Monthly Archives: November 2018

$100 million investment in new PBS listings to fight cancer

Peter Mac was delighted to host The Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health, to announce important changes to the PBS which will provide or improve subsidised access to life-changing cancer drugs.

Minister Hunt toured Peter Mac’s labs prior to the announcement on Friday,  speaking with Professor Keiran Harvey (pictured left in the above photo) about his research which is focused on Drosophilia flies. The flies have genes which are also seen in humans, the study of which can yield important insights into the fundamental drivers on cancer.

The minister also met with patients who will directly benefit from the drug listings.

From December 1, patients with certain forms of leukaemia, advanced tumours of the intestine and pancreas, melanoma, bowel cancer and ovarian cancer.

More about the Peter Mac Centre

Peter Mac is one of the world’s leading cancer research, education and treatment centres globally and is Australia’s only public hospital solely dedicated to caring for people affected by cancer. We have over 2,500 staff, including more than 580 laboratory and clinical researchers, all focused on providing better treatments, better care and potential cures for cancer.

More about Prof Kieran Harvey

Professor Kieran Harvey is interested in the fundamental biological question of organ size control. His laboratory focuses on how deregulation of signalling networks that control organ size contributes to cancer, employing multiple model systems including the vinegar fly Drosophila melanogaster.

More about Prof Rick Pearson

As head of the Pearson Laboratory, a major focus of Professor Pearson’s research is to understand the molecular basis of the regulation of ribosome biogenesis and cell growth and to use this knowledge to address how deregulation of these processes contributes to cancer. His laboratory has recently demonstrated that dysregulation of ribosome biogenesis is critical in the development of cancers of the blood, ovary and skin and can be directly targeted using inhibitors of ribosome biogenesis to treat cancer. His laboratory now plans to build on this research, to develop of a novel class of anti-cancer agents targeting ribosome biogenesis, providing new options for single agent and combination therapies for these cancers.
Minister Hunt in the middle of 6 people all smiling for the camera

This article is sourced from our Proud Precinct Partner, Peter Mac Centre

New ACRF cancer research facility will harness structural biology to discover innovative cancer drugs in Melbourne

Two scientists, proudly smiling at the camera

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) will provide $2 million to fund the creation of the ACRF Facility for Innovative Cancer Drug Discovery at the Bio21 Institute, University of Melbourne.

The chief investigators, Professor Michael Parker and Dr David Ascher of Bio21, Professor Rick Pearson of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Professor John Silke of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, represent some of Victoria’s major cancer research institutions.

Professor Parker said: “The ACRF funding will make it possible to create a facility that houses some of the most cutting-edge structural biology instruments and technologies to cater for the cancer research community in the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct and beyond. It will provide our partners with powerful tools to develop and deliver new cancer drugs to patients.

Structural biology has played a key role in targeted molecular medicines including imatinib (Gleevec) to treat myeloid leukaemia, venetoclax for leukaemia and gefitinib for lung cancer.

“Structural biology holds the key to developing innovative cancer drugs by providing detailed information about the shape of molecules that are involved in cancer-causing biological signalling pathways within cells of our bodies,” Professor Parker said.

ACRF chief executive Professor Ian Brown said: “The ACRF is proud to be providing the ACRF Facility for Innovative Cancer Drug Discovery with state-of-the-art equipment for the identification, development and delivery of drugs for cancers in this era of personalised medicine where there is currently no therapy available or where improved treatments are required. Structure-based drug discovery offers great potential to hasten advances to improved patient outcomes.”

The grant was announced at a reception hosted by the Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia, His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd) and Lady Cosgrove, tonight at Admiralty House in Sydney.

The Bio21 Institute of Molecular Science and Biotechnology aims to understand human health and disease at the molecular level and improve patient outcomes through biotechnology. It is home to more than 700 research scientists, making it one of the largest biotechnology research centres in Australia. The Institute has major analytical and imaging technology platforms providing world-leading capability to researchers in the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct.

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) supports Australian cancer research to end all types of cancer. ACRF funding for cutting-edge technology and infrastructure to speed up discoveries in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment. For more information, please visit

The Melbourne Biomedical Precinct in Parkville has more than 25 health service, research and academic partners, making it one of the world’s largest life science research clusters and Australia’s largest research and higher education teaching precinct. Partners include Bio21, the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, the University of Melbourne, Cancer Therapeutics CRC (CTx), CSL, CSIRO, Monash Institute of Pharmacological Sciences and Melbourne Health.
Professor Michael Parker and Dr David Ascher are available for interview.


This article is sourced from our Proud Precinct Partners, Bio21 


Study Master of Cancer Science in 2019

Logo for Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre

Explore an unprecedented breadth of integrated, advanced cancer knowledge

In 2019 the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre with the University of Melbourne is offering a Master of Cancer Sciences program for the first time.

The two-year, part-time course will be Australia’s first cancer-specific, wholly online program, delivered by world-class experts from the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) and Australia’s leading university. It will equip students with cutting-edge, specialist knowledge from the forefront of the rapidly evolving fields of clinical care and cancer research.

Whether you aspire to provide top quality clinical care or high impact cancer research, our Master of Cancer Sciences program will enable you to connect the latest evidence-based knowledge to practical skills, positioning you to make a strong contribution to a world-class cancer workforce.


The VCCC is offering 20 supported places to study in 2019


Twenty supported places are being offered in 2019, providing 50% fee reduction for the first year. Apply by 30 November.

Core subjects for Masters:

Foundations of Cancer
Cancer Research
Research Thesis Capstone – Part 1 (Core for Masters)
Research Thesis Capstone – Part 2 (Core for Masters)
Cancer in Society
Cancer Therapeutics
Cancer Diagnostics
Supportive Care and Palliative Care
Cancer Prevention and Control
Drug Discovery and Development
Cancer Across the Lifespan
End of Life Issues
Foundations of Leadership
Quantitative Methods for Evaluation
Psychosocial Oncology
Health Behaviour Change
Leadership in Practice

Online course options
Term 1 February 2019
Term 2 April 2019
Term 3 July 2019
Term 4 October 2019

Applications close: 14 January 2019

For further information and to register your interest:

You can also contact The University of Melbourne student support team at or +61 3 8344 0149 (Mon–Fri 8.00am–9.00pm, Sat–Sun 10.00am–5.00pm, public holidays 10.00am–5.00pm).

This article is sourced from our proud Precinct Partner, VCCC 


Professor Bernhard Baune appointed as Co-Head of the Florey’s Mental Health Theme

Professor wearing clear rim glasses and a blue suit smiles for the photo
Professor Baune has accepted an honorary appointment at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and will co-head our mental health theme with Professor Andrew Lawrence

Prof. Bernhard Baune (PhD, MD, MPH, FRANZCP) is Cato Chair and Head of the Department of Psychiatry at The University of Melbourne, Australia.

Prof. Baune is a Fellow of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrist (FRANZCP), Australia.

Prof. Baune’s strong background using preclinical rodent models and in translational research places his integrative research approach at the interface between clinical research, psychiatric neuroscience and molecular psychiatry, stimulating forward and backward translational research in the etiology and pathophysiology of major psychiatric disorders.

He leads an extensive research program into personalised psychiatry, prediction and biomarker research in psychiatry and treatment response prediction and in neuroimmunology. Key research achievements include an in-depth understanding of the interaction between the immune and nervous system, the development of a systems biology approach for response prediction and the establishment of innovative personalised clinical trials in major psychiatric disorders. He has a particular interest in cognitive function and psychosocial function in psychiatric disorders and in the severe course of mental illness, treatment response and recovery. Prof. Baune designs and conducts personalized randomized clinical trials that take clinical and biological information into account to inform treatments. He is developing novel pharmacological and psychological treatments for improving emotion processing, cognitive function and functional outcomes in mood disorders.

