Eastern Health shines in research world rankings and helps to transform healthcare

Article by Ashlea O’Hea, Communications Adviser at Eastern Health. 

Box Hill Hospital (Eastern Health) came in at number 36 in the Times Higher Education global rankings of non-university and non-commercial research organisations: equal to the world-renowned Scripps Institute in the US. Box Hill Hospital was the first ranked hospital in Australia, being the second ranked Australian research organisation.

Times Higher Education (THE) is the UK’s most authoritative source of information about higher education. THE ranked hospitals and non-university medical institutes based on a weighting of the impact of their publications between 2013 and 2017.

“The result means the impact of Eastern Health’s research based on weighted citations is ranked highly globally and the highest ranked Australian hospital,” Eastern Health’s Chief Executive, Adjunct Professor David Plunkett said.

Eastern Health conducts research across all disciplines, with more than 600 trials currently active.

“Our success has been possible due to our multidisciplinary research strengths across medical specialities, nursing and allied health with a strong focus on translating research to improve patient outcomes. We have strong state-wide services research with Turning Point and Spectrum and an increasing depth of surgical research currently underway.”

“We have a proud history in research and innovation. We have always fostered a culture where ethical research is embedded in every day practice,” Adj Prof Plunkett said.

Recent highlights from Eastern Health’s research activity includes the launch of the DC MedsRec trial in March, which is a community pharmacy-based service for patients discharged from Box Hill Hospital with four or more medicines, designed to help reduce the risk of harm from dangerous drug interactions. The service is an Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) pilot project, managed by Eastern Health in partnership with Monash University.

Recent research has also contributed to community outpatient health clinics slashing their waiting times using a model of patient care known as Specific Timely Appointment for Triage (STAT).

The joint La Trobe University, Eastern Health and Department of Health and Human Services trial – supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council – resulted in thousands of outpatients spending significantly fewer days waiting to see a health professional.

Eastern Health and La Trobe health service researcher, Dr Katherine Harding recently received a prestigious Translating Research into Practice (TRIP) fellowship from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) to do further work on translating the STAT model into practice for paediatric services. In addition, the team (collaborating with Dr Patrick Carney) has received funding from the Eastern Health Foundation to find out if the STAT model can be applied to reduce waiting times in medical specialist clinics.

Adj Prof Plunkett said he was proud of Eastern Health’s commitment to research and the impact it is having, and will continue to have on patient care and health outcomes. “Research is a vital component of providing world-class healthcare, and we are excited about what the future holds for us in this space.”

For more information about our research, visit https://www.easternhealth.org.au/research-ethics

The Bio21 Institute

Article by Florienne Loder, Communications and Engagement Advisor at Bio21 Molecular Science and Biotechnology Institute. 

The Bio21 Molecular Science and Biotechnology Institute, or ‘Bio21’ for short, has a powerful founding vision, which is inherent in its name: a molecular science and biotechnology institute. It is a community of brilliant scientists, equipped with the most cutting-edge instrumentation, working together to improve human health and the environment through innovation in biotechnology and molecular sciences, driven by multidisciplinary research and dynamic interactions with industry.

In 2017 Professor Michael Parker took up the challenge as the new Director of leading the Institute into an exciting future, located in one of the great biomedical precincts in the world.

Professor Parker took the opportunity to reflect on what kind of Institute Bio21 is; its purpose and direction:

“Bio21 is not the ‘cancer’ centre, the ‘brain’, ‘infectious diseases’ or ‘sustainability’ institute; yet individual groups do conduct research in all these fields. From understanding how malaria invades the body, to what makes mozzarella cheese stretchy, or how organisms can adapt to climate change – the common denominator is the molecular science approach we all use to seek knowledge and solutions to problems in health and disease, environment and agriculture and more generally the biological sciences. We are the ‘molecular sciences’ institute!” says Michael Parker.

Bio21 is uniquely positioned with large, state-of-the-art technology to delve deeply into the structure and nature of molecules, from small molecules, to peptides, proteins, nucleic acids and viruses.

Collaboration is key

The Bio21 Institute was built with collaboration in mind. The architects built bridges across the atrium with break-out spaces to meet and chat. The Institute is home to groups across the three STEMM faculties of the University of Melbourne (Science; Medicine Dentistry and Health Sciences and the Melbourne School of Engineering). The Bio21 community also includes industry members, CSL Ltd, Prana Biotech Ltd, Circa Group and more recently, Rhythm Biosciences and SYNthesis Research & Med Chem.

