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Duchenne muscular dystrophy

FDA approves Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug

Video above: Murdoch University researchers Steve Wilton and Sue Fletcher discuss their new drug for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

The powerful US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given the green light to a drug developed by Western Australia researchers Sue Fletcher and Steve Wilton for treating Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

The Murdoch University scientists developed an innovative treatment to help sufferers of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a crippling muscle-wasting disease that affects about one in 3500 boys worldwide.

The FDA decision is a huge win for the global pharma company Sarepta Therapeutics, which has developed the drug under the name Eteplirsen.

In their breakthrough research, Fletcher and Wilton had devised a way to bypass the faulty gene responsible for the disease, using a technique called exon skipping.

The FDA’s approval follows an emotional campaign by sufferers, their families, and supporters of Eteplirsen.

Earlier this year, some 40 sufferers in wheelchairs and their families flew to Washington from around the US, and from as far as the UK, to show their faith in the treatment after authorities questioned aspects of the drug’s clinical trial.

Fletcher’s and Wilton’s innovative discovery had already won the 2012 WA Innovator of the Year Award.

In 2013, the researchers, then with UWA, signed a multi-million dollar deal with Sarepta to develop Eteplirsen.

Under the deal, they would get up to US$7.1 million in upfront and milestone payments, as well as royalties on the net sales of all medicines developed and approved.

– Tony Malkovic 

This article was first published by Science Network Western Australia on 21 September 2016. Read the original article here. 

Read next: CtX forges $730 m deal for new cancer drug. A promising new cancer drug, developed in Australia by the Cancer Therapeutics CRC (CTx), has been licensed to US pharmaceutical company Merck in a deal worth $730 million.

radio telescope

Introducing the world’s largest radio telescope

Featured image: A computer generated image of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope dish antennas in South Africa. Credit: SKA Project Office.

What is dark matter? What did the universe look like when the first galaxies formed? Is there other life out there? These are just some of the mysteries that the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will aim to solve.

Covering an area equivalent to around one million square metres, or one square kilometre, SKA will comprise of hundreds of thousands of radio antennas in the Karoo desert, South Africa and the Murchison region, Western Australia.

The multi-billion dollar array will be 10 times more sensitive and significantly faster at surveying galaxies than any current radio telescope.

The massive flow of data from the telescope will be processed by supercomputing facilities that have one trillion times the computing power of those that landed men on the Moon.

Phase 1 of SKA’s construction will commence in 2018. The construction will be a collaboration of 500 engineers from 20 different countries around the world.

– Gemma Conroy

David Attenborough

Virtual diving with David Attenborough

Award-winning naturalist David Attenborough has brought some of the world’s most remote environments into our living rooms with documentaries like Planet Earth and Life.

But now you can be side-by-side with Attenborough as you are immersed in a prehistoric ocean and the Great Barrier Reef in two virtual reality films screening at the Australian Museum.

The virtual reality experiences were created by innovative UK-based studio Alchemy VR and are presented at the museum in partnership with Samsung.

In First Life, viewers travel back 540 million years and come face-to-face with ancient sea creatures such as giant shrimp-like predator Anomalocaris and the spine-covered Hallucigenia. While Attenborough guides you through the seamlessly animated ocean, you can explore all 360 degrees of the visuals.

But in Great Barrier Reef Dive things get even more real. Filmed at the museum’s own Lizard Island Research Station as part of David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef  TV series, viewers explore the world’s largest reef system in a bubble-like submarine. Turn to your right, and David is seated next to you gazing at the multitudes of fish, sharks and coral surrounding the submarine. The real-world footage also gives viewers a glimpse at the devastating effects of coral bleaching.

While virtual reality is still seen as a novelty by many, Kim McKay, CEO of the Australian Museum, says the technology is a game-changer for engaging the public in museum experiences.

“Virtual reality is a powerful new way of transporting us to the most extraordinary places on our planet, and David Attenborough is the perfect guide,” says Kim McKay, CEO of the Australian Museum. “It revolutionises the way people experience museums.”

The virtual reality films are also setting a new benchmark for educating viewers about the natural world in a compelling way.

“VR is opening up new frontiers for how Australians create, consume and interact with content,” says Phillip Newton, Corporate Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Samsung Electronics. “What better way to be fully immersed in our innovative technology than through these experiences?”

The two films are showing at the Australian Museum until 9th October 2016.

– Gemma Conroy

Featured image credit: Alchemy

engineering music video

Engineering music video inspires girls

Featured video above: NERVO’s engineering music video aims to get girls switched onto careers in engineering. 

Eight top universities – led by the University of New South Wales – have launched a song and music video by Australia’s twin-sister DJ duo NERVO to highlight engineering as an attractive career for young women.

NERVO, made up of 29-year-old singer-songwriters and sound engineers Miriam Nervo and Olivia Nervo, launched the video clip for People Grinnin’ worldwide on Friday 15 July.

In the futuristic video clip, a group of female engineers create android versions of NERVO in a high-tech lab, using glass touchscreens and a range of other technologies that rely on engineering, highlighting how it is embedded in every facet of modern life.

The song and video clip are part of Made By Me, a national collaboration between UNSW, the University of Wollongong, the University of Western Australia, the University of Queensland, Monash University, the University of Melbourne, the Australian National University and the University of Adelaide together with Engineers Australia, which launched on the same day across the country.

It aims to challenge stereotypes and shows how engineering is relevant to many aspects of our lives, in an effort to to change the way young people, particularly girls, see engineering. Although a rewarding and varied discipline, it has for decades suffered gender disparity and chronic skills shortage.

NERVO, the Melbourne-born electronic dance music duo, pack dancefloors from Ibiza to India and, according to Forbes,  are one of the world’s highest-earning acts in the male-dominated genre. They said the Made by Me project immediately appealed to them.