Bernhard’s translational work aims to make real-world differences to the lives of people with mental illness by integrating neurobiological and clinical information, by personalising treatments and by targeting the mechanisms of functional recovery.

Bernhard currently leads an international study on the genomics of cognitive function in depression; in addition, he founded and directs an international consortium on the genomics of severe depression and response to ECT in affective disorders (GenECT-ic) and leads an international research network on transnosological pharmacogenomics and transcriptomics of treatment response. His research is nationally and internationally funded and he has published more than 470 peer-reviewed articles, reviews and book chapters, edited several text books in Psychiatry, and most recently the books “Personalised Psychiatry” and “Inflammation and Immunity of Depression”. He is member of numerous editorial boards of international Journals in Psychiatry and related fields.

Please join us in welcoming Bernhard to the Florey. We look forward to his contributions to our research and the new opportunities he will bring to the Florey and the broader precinct.


This article is sourced from our Proud Precinct Partner, The Florey Institute

Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancers: Role of Dental and Medical Practitioners – 15 March 2019

Photograph of a dentist's gloved hands working in a patient's mouth performing and oral exam

Early diagnosis, care and management of oral cancer: Dental and medical practitioners have a major role to play in the diagnosis, care and management of patients with head and neck cancer.

Learn about the care and management of oral and oropharyngeal cancers at a one-day professional development forum hosted by the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre alliance.

The course will be conducted in the new VCCC building in Parkville. Some of you will fondly remember the building as 711 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne.

Delegates will gain an introduction to oral oncology focusing on the early diagnosis of oral and oropharyngeal cancer , treatment pathways, consequences and complications of the disease. Ensure you are up-to-date with the latest research and therapies in oral oncology and advance your knowledge and skills in this specialist area.

Who should attend?

Dentists, dental therapists, dental specialists, dental hygienists, oral health therapists.General and specialist medical practitioners, and allied health practitioners with an interest in head and neck cancer

Learning objectives
  • Understand the aetiology, recognition, early diagnosis and referral of oral and oropharyngeal cancers
  • Identify the major fundamentals of treatment for head and neck cancer
  • Understand the principles of treatment planning, pre and post-cancer treatment
  • Identify complications and their management, including both the of short and long-term effects of treatment

Expert speakers from the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre’s ten partner alliance will facilitate the day with both a morning and afternoon program. A question-and-answer opportunity will be hosted by a panel of clinicians at the forefront of head and neck cancer research and clinical care. Patients will be present to discuss their own care and its impact on their lives.

The full day program will provide CPD hours.



Half-day program cost is $ 200.00 (8.30am – 1.00pm)
Full-day program cost is $ 350.00 (8.30am – 5.00pm)
Read draft program

Event details
Date: Thursday 15 March 2019
Time: 8.30am – 5.00pm
Location: Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, Level 7 Lecture Theatre B,
Address: 305 Grattan Street, Parkville

Morning and afternoon teas and a light lunch will be provided.

Register today to attend

Thinking of studying Biomedicine? – 12 Dec

photo of students in lab coats and safety glasses examining a fragment of skull.

Thinking about studying Biomed with the University of Melbourne in 2019?

Join us on Facebook Live as we talk to a panel of Biomed students and academics about everything you need to know for 2019.

This is your opportunity to chat with students and recent graduates about what it’s really like to study Biomed, careers, scholarships, internships, exchange and much, much more!


Hear from the The University of Melbourne’s Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.



More information about the University of Melbourne

Established in 1853, The University of Melbourne is a public-spirited institution that makes distinctive contributions to society in research, learning and teaching and engagement. We are
committed to being one of the finest universities in the world, contributing to society in ways that enrich and transform people’s lives. Ranked as the number 1 University in Australia and
32 in the worldQ, The University of Melbourne offers a uniquely Australian experience helping graduates become well-rounded, thoughtful and skilled professionals capable of making a
positive and global impact. Situated in the heart of Australia’s second largest city, Melbourne has a fast-growing population of approximately four million. It is an international cultural
hub characterised by friendly people, festivals, sporting events, architecture, art, cuisine, an outdoor lifestyle, green spaces and beaches.

More about the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct

Melbourne has biomedical capabilities unparalleled in Australia and the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct ranks as one of the best facilities of its kind in the world. Located on the edge of the CBD, the precinct is a hub of innovation, home to an exceptional network of skilled workers, quality education providers and leading research institutes and hospitals.


This article is sourced from the University of Melbourne Medicine, Dentistry & Health Sciences Facebook page and the Faculty Brochure.

University of Melbourne are Proud Precinct Partners.

BioBreakfast – Transformation in Pharma Manufacturing for Clinical Trials – 10 December

BioMelbourne Network BioBreakfast logo

As part of our ongoing advanced manufacturing series this BioBreakfast will be looking at topics around issues relating to manufacturing for clinical trials and challenges in phase II trials.

With guests:

Dr Jane Ryan – Consultant for Stakeholder Engagement, CSIRO
Craig Rogers – SVP of Asia Pacific, PCI Clinical Services
Dr Christian Behrenbruch – Chief Executive Officer, Telix Pharmaceuticals Limited
Jo Sherriff – Senior GMP Consultant, SeerPharma

Jane Ryan, representing CSIRO, will be speaking at the event on the Advanced Biotechnology Manufacturing Platform (ABMP) and their vision for addressing the unmet need in scaling-up manufacturing for clinical trials. The proposed manufacturing facility, ABMP, will enable process development and production of clinical-grade biologicals at the pilot scale to support clinical translation.

Craig Rogers, Senior Vice President for PCI Asia Pacific will be joining Jane in presenting and then both speakers will be taking part in a panel discussion together with Christian Behrenbruch, Chief Executive Officer, Telix Pharmaceuticals Limited and facilitated by Jo Sherriff, Senior GMP Consultant, SeerPharma. Areas for discussion include innovation strategies improving streamline efficiencies in increased production processes with increasingly complex manufacturing environments.

When: Monday 10 December 2018

Where: The Cube, ACMI, Federation Square, Melbourne

Cost: BioMelbourne Network Members: $65; Non-members: $130 (prices include GST)

Check if your organisation is a member

7:20 am – Registration
7:30 am – Networking breakfast
8:00 am – Presentations and discussion
9:00 am – Close

Book now

About our guest speaker/s

Female doctor with medium length dark hair smiles at the camera

Dr Jane Ryan
Consultant for Stakeholder Engagement, CSIRO

Jane has over 30 years of international experience in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries where she has held executive roles in management of research and development programs as well as business development and alliance management. Jane has worked in Australia, the US and UK with companies including Peptech, Roche, Cambridge Antibody Technology and Biota Holdings. Throughout her career, she has led many successful fundraising campaigns and licensing initiatives including the awarding of a $230m US Government contract.

Jane currently chairs the Advisory Board at the ithree Institute at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) which studies how microbes grow, live, adapt and survive. She is also Part-time Vice President of Research and Development at Reef Pharmaceuticals and advisor to Opal Pharmaceuticals. Jane was previously a Board Member of Diabetes Victoria, TechInSA, Diabetes Vaccine Development Centre, and veski. Jane is assisting CSIRO with its GMP protein manufacture initiative.


Craig RogersMale pharmacist wearing glasses and a red tie smiles at the camera.

SVP of Asia Pacific, PCI Clinical Services

Craig Rogers is a registered pharmacist, toxicologist and lawyer. He has more than 20 years of experience working within the pharmaceutical industry with a specific focus on manufacture of investigational product for early phase clinical trials and regulatory affairs. Craig established PPP a TGA licensed cGMP manufacturing facility in 2008, based on his gap analysis of the services available in the local market for finished product manufacture of investigational products. He sold the business to the US-based PCI Pharma Services in March 2018.