One strategy that has served Bio21 researchers well is to truly seek to work collaboratively with colleagues within and across disciplines, in academia and industry.

Bio21’s success is reflected in a Nature Index survey of leading research institutions in Australia, where the Bio21 Institute figures prominently (see BioMedVic Nature Index infographic).

There are numerous examples within the Institute of collaboration that has led to truly innovative commercialisation successes, such as: Spencer William’s success with Fibrotech; Clarity Pharmaceuticals commercialisation of radiopharmaceuticals; Barnham and Donnelly labs commercialisation and licencing of a motor neurone disease drug with Collaborative Medicinal Development Pty Ltd (CMD); and collaborative work between Takeda Pharmaceuticals and the Tilley lab to show that proteasome-inhibiting cancer drugs can be repurposed to be effective against malaria. These great stories highlight the biotechnology aspirations of Bio21.

At the end of 2018, Bio21 celebrated the opening of the Nancy Millis building and Margaret Sheil Mass Spectrometry Laboratories. It is founded on collaboration between CSL and the University of Melbourne and now houses CSL research groups as well as Platform Technology facilities from the University of Melbourne.

Nancy Millis Building

 Bio21’s collaborations, span the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct and beyond, contributing to our success as a world class molecular science and biotechnology Institute.

Industry supported and embedded in the Institute

Bio21 is co-located with industry tenants. In 2018, the Bio21 Institute welcomed Rhythm Biosciences (diagnostics), and SYNthesis med chem (medical chemistry), two biotechnology companies, that moved into the Bio21 Business Incubator building (building 404). They join CSL (biological therapeutics), Circa Group (chemistry of bio-derived products) and Prana Biotech (medicinal chemistry applied to neurodegenerative diseases) as industry research groups who are part of the Bio21 community.

From the beginning, it has been one of Bio21’s goals to support translation and commercialisation of research and to provide a supportive ‘incubator’ space for industry research, whether they be start-ups or more well established companies.

Bio21 is an attractive location for industry groups for many reasons: access to our platform technology facilities, being embedded in a thriving academic research institute and in close proximity to other University of Melbourne institutes and faculties, medical research institutes and hospitals in the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct in Parkville. But, it is often the intangible factors such as a collegial, collaborative and welcoming research culture that then leads to the flourishing of these groups in the Institute, as well as the growth of opportunities for all.

Platforms Technology Facilities supporting molecular science

The Bio21 research environment consists of well-resourced platform technology facilities that house powerful research instruments.

Some of our facilities represent the largest of their kind in Australia, with cutting edge instruments and led by highly regarded national experts in their respective technologies. Much of the instrumentation has been supported through government grants, such as the ARC LIEF grants. Bio21 has been likened to Dr Who’s ‘Tardis’; small on the outside but full of amazing technology inside.

Malcolm McConville, Associate Director Platform Infrastructure says: “The co-localisation of key technology platforms at Bio21 is opening up new opportunities for researchers, encouraging them to move beyond their comfort zone. For example, the co-localisation of the proteomics, metabolomics and lipidomics mass spectrometry facilities in the new Nancy Millis building, together with recent developments in the NMR and cryo-EM platforms allows researchers to characterise their systems, from metabolites to proteins and genotype/phenotype in unprecedented detail. Co-localisation is also bringing together expertise in IT, data handling and computational biology that underpin innovation and development across of these platforms.“

The Margaret Sheil laboratories in the Nancy Millis building house the Melbourne Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics platform and Metabolomics Australia platform, with a total of over 30 mass spectrometers.

Melbourne Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics

Melbourne Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics, with its fleet of eight mass spectrometers and seven HPLC instruments, as well as sample preparation instruments makes it possible to conduct proteomic, lipidomic and metabolomics analyses of samples, as a powerful way to identify biomarkers of diseases, as well as measure the impact of potential therapeutic candidates. A recent addition to the laboratories, through a collaboration with the Doherty Institute, is an ICP-mass spectrometer that can identify metal ions at very low concentrations in biological samples.

Metabolomics Australia

The Metabolomics Australia facility, also housed in the Margaret Sheil laboratories at Bio21, comprises the combination of high-throughput analytical technologies for the detection and quantification of metabolites in biological systems with the application of sophisticated bioinformatic tools for data mining and analysis. The most commonly used platforms for the detection and measurement of metabolites involves the use of gas chromatography, liquid chromatography, or capillary electrophoresis coupled with mass spectrometry. These analyses can be very powerful for biomedical and environmental research.

