an anti-cancer drug. They’re using it to eliminate hepatitis B cells by telling infected cells ‘it’s time to die’ – switching off the cell’s resistance to programmed cell death that is part of a cell’s normal life cycle.
The new treatment has been developed by a team at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, led by Dr Marc Pellegrini and Dr Greg Ebert.
For research into the treatment of hepatitis B, Dr Pellegrini and Dr Ebert have been awarded the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research.
“This is important work addressing one of the world’s most widespread deadly diseases,” Kim McKay AO, Executive Director and CEO of the Australian Museum said.
“There is currently no cure for hepatitis B, which infects 2 billion people and causes 780,000 deaths a year,” she said.
Previous hepatitis B treatments have encouraged immune cells to attack infected cells, but an over-active immune system carries its own health risks. Instead, by targeting a particular protein, whose job it is to inhibit programmed cell death, the new treatment selectively targets liver cells that are infected with hepatitis B, bypassing healthy cells.
If this broad approach is successful, there is the potential that it may pave the way for the development of similar treatments to tackle other major chronic infections such as HIV and tuberculosis, which kill millions of people around the world each year.
World’s smallest, brightest nano-flashlights finding a diseased needle in a haystack
The world’s smallest flashlights may be able to light up diseased cells in our bodies. These infected or cancerous cells may be hiding among millions of healthy cells. The Super Dots team has created tiny crystals that can be implanted in the body to reveal the dangerous needle in a haystack.
The Super Dots team that developed the method for detecting these hidden, diseased cells has been awarded the University of New South Wales Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research.
The Super Dots team is led by Professor Dayong Jin from the University of Technology Sydney and Macquarie University; Professor Tanya Monro from the University of South Australia and University of Adelaide, and Professor Bradley Walsh from Minomic International and Macquarie University. The work is being progressed by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics.
The Super Dots team has developed fluorescing nanocrystals that ‘switch on’ at different times, shining an intense, short burst of light – just tens of millionths of a second – that can reveal any diseased cells.
As well as real-time diagnosis of disease, the technology has potential for creating invisible, lifetime-coded inks that could add ‘uncrackable’ security to banknotes and passports.
The much-maligned appendix: not just for grass eaters
Paige Bebee, a ninth-grader from Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar School (Victoria), has won the University of Sydney Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize – Secondary.
Her entry, The Secret of the Appendix, explains the little-known organ and busts a few popular myths about its purpose in our body.
It explained not only the normal role of the appendix in our gut, but what can go wrong and how we can keep this important organ healthy.
Sponsored by the University of Sydney, the Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize is named in honour of Dr Karl (Kruszelnicki) and Adam Spencer.
“Scientific mythbusting to correct long-standing misunderstandings – as Paige has done in her film – is part of a building a scientifically-literate community,” Kim McKay AO, Executive Director and CEO of the Australian Museum said. “She has revealed the truth about our appendix and also cameos her Grandfather, Nobel Prize winner Professor Barry Marshall. Not a bad talent score!” Kim said. “It’s wonderful that our young scientists are so enthusiastic about communicating science.”
Fortunately, Paige was able to bust this particular scientific myth without resorting to swallowing toxic bacteria – as Professor Marshall did to prove that the bacterium, and not stress, is the cause of stomach ulcers.
Professor Marshall has a cameo at the start of the video – eating grass rather than ingesting bacteria.
Making blood on demand with stem cells?
Everyday medical procedures can require litres of donated blood. Could much of that blood be artificially created in the lab, reducing the pressure on blood banks?
A team of Melbourne and Sydney researchers has unlocked a mechanism that triggers stem cell production in blood, making the production of blood cells in the laboratory an achievable end goal.
The team comprises Professor Peter Currie and Phong Nguyen (Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute, Monash University) and Dr Georgina Hollway (Garvan Institute of Medical Research).
For identifying a mechanism that triggers stem cell production in zebrafish blood, they have been awarded the University of New South Wales Eureka Prize for Scientific Research.
For media enquiries please contact the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes media team:
- Niall Byrne, firstname.lastname@example.org, 0417 131 977
- Errol Hunt, email@example.com, 0423 139 210
For more information about all the winners visit australianmuseum.net.au/eureka