Joining the speakers on the panel

Dr Christian BehrenbruchBlack and white photo of male doctor smiling at the camera

Chief Executive Officer, Telix Pharmaceuticals Limited

Chris Behrenbruch has 20 years of healthcare entrepreneurship and executive leadership experience. He has previously served in a CEO or Executive Director capacity at Mirada Solutions, CTI Molecular Imaging (now Siemens Healthcare), Fibron Technologies and ImaginAb, Inc. He is a former Director of Momentum Biosciences LLC, Siemens Molecular Imaging Ltd, Radius Health Ltd (now Adaptix) and was the former Chairman of Cell Therapies P/L (a partnership with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre). Chris is currently a director of Factor Therapeutics (ASX:FTT) and Amplia Therapeutics P/L. He is

Chairman of the Monash Engineering and IT Foundation Board and is an Adjunct Professor at Monash University. Chris holds a D.Phil (PhD) in biomedical engineering from the University of Oxford, an executive MBA jointly awarded from New York University, HEC Paris and the London School of Economics (TRIUM Program) and a Juris Doctor (Law) from the University of Melbourne.


Facilitated by

Jo Sherriff           Female Chemist wearing glasses smiles at the camera

Senior GMP Consultant, SeerPharma

Jo is an experienced senior compliance engineer and senior consultant, with 20 years of experience within the pharmaceutical and life science industries. She is not only a qualified Chemical Engineer but also a specialist in development and execution of GMP validation documentation; GMP Design Reviews; and development of Quality Systems. She also has extensive experience with non-GMP facility compliance, TGA, FDA, DAWR (Biosecurity), OGTR, ARPANSA, SSBA, and Pharmacy Board of Australia, SHPA, PRASA compliance.

Jo is an experienced presenter of Validation Workshops and GMP Training, and conducts Quality Assurance Audits.

A smarter way to deliver drugs

A bright red nanoparticle image

Dr Georgina Such works with nanoparticles to deliver vaccines and drugs, but a breakthrough in the field could be life-changing for people with cancer

We want to make a nanoparticle that works better. To find a smarter way to deliver drugs. To achieve this, we are interested in unpacking how nanoparticle properties affect the ability to deliver drugs – this means understanding how nanoparticles can be engineered to interact with the body better. There is one road block that we are particularly interested in studying.

Dr Such designs nanoparticles that are modular.

When many of our nanoparticles are delivered into a cell, they are delivered into a compartment which is like the stomach of the cell. It basically acts to chew up everything it doesn’t recognise. The problem is that our very expensive drugs – our nanoparticles, which we have spent ages engineering – become trapped there.

A drug doesn’t act effectively there and it needs to be released into the rest of the cell. But how do we engineer its release? That’s really hard to do. Even the best nanoparticles only get out in small amounts. We’re interested in trying to unpick that road block, known as the endosomal escape.

We are also playing with vaccines. We’re looking at taking a model protein and delivering it. It could tell us whether our nanoparticles allow a good immune response. Our first port of call is not a specific disease, but a model vaccine. Then we could look at something like flu where a lot of work has been done on understanding how vaccines for that sort of illness fare.

Collaborating is King

For this work, collaborations are crucial. I have a lovely collaborator in biochemistry – Dr Justine Mintern, who heads the Vaccine Biology Laboratory at the University of Melbourne. She is helping us by studying some of our materials and vaccines. And I’m also working with Dr Angus Johnston, at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, who is trying to understand these materials. We’re getting there but it’s a long-term process.

Our nanoparticles can also be used to deliver more traditional types of drugs, but we think the problem of biological drugs is more challenging and more interesting. We do deliver hydrophobic drugs and look at how they behave but our focus is on this biological drug problem.

When I first started my own research group in 2013, I decided I was interested in designing nanoparticles that were a little more simple and modular, so that we could do them in a couple of steps. It was something that would ultimately be attractive to industry because anyone could do them.

Female scientist holds vial and is smiling at the camera. She is wearing a lab coat and safety googles

Dr Georgina Such

Getting smarter and enlisting nanoparticles in the fight against superbugs

A breakthrough would be life-changing. If we can improve vaccines so they are more potent, and could be used for chronic diseases like cancer – that could change the lives of so many people.
I would love to work on a vaccine for cancer. I got kidney cancer about four years ago and it was just out of left field. I felt really healthy and then went to a doctor and then suddenly I had kidney cancer. It touched my family, as I had two young children at the time; my son was only 18-months-old.

I’m one of those people who is insanely upbeat. It’s very annoying for most people. To be a research scientist, you have to be incredibly stubborn and tenacious. You have to go home, maybe sulk for half-an-hour and then go, “No! I have a new idea. I want to try X, or I want to try Y”. And then you get inspired all over again.

Family is very important to me. Until his retirement, my father was the chief scientist at Dulux and he now actually works as a consultant for me. He’s working with me and a PhD student on designing nanomaterials.

Even the best nanoparticles only get out in small amounts. Picture: Wellcome Trust
We have tried many different nanomaterials and we don’t understand to this day why some of them have worked and some haven’t. What inspires me about that is the huge challenge to understand this biological environment. And what’s not to love about that?

Pitting yourself against something that’s fighting you back every step of the way. It just keeps you going, piecing a little bit more of the puzzle together. I unashamedly love what I do.

Putting cells through their paces

My work is a quest. The things most worth doing are hard, but that’s true of everything in life. There’s so much rejection and so many knocks, especially being a woman in science where you have other things on your mind and other balls in the air.

If I get too stressed about something or too worked up, I think about that moment when my kids came into hospital to see me. And I think, let it go. Cancer has given me perspective and that’s very useful in academia. I’m very passionate about what I do but at the end of the day, what is important? I believe it’s family and the people you love.

– As told to Muriel Reddy

First published on 22 November 2018 in Under the Microscope

This article is sourced from Proud Precinct partners, University of Melbourne 

Special evening lecture: Professor Wim H. van Harten – 29 November

Wide angle shot of the VCCC, a christmas tree is on the ground floor.

Value Transformation in Dutch Hospitals: Portfolios, Pathways and New Models of Care

Visiting Professor Wim H. van Harten will present a special evening lecture during his visit to Australia.  Wim H. van Harten is the CEO of Rijnstate (general) Hospital in Arnhem, a large teaching hospital with an annual expenditure of € 460 million and around 4500 employees, of whom around 275 are medical specialists and 130 MDs in specialist training.

The presentation will provide insights on the concentration of health services from a European perspective, along with networks in oncology and the development of hospitals taking responsibility for delivery of specialised care at home.

Professor Wim H. van Harten MD, PhD, MPH

Wim H. van Harten spent 5 years in Cameroon after his graduation as M.D. and specialisation in tropical medicine. On returning from Africa he focused on public health and health administration. He obtained a degree in community medicine/public health while working as Chief Medical Advisor of a major health insurance company (1986-1992). He completed his PhD on quality management in health care (1997) and started a research group in close cooperation with the University of Twente.

In June 2001, he became Member of the Executive Board of the Netherlands Cancer Institute – Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Hospital (NKI-AVL), a prominent European Comprehensive Cancer Center in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, being in charge of Organisation & Management. The NKI is the only designated Comprehensive Cancer center in the Netherlands with an annual expenditure of over € 300 million. From 2005 he was acting as Research Group leader at the Division of Psychosocial Research and Epidemiology at the NKI.