Melbourne Magnetic Resonance

The Melbourne Magnetic Resonance platform is home to nine magnetic resonance spectrometers, with a tenth one on the way for fragment-screening purposes. This suite of instruments includes 400, 500, 600, 700 and 800 MHz magnetic resonance spectrometers and a DNP solid-state dynamic nuclear polarization-enhanced NMR system to make increasingly sensitive measurements of samples from small molecules through to large proteins, in solution, but also as solids in more physiological conditions.

Melbourne Advanced Microscopy

The Melbourne Advanced Microscopy platform is bursting at the seams with high end electron microscopes. It is housing four TEMs, amongst which 3 cryo TEMs. It is also equipped with 2 SEMs and a dual beam microscope. The ThermoFisher FEI Talos Artica cryo EM has already led to a number of atomic resolution protein structures despite only being commissioned a year ago. Bio21 looks forward to new cutting edge technology in 2020 with the arrival of a 300 keV cryo EM and cryo FIB instrument for tomography allowing imaging of structures in their native environment. The Bio21 Institute also has several high end optical microscopes with confocal microscopes and super resolution systems as well as sample preparation equipment as part of the University of Melbourne’s Biological Optical Microscopy Platform (BOMP). A new facility will be built to house the electron microscopes and will provide much needed space and the opportunity for further expansion.

Melbourne Protein Characterisation

Bio21’s Melbourne Protein Characterisation (MPC), which is currently being established, will be a key resource within Bio21 for studying protein function and interactions as well as supporting the other platforms through the production of well characterised proteins for further analysis. The platform which is nearing completion in April, will be comprised of three facilities, to support protein discovery research: 1. Protein Production, 2. Protein Characterisation and Interaction and 3. X-ray diffraction. Protein Production will focus on insect and mammalian cell protein expression and is so far equipped with a Biostat twin control tower with rocker and cross-flow system. The Protein Characterisation and Interaction facility contains analytical ultracentrifuges, fluorescence spectrophotometers, UV-Vis absorbance spectrophotometers, isothermal titration calorimeters, circular dichroism spectrometers, dynamic light scattering zetasizer, biolayer interferometer, microscale thermophoresis, and differential scanning calorimeter. The facility will soon be complemented by Biacore surface plasmon resonance with funds from the recent successful ACRF grant. The X-ray Diffraction lab has been fitted out with a Rigaku Synergy-S X-ray diffractometer for both protein and small molecule studies and a PX Scanner. A suite of protein crystallisation robots will be added over the next year.

Systems and Computational Biology Platform
The major Bio21 platforms are supported by the Bio21 Systems and Computational Biology Platform and the Melbourne (Bio21) Specialist Store. The former has recently set up “Bio21 cluster 1”, a high performance cpu cluster with a total of 340 cpu core to support our platforms and researchers at Bio21.

Bio21 is growing

The ‘Bio21 precinct’ is growing its facilities.

With the ‘Stage 2C’ development to house CryoEM microscopes in the former Veterinary Research Institute and the newly established Melbourne Protein Characterisation platform, Bio21 is growing our already significant molecular science instrumentation capacity.

The Bio21 Institute is a wonderful environment to undertake molecular science research, equipped with a suite of platform technology facilities. It is however, the combination of these complementary technologies: for example, metabolomics using Magnetic Resonance and Mass Spectrometry; X-ray crystallography in combination with CryoEM and computational biology that often give us that extra insight, resolution, detail and data that allow us to solve the missing pieces in our respective puzzles.

Complementing each other the instruments housed in Bio21’s platform facilities, are an incredible resource to the biomedical scientific community within the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct.

AIMSS collaborates with ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron to advance musculoskeletal research

The Australian Institute for Musculoskeletal Science (AIMSS) is a collaborative institute for translational research into ageing and musculoskeletal (MSK) diseases. Investigating disorders of bone and muscle as well as the interactions between muscle and bone and factors that control MSK health, AIMSS is having a major impact on MSK research worldwide.

AIMSS has established an important collaboration with ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron (AS)* that enables the institute to use a wide range of enhanced imaging and resolution techniques to delve into the structure and function of the MSK system and search for better therapies and approaches to address conditions such as osteoporosis, osteopenia and sarcopenia. These studies are especially important in the context of Australia’s ageing population, which is a key driver of the Institute’s goal to improve health outcomes via evidence-based research in both the basic sciences and in the clinic.