Since 2001 he is part-time professor on Quality Management and Health Care Technology at the department of Health Technology and Services Research of the School of Management and Governance at the University of Twente, the Netherlands. After serving on the board of the Organization of European Cancer Institutes (OECI) for a number of years, he served as President of the OECI from 2011-2014. He is a member of the Accreditation and Designation Group of the OECI. He is one of the founders of this system and chaired reviews of major centers like Cambridge, Manchester/Christies, Helsinki University and Oslo University. He chairs the OECI working group on health economics.

From 2008 – 2014 he was chosen to serve as Board member of the Netherlands Hospital Association with the portfolio of innovation, drug costs and quality issues.

In December 2015 he started as CEO of Rijnstate (general) Hospital in Arnhem. In the annual insurers survey on 2015, Rijnstate ranked fourth in annual patient volume in the Netherlands. Presently a large 10-year renovation investment plan is underway involving total restructuring real estate and facilities, innovating clinical in-patient services, upgrading R&D structure and heavy IT, EMR and data mining investments. Rijnstate serves as a business school ‘care study’ of IESE/Barcelona in its 2018 curriculum in The Hospital of the Future.

Details for the Evening Lecture:

Date: Thursday 29 November 2018
Venue:  VCCC Building, Level 7 Lecture Theatres
Time: Presentation: 5-6pm

Followed by networking refreshments in the foyer
Register here

Surgeries of the future?

female surgeon standing at the front of an auditorium giving a presentation with colourful slides.

CSN Event Report

Written by Beth Davey | Science Communications Officer | Convergence Science Network


How Claudia Di Bella uses computers, robots and 3D printing in the operating room

Only a few years ago, the ideas of 3D printing and regular use of robotics were something from a futuristic movie or television show. In 2018 Dr. Claudia Di Bella is using these techniques everyday to improve her surgeries and get better outcomes for patients. Claudia, an orthopaedic surgeon with a flair for innovative research, completed her medical training at the world’s oldest continuous medical school at the University of Bologna, Italy. She specialises in oncological orthopaedics, and operates on patients with cancers of the bone, cartilage, and musculoskeletal system. With her ‘other hat’, Claudia runs a bio-printing lab at the BioFab3D facility at St. Vincent’s hospital in Melbourne, which aims to use new technologies to regenerate cartilage and other musculoskeletal tissues.

New technology #1: Computer-navigated surgeries to increase accuracy and improve patient outcomes

Accuracy is undoubtedly the most important skill that a surgeon can have, and modern surgery has always simply relied on the surgeon’s technical skills – and what they can physically see. Successful surgeries are the result of a surgeon’s ability to “match what they plan, with what they do.” In orthopedics, surgery relies on landmarks – structures within the body such as bones and muscle groups that help guide surgeons to make cuts in the correct location. Using landmarks for navigation in surgery first emerged about 15 years ago, by physically placing markers on these landmarks and using computer navigation to determine more precise cutting locations. However, every patient’s body is different, and a landmark on one person may be a few centimetres misplaced in another. Likewise, we can’t expect all surgeons to have absolutely precise, flawless technical ability.

To remedy this, surgeons can now use navigation during surgery via CT scans to identify landmarks and plan the next steps while the patient is already in the operating theatre.  Even more advanced, intraoperative navigation can be used to completely plan a surgery from CT and MRI scans. These techniques not only give surgeons more confidence in their precision, but make each surgery a more personalised experience for the individual patient.

New technology #2: Could a robot replace a surgeon’s job altogether?

Are robots used in surgery? It sounds like something completely futuristic, however in 2018 robots are a reality in the operating room. Procedures can be completed with the assistance of robots, or a robot can actually act as the surgeon’s hands to cut and repair tissue! A surgeon can sit in a console with their head embedded in a virtual reality style headset, driving instruments with their hands that correspond to those on a surgical robot.

The robot has a camera, so the surgeon can see exactly what is happening in 3D around them without needing to be scrubbed into the sterile operating room. This idea of ‘hands-off’ surgery may sound absolutely terrifying to many, and there is one key downside to remote robotic surgery – the lack of human touch. Surgeons use their sense of touch to assess how soft, firm or spongy tissue might be, and robots are unable to give feedback to the surgeon in terms of how the surgery ‘feels’.

Robots are more commonly used alongside surgeons in the operating room. Claudia uses robots in conjunction with her own surgical techniques to pre-plan joint replacement surgeries from CT scans. She uses the robot to perform the planned surgery, and it is able to stop at any point if she is going off course, too fast, or taking a risk.

Although robots may sometimes be completing near entire surgeries, they won’t be taking surgeons out of a job anytime soon. Surgery is all about planning and decision making, and the surgeon is still the brains behind the procedure – robots are merely a tool to amplify this.

New technology #3: 3D printing – tumours, implants..and cells?

3D-printing has become a bit of a trend in the last five years, and as Claudia points out, you can even buy a small 3D-printer at Aldi! 3D printing can be used in a multitude of ways in general life, from building models, small plastic trinkets, jewellery, even some types of food can be 3D-printed! In surgery, it can be used both in planning and completing procedures. A surgeon may 3D print models of a heart with a defect, a tumour, or misshapen or fractured bones, and use these models to work out the best surgical procedure to perform.

In orthopedics, surgeons can design personalised cutting guides designed exclusively for each individual patient. These can be printed in a sterile environment, and put directly on the bone in surgery to make cuts that are perfect every time. Even further, metal implants can be 3D printed and are safe to place in the body (and much less expensive than traditional implants!). Claudia uses 3D printing to plan surgeries to remove difficult orthopaedic tumours; she designs guides to make the cuts, does the surgery, and uses 3D-printed implants that once fitted are “absolutely perfect”.

3D-printing for reconstruction in the orthopaedic field is “absolutely huge”- but can you 3D print biological material like cells? Claudia describes the Biopen, a mini 3D printer that uses ‘stem-cell ink’ to deposit cells when repairing knee injuries. The Biopen was developed at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, and is can be used like any other surgical instrument during a procedure. The pen is loaded with stem cells in a special material called Hydrogel, which keeps the cells alive and thriving during the stressful printing process. This allows surgeons to deliver stem cells into a damaged area during surgery, such as a pre-arthritic lesion. The cell material becomes hard, and over time the cells are able to regenerate cartilage into the damaged area. Trials to date using the Biopen in animal models have been very successful, with studies in humans hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

Future technologies in surgery, medicine and beyond:

With this age of robotics, 3D printing and computer navigation being routinely used in surgery, what more could the future hold? The possibilities are seemingly endless-with each new technological advance, there is a potential application for medicine and surgery. For example, ‘organ on a chip’ technologies are changing the way we investigate biology, and provide a great physiologically relevant alternative to using animal models. Virtual and augmented reality systems could be the future of medical training, as trainee surgeons can experience the ins-and-outs of surgical procedures without need for extensive use of cadavers, animal models and other forms of education. Each advance in technology provides new techniques for surgeons to explore, improves surgical outcomes for patients, and creates an entirely new way of thinking about modern surgery.


If you missed the talk or you would like to see it again, you can do so here. 


This article was sourced from our proud Precinct Partner : The Convergence Science Network 

Monday Lunch Live featuring A/Prof Allison Werner-Lin (US) – 10 December

Photograph of a Monday Lunch Live auditorium clapping and smiling

A/Prof Allison Werner-Lin is from the School of Social Policy and Practice, University of Pennsylvania. She is also senior advisor, US National Cancer Institute, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics and we are delighted to welcome her to the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre.

Studying the ethical, legal, and social implications of genomic technologies is vitally important to identifying pathways towards greater engagement in personalised medicine, thereby extending the potential of genomic discovery. Yet, too often, psychosocial genomics research only includes individual perspectives and adaptations. When families are included, the focus is on the uptake of genetic testing by first-degree relatives and limited attention, if any, is given to other family members related by blood, law, or choice. Dr Werner-Lin’s research considers the ways families engage with genomic medicine and identifies how engagement is driven by ongoing family dynamics, social contexts, complex disease histories, and grief. Her work suggests practice models informed by family systems and developmental perspectives can support patient engagement in genomic medicine to reduce psychosocial harms.

Allison Werner-Lin’s research addresses the intersection of genomic discovery and family life. Her work seeks to broaden social work’s guiding ‘person-in-environment’ framework to include genetic variation as a core feature of assessment, one in constant interaction with developmental, sociocultural, and environmental contexts. Presently, her work addresses the ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI) of emerging genomic technologies in reproductive, pediatric, adolescent, and young adult populations with inherited cancer predisposition syndromes.

She is among the first to explore the psychosocial challenges unique to women and men of reproductive age who carry a genetic mutation (BRCA1/2), which exposes carriers to elevated risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. She holds appointments with the Clinical Genetics Branch of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute where she oversees psychosocial research addressing hereditary tumor predisposition syndromes, including Li-Fraumeni Syndrome. She is a member of the Scientific Committee governing the International Meeting on Psychosocial Aspects of Hereditary Cancer, serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, and is a Distinguished Fellow of the Society for Social Work and Research, where she serves as facilitator of the Cancer Special Interest Group, and the National Academies of Practice in Social Work.



Date: Monday 10 December 2018
Time: Presentation: 1-2pm
Venue: VCCC Building, Level 7 Lecture Theatres
Catering: Light lunch served from 12.30pm


Photograph of a Monday Lunch Live auditorium clapping and smiling



MTGT Pre-Accelerator Week – 10-14 December

Branding image for the Medtech's got talent Pre-accelerator program, 10 to 14 December 2018

If you have an interest in learning more about MedTech commercialisation, you can attend this one week course delivered by prominent experts in the Australian medical devices industry.

The course content is listed below:

December 10, 2018, 12.45 – 5.00pm | Regulatory, reimbursement and clinical trials pathway
December 11, 2018, 8.30am – 3.30pm | Intellectual property and business law
December 12, 2018, 8.30am – 3.00pm | Product development, design thinking and commercialisation trajectory
December 13, 2018, 8.30am – 3.30pm | Capital raising, financing MedTech innovation and exit strategies
December 14, 2018, 8.30 – 12.45pm | Social media and market research for emerging MedTech start-ups
Tickets can be purchased for either half-day/full-day workshops or the full five days sessions.

Prices range from $80 per day to $200 for all sessions.


Mon., 10/12/2018, 8:00 am –
Fri., 14/12/2018, 12:45 pm AEDT

Goods Shed North
710 Collins Street
Docklands, VIC 3008


Australia’s First National Medtech Accelerator!

We set a new global standard for medical technology commercialisation acceleration. Our program deploys a dynamic, integrated program that supports rapid transformation of new ideas into solutions that change the face of global healthcare.

MedTech startups accelerate from Seed stage to Series A in 15 months by combining talented creativity with disruptive financial models and comprehensive domain expertise, and by supporting leadership development to create the next generation of advanced technology entrepreneurs.

Milestone momentum is rewarded with multiple capital injection points and the program is tightly linked to startup pathways across the globe. Driven by industry leadership, investor connectivity and market pull mechanisms, The Actuator is in the business of signal not noise: focusing on what really matters to transform healthcare and the future of innovation.

The Actuator is also home to MedTech’s Got Talent –

You can download more information about the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct Medical Devices can be found here

Maximise your clinical research impact – a practical workshop for clinicians – 7 December

Logo for Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre

Want your research to change the cancer landscape? Want to influence decision makers and attract further funding? Want to reach out to patients affected by your work?


Achieving these impacts requires a plan for delivering the right information, to the right people, at the right time, and in a format that they can use.

This one-day intensive workshop offers practical tools to help you embed a plan for impact across all stages of your research, using a knowledge transfer framework approach.

Influence and engage with peers, policy-makers, consumers, funding bodies and others.

Participants will be equipped with:

  • Practical knowledge transfer frameworks that can be applied to individual research projects
  • Understanding and skills to support the development of effective relationships with research end-users and decision-makers
  • Skills and strategies for effectively communicating research to a range of audiences and end-users

The day will cover:

  • Introduction, context, participants’ purposes and needs for impact planning
  • Knowledge transfer theory and evidence – overview
  • Knowledge transfer planning frameworks and strategies for research impact
  • Communicating research
  • Dissemination planning

Dr Rebecca Armstrong, Associate Professor, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, Dr Anita Horvath, Senior Lecturer, Department of Medical Education



Date: Friday 7 December 2018
Venue: Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre – Level 13 Meeting room, 305 Grattan St, Parkville
Registration: 8.30 – 9.00am
Workshop: 9.00am – 4.30pm

Cost: free

Book your spot

*Please note this session is open to VCCC partner organisation staff only

Please contact Erin Turner ( if you have any questions.


Learn more about the VCCC.
The VCCC opened in 2016 and is the first comprehensive cancer centre of its type in Australia.

The VCCC’s multi-site, multi-disciplinary model is a powerful alliance of 10 leading research, clinical and academic institutions with a shared commitment to working together to advance and accelerate cancer research, treatments, prevention and care.

The VCCC is currently developing a strategic research platform that will progress new research evidence in key focus areas from lab bench-to-bedside, supported by targeted education programs across the spectrum of cancer control work, as well as key initiatives to support improvements in patient care.  Visit their website here: 

Turning nursing ideas into research workshop – 23 November

Are you a nurse who cares for patients affected by cancer?
Do you have a great clinical question that you would like to be able to turn into a research project to benefit your patients?

Turning Nursing Ideas into Research is a new, one-day workshop developed by the University of Melbourne’s Department of Nursing and School of Population and Global Health and the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre to build confidence and skills in cancer nurses who want to carry out a clinical research project.
Workshop Content

You will spend the day with a small group of peers talking about ideas/questions and potential opportunities for research. How to refine topics or problems will be explored.  You’ll learn how to pitch an idea and get others onboard, identify key stakeholders, and plan a research project.

The workshop will be facilitated by Prof Mei Krishnasamy, VCCC Research and Education Lead for Nursing and Dr Helen Jordan, Evaluation and Implementation Science Unit, School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne.
Who should attend?
Nurses who work with cancer patients and who may be interested in carrying out a clinical research project.  Participants will benefit by bringing ideas to the forum which can be shared and workshopped with others.
Apply now
This is a new opportunity offered exclusively to nurses within the seven clinical partners of the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre.  Places are limited but all are encouraged to apply.

Friday 23 November 2018
Registration: 8.30am – 9.00am
Workshop: 9.00am – 4.30pm

Morning tea and lunch will be provided
Level 13 Meeting Room, VCCC, 305 Grattan Street, Parkville
*Please note this session is open to VCCC partner organisation staff only.  The workshop will be recorded for teaching and learning purposes.

Book your place now

Read more about the upcoming events at the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre here.

Could lab-grown human minibrains help treat Alzheimer’s and epilepsy?

A colourful network of brain pathways dual smad

This year, as the worlds of science, technology and literature marked the bicentenary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in some laboratories human cells were being coaxed into a tiny version of the organ that most defines us.

Depending on where you sit, these “minibrains” – formally known as cerebral organoids – could rival Shelley’s creation on the monstrosity scale, raising deep moral questions about consciousness and the nature of humanity.

But they also promise hope of a cure for illnesses ranging from childhood epilepsy to Alzheimer’s disease and brain cancer.