One of the projects that AIMSS is currently researching at the AS uses a highly specialised X-ray tomography approach, unique to the AS, to study the long-term bone and muscle changes seen in osteopenia and sarcopenia, as well as osteoporosis.

Other collaborative projects are using X-ray fluorescence microscopy to study the side-effects of oxaliplatin therapy in cancer and changes in bones and muscles associated with inflammation-induced osteosarcopenia in a preclinical model of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a condition that affects approximately 75,000 people in Australia.

These projects and others are overseen at AIMSS by Prof Gustavo Duque, A/Prof Kulmira Nurgali and other AIMSS Project Directors, and are being facilitated and coordinated by A/Prof Damian Myers, the Program Director for Basic Sciences and for Medical Imaging at AIMSS.

* The Australian Synchrotron is a national facility administered under the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). The Synchrotron’s diverse range of beamlines offers Australian researchers powerful imaging modalities that, previously, were available only through synchrotrons in Europe, Japan and the USA.

For more information, contact A/Prof Damian Myers (damianem@unimelb.edu.au).

First experiments on the Australian Synchrotron Imaging and Medical Beamline. Tomographic sequence of mouse tibia. See video

Stevenson, A. W.; Mayo, S. C.; Hausermann, D.; Maksimenko, A.; Garrett, R. F.; Hall, C. J.; Wilkins, S. W.; Lewis, R. A.; Myers, D. E.  First experiments on the Australian Synchrotron Imaging and Medical beamline, including investigations of the effective source size in respect of X-ray imaging J Synchrotron Radiat  (2010)  17 1  75-80

High-definition mapping of trace metal distribution at the neuronal network level. Spatial map of hippocampus region of rodent brain depicting zinc, iron and copper (Panel A: Zn=Green; Fe = Blue; Cu=Red; Panel B: Red to highlight CA3 region of HC; Panel C: Highlight of Cu distribution; Panel D: Thionin staining showing Nissl bodies in neurons). This work was funded by the TAC under the Victorian Neurotrauma Initiative (CIs TJ O’Brien, DE Myers and RJ Hicks) and other contributors to this work included Prof Vivienne Bouilleret, Ms Lisa Cardamone, Mr John Williams, Dr Nigel Jones and several students who worked on that project at the time.

Myers DE, Stevenson AW, Wilkins SW, O’Brien TJ, Hicks RG, Mayo S, Maksimenko A, Moorhead GF, Ryan CG, James S, Broadhead ML, Patterson D., de Jong MD, Howard D, Häusermann D. X-Radiation in Health and Disease: Novel Approaches to the Study of Disease Processes and Therapy. Proceedings, 40th Annual Condensed Matter and Materials Meeting (2-5 Feb 2016). Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia TA1: 1-11. Australian Journal of Physics. See paper.

MDPP welcomes innovation applications

The Medical Device Partnering Program (MDPP) is an ideas incubator that supports inventors to turn their medical or assistive device ideas into proven concepts. It provides early stage development support to help de-risk, refine and develop ideas into commercially and technically viable prototypes. They do this by partnering clients with a community of experts including end-users and clinicians, manufacturers, service providers and world-class research partners and specialist facilities.

Founded by Flinders University, the program has now launched in Victoria with the support of Victoria’s Start-Up agency Launch Vic.

MDPP welcomes enquires from inventors and companies at any stage, but specialise in early-stage technical product development support. To apply visit https://mdpp.org.au/what-we-do/submit-innovation.

For more information, visit https://mdpp.org.au/about-us/our-approach and https://mdpp.org.au/what-we-do/program-benefits

MDPP is also looking for people interested in supporting the innovations by offering their expertise at workshops and on clients’ projects. Anyone interested in participating should contact Matthew Richardson (R&D Manager) matthew.richardson@mdpp.org.au, or Zoe Kristall (Innovations Manager) zoe.kristall@mdpp.org.au.

New research facilities at Bio21 Institute honouring Emeritus Professor Nancy Millis

BioMedVic CEO and Chair, Jan Tennent and Warwick Tong, were delighted to represent BioMedVic at the opening of the new research building at the Bio21 Institute of Molecular Science and Biotechnology.

The $46M new building hosts CSL’s Global Hub for Research and Translational Medicine, a model that will stimulate collaboration and innovation.

The building has been named in honour of Emeritus Professor Nancy Millis and incorporates Professor Margaret Sheil mass spectrometry laboratories.

Professor Millis was remembered in the speech given by former Victorian Premier John Brumby at the opening with the words of Jan Tennent, “the undisputed First Lady of biotechnology and an inspiration to women in science.”