I’ve come to Melbourne’s Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health to hunt a minibrain down. I’m expecting to find it in a dish, on a bench or perhaps in a fridge.

As it happens, the first one we stumble upon is in the bin.

A special bin for biowaste, of course. The neural tissue has died after serving its purpose and is now merely a smudge of pink on a plastic slide.

Still, it seems inconceivable that this miracle of science could qualify as rubbish.

Steve Petrou

Prof Steve Petrou in the lab. Credit – Pat Scala

The contrast becomes more extreme when I sit down to chat with Florey Institute director Professor Steven Petrou. He is leading research that creates organoids to mimic the behaviour of the brains of children with rare, debilitating forms of epilepsy.

“Some of these kids can’t speak, are not mobile, they sit in a cot, they have 20 seizures a day and they die when they’re 12. So, absolutely devastating neuro-developmental disorders,”The researchers take skin cells from the children, turn them into pluripotent stem cells that can form almost any tissue in the body, then direct them to become neurons.

Through a microscope you can clearly see the slender bodies of those brain cells afloat in a watery matrix. Hook them up to electrodes and you get something mind-bending. These guys are talking to each other – the computer shows spikes of electrical activity as the neurons fire.

A multi-electrode array used to measure electrical activity in minibrains

But for the kids Petrou is trying to help, the chatter is out of whack. Some have a mutation in a gene called SCN2A that controls the passage of sodium in and out of the neuron.

“This is a gain of function of excitation, so this channel works too hard and produces epilepsy,” says Petrou.

Replicating that glitch in a dish has allowed the researchers to tailor a treatment right there on the bench; Petrou is on the verge of announcing a clinical trial of a gene therapy to treat one variant of the disorder.

And it won’t just aim to stop the seizures.

The idea with precision medicine in this application is if you can fix the fundamental disorder far enough back in the pathological chain, you should fix all the problems,” says Petrou.
If the treatment works, these kids could be spared the intellectual disability and movement disorders that go hand-in-glove with constant seizures.

Complexity is something of a buzzword in organoid research. Recent Australian research upped the stakes by 3D-printing brain tissue, bringing a replica brain on a bench into tantalising – if very distant – focus.

But Petrou stresses just how tricky that task is going to be.

“We know how fragile a real brain is. One genetic mutation, some trauma, and that brain doesn’t work anymore,” he says. “It is so easy to break and therefore that means it is probably going to be so difficult to reproduce.”

Nonetheless, as the technology advances you wonder if those organoids could grow to the point where one day they start to gain bona fide moral status.

If that happens, the first sign might just be a very slight pang as scientists toss their dreaming minibrains into the garbage.

This is an edited extract from a larger story by Paul Biegler which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald

Article sourced from The Florey Institute

Restoring sight: Australia’s bionic eye

Bionic eye glasses and headgear displayed on a mannequin with the receiver attached.

Four patients have had a sense of vision restored after having Australia’s bionic eye surgically implanted as part of a clinical trial in Melbourne, Victoria.

The four patients have a degenerative genetic condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa which causes loss of vision. It affects about one in every 4,000 people, affecting 1.5 million people worldwide. It is the leading cause of inherited blindness; there is currently no cure.

In 2012, three patients were implanted with an early version of the device which showed success, but restricted use to the lab.
This second-generation device allows patients navigate outside and, more importantly, in their homes without the need for supervision. Melbourne researchers have been working hard to create the portable and permanent device over the last five years, to ensure that patients with the implant can have an improved quality of life.

The bionic eye consists of both implanted and body worn components. The patient wears glasses with a small video camera mounted on the side. Then, the live feed from the camera is processed and transmitted via an implanted microchip to an electrode array placed in a naturally occurring pocket behind the retina, called the suprachoroidal space. The electrodes stimulate remaining cells in the retina, to generate spots of light that give a patient a sense of vision.

Associate Professor Penny Allen, head of the Vitreoretinal Unit at The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, said she was pleased with the results.

“Each of the patients has returned home after surgery and are working with the clinical and research team to learn to use the device and incorporate it into their everyday lives.

“Based on our results so far, we know that our approach is safer and less invasive, and the patients have all made impressive progress with mobility and activities of daily living,” said A/Prof Allen.

Article sourced from The Bionics Institute, a proud  Melbourne Biomedical Precinct Partner 



Current Major Challenges in Global Health – 10 December

Government House, Victoria. A large cream coloured stately home with the raised Governor of Victoria flag

The Current Major Challenges in Global Health: Innovative Solutions from Victorian Scientists

A free Public Lecture at Government House, Melbourne.

The Governor of Victoria, the Hon. Linda Dessau AC, and Mr Anthony Howard QC invite members of the public to attend a free public lecture at Government House, Melbourne.

Leading global health experts working in Victoria, Professor Alan Lopez AC, Professor Caroline Homer AO and Professor Sharon Lewin will speak on the contributions being made by Victorian scientists to some of the most pressing issues in global health, including maternal and child health, HIV and the global burden of disease. Professor Brendan Crabb AC will facilitate a panel discussion with the speakers. Refreshments will be served following official proceedings.

Attendance is free, however registration is essential as seating is limited. Dress is smart casual or business attire. Attendees are asked to bring a form of photo identification, and will be required to undergo security screening involving wanding and bag checks on arrival at Government House. Please note there is no parking on site for this event. Gates open at 5.00 pm. Please be seated by 5.45 pm.

Inquiries may be addressed to or 9655 4211.


Genomic sequencing offers new hope for rare cancers – Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

A cord-like shape across the screen entwined red and pink bubbles
A cancer’s genetic sequence may be the key to matching people with rare cancers to the right anti-cancer treatments, according to a new clinical trial instigated by patients.

The national trial indicated that genomic profiling of rare cancers – which collectively account for more than 20 per cent of cancer diagnoses in Australia – has the potential to improve a patient’s diagnosis and treatment.

The trial, which will be presented today at the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia Annual Scientific Meeting, was the first of its kind in Australia to be instigated by people affected by rare cancers.

The pilot study was conducted at four centres across Australia, and was led by Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researcher Professor Clare Scott, who is a medical oncologist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Royal Women’s Hospital.

At a glance
  • Better treatments are needed for people with rare cancers, which collectively cause more cancer deaths in Australia than any single cancer type
  • A new, patient-driven clinical trial has investigated whether genomic profiling of rare cancers can improve the diagnosis and treatment of people with rare cancers
  • Genomic profiling provided meaningful information that influences diagnosis and treatment in more than half the trial participants, offering hope for better outcomes for patients
Finding better treatments

A cancer type is considered rare if it affects fewer than 6 people per year per 100,000 people. Despite being individually uncommon, rare cancers collectively account for more than 20 per cent of cancer diagnoses in Australia.

Better approaches to diagnosing and treating rare cancers are urgently needed, said Professor Scott. “More people die from rare cancers in Australia than any other single cancer type. This is because treatments for many rare cancers have not advanced at the same pace as treatments for more common cancers,” she said.

The trial sequenced a panel of genomic markers in participants’ cancers to identify molecular features or mutations in the cancer that could be targeted with existing treatments used in other cancer types with the same characteristics.

“While genomic testing is becoming increasingly used in other cancer types, this is one of the first national studies of its kind in Australia to look at the potential benefits for those with rare cancers,” Professor Scott said.

Promising results

The NOMINATOR Pilot Study results released today included 36 patients. The two-year study will eventually include 100 patients and will lay the groundwork for other national initiatives looking into genomic profiling across a range of cancer types.

“Australians in this trial came to us after they had exhausted all their options. Using genomic profiling we were able to uncover new information that gave many patients new treatment options – and ultimately, new hope,” said Professor Scott.

“Genomic profiling provided meaningful information that influenced diagnosis and treatment in around half of the participants. 20 percent of those tested got a new treatment plan as a result and 6 percent of participants were given a new diagnosis.”

Professor Phyllis Butow, President, Clinical Oncology Society of Australia said one of the impressive things about the study was that it was driven by Australians directly affected by rare cancers.

“Around 52,000 Australians are diagnosed with rare or less common cancers each year. Those directly affected by the disease helped call for and fund this research, so it’s great to see these initial promising results being presented to cancer experts from across the country.”

Professor Clare Scott is leading the NOMINATOR trial that uses genomics to match people with rare cancers to better treatments.

The trial was funded by Rare Cancers Australia, the Melbourne Genomics Health Alliance, the Australian Genomics Health Alliance, Melanie and Neil Rae and the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital Foundation.

Professor Scott’s research is supported by the Stafford Fox Medical Research Foundation, the Victorian Cancer Agency and the Victorian Cancer Council.

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Royal Women’s Hospital are part of the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre Alliance.

Participating centres

The trial is currently accruing patients through the following hospitals:

  • Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, Queensland
  • Royal Adelaide Hospital, South Australia
  • Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Victoria
  • St John of God Hospital Subiaco, Western Australia


This article was sourced from

#TestFestVic – 30 November

Logo for the Test Fest Vic Hackathon

Calling all hackershipsters and hustlers! Enter #TestFestVic – a hackathon where participants have 2 days to create a digital-related invention (hardware or software project and prototype) to increase HIV testing in Victoria. To celebrate World AIDS Day on 1 December, the competition will be held from 30 November to 2 December and will feature presentations by world-leading HIV experts, as well as tech experts on the latest digital health innovations. The top teams will receive a total of $10,000 development grant and access to experts to assist you in taking your invention to market.

#TestFestVic is using 4 Personas, listed below, as the targets for this event. These 4 populations may be at risk of HIV but don’t usually access testing facilities or understand their risk of HIV (DHHS 2017).

  • Young women (<30 years) who study, travel or work abroad
  • International students
  • Community members with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds
  • Community members who identify with and travel to high endemic countries (i.e. Sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia, Eastern European nations).

Further information can be found :

Register to participate, click #testfestvictoria

Dr Laura Mackay awarded $1.25 million 2019 Viertel Fellowship

Two smiling women scientists in white coats and safety glasses inspecting a vial containing a pink substance.

University of Melbourne Laboratory Head and Senior Lecturer at the Doherty Institute, Dr Laura Mackay, has been awarded a $1.25 million, five year Viertel Foundation Fellowship to further her research into co-opting the body’s existing immune cells to work against viruses and cancers.

The development of optimal immunotherapies against viruses and cancer requires the generation of an effective cellular immune response. While some immune cells patrol the blood, a unique subset of T-cells, called tissue-resident memory T-cells, exist in tissues of the body and are different to those ordinarily circulating in the blood.

These type of T-cells are ‘first responders’ against pathogens that are encountered at body surfaces and are critical to immune protection for pathogens such as influenza, herpes simplex virus, malaria, and even some tumours. Most recently, these T-cells were associated with significantly improved survival rates in patients with breast cancer and melanoma.

Dr Mackay and her team are looking at ways to boost the generation of these T-cells and enhance their ability to protect people from disease via a new program of T-cell based immunotherapies that can work with existing treatments and improve patient outcomes.

“It’s an honour and privilege to be awarded the 2019 Viertel Fellowship, the funds will go a long way in advancing my quest to harness the immune system to fight infection and cancer,” Dr Mackay said.

“Investing in medical research is paramount for scientists to make discoveries and to enhance treatments. This is a tremendous commitment by the Sylvia and Charles Viertel Charitable Foundation and one that I’m extremely appreciative of.”

Dr MacKay originally wanted to pursue a career as an artist, like her mother. But decided on getting a ‘sensible’ degree in science. She became very interested in immunology after suffering from glandular fever during her time at university.

“Being creative is a crucial skill as a scientist – innovative discoveries don’t happen unless you think outside the box,” Dr Mackay said.

Dr Mackay was one of three researchers awarded a prestigious Senior Medical Research Fellowship from the Viertel Foundation with South Australian Health and Medical Science Institute and Flinders University Associate Professor James Ward also receiving a Viertel Fellowship, and Monash University Dr Kim Jacobson named the Bellberry-Viertel Fellow.

Professor Peter Leedman, Chairman of the Viertel Foundation’s Medical Advisory Board, revealed that the 2018 candidates were a very strong and closely matched high quality field representing very different disciplines, making the decision of selecting three from the six finalists extremely difficult.

“We really saw the depth and breadth of scientific research in Australia and it was truly inspiring. Every candidate is worthy of support for their research into areas which will have a critical impact on advancing medical and health outcomes for Australians and internationally,” Professor Leedman said.

Dr Laura Mackay from the Doherty Institute awarded $1.25 million 2019 Viertel Fellowship.

Article sourced from 

Restoring hearing loss in veterans

Melbourne Biomedical Precinct researchers are working to repair hearing loss— a currently untreatable condition that affects military personnel, as well as workers in construction, transport, manufacturing and the live music and entertainment industries.

Researchers at the Bionics Institute of Australia are developing technology to treat hearing loss by delivering drugs (neurotrophins) directly to the damaged cells in the inner ear.

In collaboration with a research team led by Professor Frank Caruso at University of Melbourne, the Bionics Institute has developed a new way to deliver neurotrophins by “loading” them into tiny particles created through nanoengineering. This breakthrough has enabled the delivery of drugs to the hard-to-reach inner ear, at levels that are effective over time and in a safe manner.

The research team has recently developed a manufacturing system to produce these particles consistently and reliably in a way that will accelerate clinical translation.

For military personnel in the field, exposure to damaging sounds can be unavoidable. The hearing impairment that ensues might have significant implications for immediate survival but can also lead  to a life-long hearing disability. For veterans who’ve come home, hearing impairment continues to have a significant personal impact—a reduced ability to communicate with loved ones that can lead to cognitive decline, social isolation and depression.

Hearing loss from noise exposure is the most common injury affecting military personnel. However, noise-induced hearing loss does not differentiate—it impacts those

Andrew Wise says the nanoparticles are the size of cake sprinkles like hundreds and thousands.

who work in the construction, mining, manufacturing and transport industries, as well as those working in live music and entertainment— industries which exposure to loud noise happens every day.

Such hearing loss is the most common disability in developed countries. It’s also considered permanent and irreversible, as there are currently no treatments.

The United States Department of Defense recognised the potential impact of this research toward quality of life for Service Members and Veterans, with a US $1.1M grant to the Bionics Institute team.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Andrew Wise, says the funding will allow him and his team to progress their study to the next phases.

“This funding will move us a step closer to developing the first therapeutic approach to restore hearing.” said Andrew.

This project will determine how neurotrophins disperse in the inner ear and establish the safety and efficacy profile of the technology. The three year project will provide the key data to be used in the first clinical trial aiming to restore hearing in humans.

This work was supported by the U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity through the Hearing Restoration Research Program under Award No. W81XWH1810276. Opinions, interpretations, conclusions and recommendations are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the Department of Defense.



Article sourced from Bionics Institute 

Dr Sarah Hanieh wins Melbourne Medical School ECR Publication Prize

Research that found children born to mothers who took intermittent iron supplementation in pregnancy had poorer growth outcomes compared to those who took daily iron supplements in pregnancy has been recognised with the University of Melbourne’s Medical School 2018 Early Career Researcher Publication Prize.

The Doherty Institute’s post-doctoral research fellow Dr Sarah Hanieh was the lead author on the paper that was the first that looked at low-dose versus higher dose antenatal iron supplementation on longer term health outcomes in young children.