BioMedVic believes that the model for stimulating collaboration and innovation between academia and industry as exemplifies at the Bio21 Institute is a blueprint for the Victorian Government’s future strategy and investment in health innovation and biotechnology.

You can read the media release from Bio21 Institute here.

BioMedVic members – key drivers of national innovation and translation

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grants have been announced for 2018. Of the $526 million awarded, Victoria has secured $347 million (47%), cementing its position as the leading state for medical research in Australia.

Beyond that, two BioMedVic members were the top-ranking institutions nationally, with Monash University securing grants to the value of $103.6M and the University of Melbourne winning $103.3M worth of grant funding.

Outstanding results run even deeper across Victoria’s remarkable health research community, with NHMRC success for:

  • Deakin University ($14.4 million)
  • RMIT University ($4.6 million)
  • St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research ($4.1 million)
  • Swinburne University ($3.4 million)
  • Melbourne Health ($624.882)

BioMedVic warmly congratulates all recipients of this latest round of NHMRC grants.

You can find more information here.

Superstars of STEM: improving visibility of women in science

Science and Technology Australia (STA) has launched this year’s Superstars of STEM in celebration of 60 women with outstanding scientific careers. This initiative aims to improve the public visibility of women in STEM, to achieve an equal representation of female STEM spokespeople in the media, and to promote role models for young girls and women to pursue scientific careers.

Women working in several BioMedVic member organisations are among the 2019 Superstars of STEM:

  • Swinburne University: Muneera Bano and Felicity Furey
  • CSIRO: Sam Grover, Laura Kuhar, Madeline Mitchell, Sharon Hook, Sarah Pearce, Cathy Robinson and Sonja Dominik
  • RMIT: Kate Fox and Asha Rao
  • Monash University: Sharna Jamadar and Kirsten Ellis
  • Deakin University: Ellen Moon
  • Melbourne Health: Anita Goh

You can read more and discover all the Superstars of STEM here.

Three BioMedVic members recognised for their efforts on gender equality and diversity

BioMedVic congratulates its members CSIRO, Monash University and Swinburne University of Technology for receiving the Athena SWAN Bronze Award in recognition for their efforts to improve gender equity and diversity.

The inaugural Athena SWAN Bronze Awards were awarded to fifteen institutions around Australia in a ceremony in Canberra on 5th December 2018.

You can read more information on the Athena SWAN Bronze Award here.

New Victorian manufacturing facility at CSIRO Clayton

BioMedVic members interested in the production of biological products such as vaccines, antibodies and stem cells for clinical trials will be delighted to know that a new Advanced Biotechnology Manufacturing Platform will be built at the CSIRO Clayton Central precinct.

The facility will allow the development of state of the art, early-stage biological and pharmaceutical products in Australia, and will ease the process of manufacturing for a wide range of companies, including those smaller ones that can’t afford to manufacture their candidates overseas.

The new manufacturing facility will be owned and run by CSIRO. It has received substantial funding from several institutions, including the Victorian Government, MTPConnect, SIEF and NCRIS/TIA , as well as companies including Telix Pharmaceutical and Sementis P/L. This investment is expected to boost the translational capabilities of the biotech sector in Australia, help to increase the number of Victorian institutions doing clinical trials while supporting local jobs and attract more investments from Australian biotech companies.

For more information see the CSIRO Blog or the Victoria Government page.

New potential treatment for premature babies with lung disease

BioMedVic congratulates its member Monash University who, together with the Hudson Institute of Medical Research and the Monash Children’s Hospital, has pioneered a trial for the treatment of premature babies with chronic lung disease. This trial and the substantial body of research underpinning it is led by Professor Euan Wallace, together with Dr Atul Malhotra and Dr Rebecca Lim.

The trial has already established that it is safe to use placenta cells in babies. In the coming phases of the trial, stem cells will be given to babies to assess if they could prevent or cure the chronic lung disease.

“All too often in medical research we hear about ‘breakthroughs’ when there hasn’t really been one. This is different”, said Professor Wallace.

Professor Euan Wallace, head of Monash’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, was awarded the BioMedVic 2014 VCRN Career Recognition Award for his outstanding record in clinical research and research training and recently delivered the keynote at the BioMedVic HREC Professional Development Day, an annual event dedicated to promulgating good practice in research ethics review through the exchange of ideas among Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) Chairs and Research Office Directors and Managers.

More information about the trial is available here.