The study which was based in Vietnam also found that motor development scores were lower in children born to women who received intermittent multiple micronutrient supplementation, compared to those who received daily iron folic acid supplementation.

“At the primary health care level the results highlight the importance of adequate iron stores before and during pregnancy, and the continued efforts required to ensure pregnant women in low-income settings have access to appropriate antenatal care and understand the importance of optimal iron stores during pregnancy,” Dr Hanieh explained.

“They also reiterate the need for careful monitoring when lower-dose antenatal iron regimens are used, and a better understanding of the long-term health outcomes in children born to antenatal women with less robust iron reserves.”

Dr Hanieh said the paper, that was published in BMJ Global Health in 2017, has helped to attract funding for further research in early child growth in vulnerable populations.

“I am very grateful for the prize from the Melbourne Medical School and thank the school for their support of early career researchers. This was large collaborative effort with researchers involved from several departments including the Department of Medicine, University of Melbourne; the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne; Monash University; and the Research and Training Centre for Community Development in Hanoi, Vietnam.”

Article sourced from The Doherty Institute

Hearing Our Voices – 26 November

Australian Health Research Alliance logo, a colourful map of Australia

Hearing Our Voices: The Importance of Community Engagement and Innovation in Indigenous Health Research

When: Monday 26 November 2018, 8:30am-2:30pm

Where: Ian Potter Auditorium, Kenneth Myer Building/Melbourne Brain Centre (University of Melbourne campus)

It is a pleasure to invite you to the one-day conference: “Hearing Our Voices: The Importance of Community Engagement and Innovation in Indigenous Health Research”. The conference is organised by Prof Sandra Eades and A/Prof Elif Ekinci of the University of Melbourne, with funding from the Australian Health Research Alliance in conjunction with the Melbourne Academic Centre for Health, and will take place on 26 November 2018 at The Melbourne Brain Centre’s Ian Potter Auditorium (Kenneth Myer Building), on the main campus of the University of Melbourne.

​Statement of Purpose: To bring together Indigenous health researchers across the Melbourne Academic Health Centre Network and provide a forum for voices to be heard, achievements to be celebrated and collaborations to form.

​Specific outcomes for the Indigenous health research day will be to continue our mapping of Indigenous health research across the MACH network. We also plan to create a videography and pilot mapping project of the people, voices and experiences of those contributing to Indigenous health research, including researchers and students, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people with a shared commitment for improving Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander health outcomes. Our activities will culminate in a map of Indigenous health researchers with embedded videos serving as a unique and powerful resource for the MACH network and the University of Melbourne.

​Organising committee:
Prof Sandra Eades, the University of Melbourne, Associate Dean Indigenous
A/Prof Elif Ekinci, the University of Melbourne and Austin Health
A/Prof Luke Burchill, the University of Melbourne and Royal Melbourne Hospital
Prof Stephanie Brown, the University of Melbourne and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute
Ms Heather Whipps, MACH Project Officer

Deadly Yarn: Five-minute talks by students, health workers and other relevant representatives from the Indigenous health research and service delivery world. ***Please note that we are accepting and encouraging submissions from students (UG, Master’s, MPH, PhD, etc), early career researchers, research assistants, program/project officers, clinicians including Aboriginal health workers / hospital liaison officers, other *** The Deadly Yarn may be presented in an academic research or narrative format.

Senior Research: Traditional academic talks of approximately 15 minutes in length.

​Both Deadly Yarn and Senior Research applicants are invited to submit abstracts on the theme ‘the importance of community engagement and innovation in Indigenous health research’. For this inaugural meeting we are seeking abstracts from across the spectrum of MACH’s Indigenous health research community; from the bench to the bedside to population level research. Indigenous community engagement does not need to be the sole or primary focus of the abstract. Participants should however be able to discuss how engaging with Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people and communities has influenced their research. Talks from all health and allied health disciplines are welcome.


​Important Information:

Deadly Yarn researchers whose abstracts are accepted and who are based outside of Melbourne may receive a travel bursary of up to $500 in order to attend.
Additionally, Deadly Yarn researchers invited to present will be eligible for awards of $500 each for the following categories: “Deadliest Yarn – Overall”, “Top Student Researcher”, “Top Clinician, Project Officer, or Other Health Worker”

Please click here to register (FREE)

BioCurate and Novartis announce first collaboration to accelerate early stage drug discovery

Biocurate logo

Novartis is the first global biopharma to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with BioCurate Pty Ltd to collaborate on early stage drug discovery projects with a view to provide expert industry-focused scientific advice and expertise to BioCurate

  • The collaboration provides a valuable opportunity to identify and translate innovative research from two of the world’s top ranked1 universities for biological sciences – Monash University and the University of Melbourne
  •  While Novartis is Australia’s largest sponsor of clinical trials2, the MoU with BioCurate emphasises an additional focus of identifying early stage innovation and academic research which addresses unmet patient needs

Melbourne, October 31, 2018 The Australian biomedical research company BioCurate Pty Ltd and Novartis today announced that they will collaborate on early stage drug discovery projects that have potential to address an unmet need.

This collaboration marks BioCurate’s first with the global pharmaceutical industry.

Head of Strategic Partnerships at Novartis, Brett Roberts, said the collaboration with BioCurate is a unique opportunity to work with Monash University and the University of Melbourne on new innovative medicines.

“We are very excited to be able to bring together the global scientific and technical expertise of researchers at the Novartis Institute of Biomedical Research (NIBR) with BioCurate’s expertise in curating and translating early stage science into development ready Australian research projects,” said Mr Roberts.

BioCurate CEO, Dr C. Glenn Begley said the company recognised the importance of early engagement with a range of leading industry partners to ensure new drug development programs are informed and aligned with addressing unmet patient and market needs.

“We are delighted to collaborate with Novartis – a first-class innovator with considerable expertise and infrastructure that can potentially support Australia’s drug discovery and development capabilities,” Dr Begley said.

“We are hopeful this collaboration will ultimately lead to better health outcomes for the global community and continue to build Australia’s expanding innovation economy.”

Dr Begley said the collaboration with Novartis marks the first in a number of similar arrangements currently under discussion with other potential industry partners.

BioCurate, a joint venture of Monash University and the University of Melbourne, supported by the Victorian State Government, operates independently and is housed in the internationally renowned ‘Parkville Precinct’ in Melbourne, a cluster of 30 world-class hospitals, research institutes, teaching and biotech organisations employing approximately 10,000 researchers.

“BioCurate is uniquely positioned to lead the establishment of a number of international industry experts who are able to provide invaluable scientific advice, commercial insight and partnering opportunities to BioCurate and Australia’s medical research sector,” Dr Begley said.

Novartis Australia Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Simon Fisher, said it was a unique opportunity to leverage an internationally experienced team dedicated to rigorous analysis of local science to address unmet patient needs as well as commercial potential.

“This collaboration opens the door to overcome barriers that limit the translation and commercialisation of early stage research progressing to new medicines and providing benefits to patients,” Dr Fisher said.

“We know the research undertaken in Australia is as good as anything globally, so this is an opportunity to help advance the outputs of Australian science. We hope that collaborations of this kind will benefit Australian science and patients.”

Whilst the therapy focus areas of the BioCurate/Novartis partnership are yet to be confirmed, the focus will be to triage and prioritise the highest quality early stage research opportunities from BioCurate’s review of a promising portfolio of projects.


  1. The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2018 (Life Sciences)!/page/0/length/25/subjects/3051/sort_by/rank/sort_order/asc/cols/stats (Accessed 24 October 2018)
  2. AusTrade Clinical Trials Capability Report 2018 (Accessed 24 October 2018)

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