“When we did engineering, we were the only girls in the class. So when we were approached to get behind this project it just made sense,” they said.

“We loved the chance to show the world that there is engineering in every aspect of our lives,” they said. “We’re sound engineers, but our whole show is only made possible through expert engineering:  the makeup we wear, the lights and the stage we perform on.”

“Engineering makes it all possible, including the music that we make.”

Alexandra Bannigan, UNSW Women in Engineering Manager and Made By Me spokesperson, said the project highlights the varied careers of engineers, and the ways in which engineers can make a real difference in the world. 

“When people think engineering, they often picture construction sites and hard hats, and that perception puts a lot of people off,” she said. “Engineering is more than  that, and this campaign shows how engineering is actually a really diverse and creative career option that offers strong employment prospects in an otherwise tough job market.”

She noted that the partner universities, which often compete for the best students, see the issue as important enough to work together.

“We normally compete for students with rival universities, but this is such an important issue that we’re working together to break down those perceptions,” she said.

Made By Me includes online advertising across desktop and mobiles, a strong social media push, a website telling engineering stories behind the video, links to career sites, as well as the song and video, to be released by Sony globally on the same day. Developed by advertising agency Whybin/TBWA, the campaign endeavours to change the way young people, particularly girls, see engineering.

“We needed to find a way to meet teenagers on home turf and surprise them with an insight into engineering that would open their minds to its possibilities,” said Mark Hoffman, UNSW’s Dean of Engineering. “This is what led to the idea of producing an interactive music video, sprinkled with gems of information to pique the audience’s interest in engineering.”

UNSW has recently accelerated efforts to attract more women into engineering, more than tripling attendance at its annual Women in Engineering Camp, in which 90 bright young women in Years 11 and 12 came to UNSW from around Australia for a week this year to explore engineering as a career and visiting major companies like Google, Resmed and Sydney Water. It has also tripled the number of Women in Engineering scholarships to 15, valued at more than $150,000 annually.

Hoffman, who became Dean of Engineering in 2015, has set a goal to raise female representation among students, staff and researchers to 30% by 2020. Currently, 23% of UNSW engineering students are female (versus the Australian average of 17%), which is up from 21% in 2015. In industry, only about 13% of engineers are female, a ratio that has been growing slowly for decades.

“Engineering has one of the highest starting salaries, and the average starting salary for engineering graduates has been actually higher for women than for men,” said Hoffman. “Name another profession where that’s happening.”

Australia is frantically short of engineers: for more than a decade, the country has annually imported more than double the number who graduate from Australian universities.

Some 18,000 engineering positions need to be filled annually, and almost 6,000 come from engineering students who graduate from universities in Australia, of whom the largest proportion come from UNSW in Sydney, which has by far the country’s biggest engineering faculty. The other 12,000 engineers arrive in Australia to take up jobs – 25% on temporary work visas to alleviate chronic job shortages.

“Demand from industry has completely outstripped supply, and that demand doubled in the past decade,” said Hoffman. “In a knowledge driven economy, the best innovation comes from diverse teams who bring together different perspectives. This isn’t just about plugging the chronic skills gap – it’s also a social good to bring diversity to our technical workforce, which will help stimulate more innovation. We can’t win at the innovation game if half of our potential engineers are not taking part in the race.”

UNSW has also created a new national award, the Ada Lovelace Medal for an Outstanding Woman Engineer, to highlight the significant contributions to Australia made by female engineers.

This information was first shared by the University of New South Wales on 14 July 2016. Read the original article here.

International Women's Day at Monash

International Women’s Day at Monash

The reflections of these women align with many of the priorities of International Women’s Day, including: helping women and girls achieve their ambitions; promoting gender-balanced leadership; valuing women and men’s contributions equally; and creating inclusive, flexible cultures. 

This video was first published by Monash University on 7 March 2016. Watch the original video here.

How do octopi say hi

Images and video: Peter Godfrey-Smith. The University of Sydney.

An unusual site chanced upon in the tourist area of Jervis Bay in NSW prompted a collaboration spanning the United States and Australia. University of Sydney Professor Peter Godfrey-Smith from the Faculty of Science, who is also a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, City University of New York, said the high density of octopuses at the site allowed researchers to uncover some mysteries of their communication.

The new research looked at signalling and displays the animals use when they deal with each other in various competitive contexts. “There’s a lot of pushing other animals around, kicking them out of the site, and sometimes vigorous fights,” Professor Godfrey-Smith said.

“We showed when octopuses change colour they are signalling their degree of aggression. Darker colours go with aggressive behaviours, and these are combined with other displays.”

The researchers were tipped off about the site by a diver who alerted an online community of people interested in cephalopods that he had seen something interesting. The researchers followed up, ultimately witnessing 186 octopus interactions and more than 500 actions.

The findings are published today in the journal Current Biology.

Co-author Professor David Scheel of Alaska Pacific University in the United States said as a result of these new observations, they discovered octopuses used body patterns and postures to signal to each other during disputes.  “The postures and patterns can be quite flashy, such as standing very tall, raising the body mantle high above the eyes, and turning very dark.”

They also learned that when an octopus with a dark body colour approached another dark octopus, the interaction was more likely to escalate to grappling.  When a dark octopus approached a paler one, the pastier octopus more often retreated. When the opposite happened and a light octopus approached a darker one, the latter more often stood its ground.

“Dark colour appears to be associated with aggression, while paler colours accompany retreat,” Professor Scheel said.

Octopuses also displayed on high ground, standing with their web spread and their mantle elevated. Octopuses in that ‘stand tall’ posture frequently also sought higher ground. The researchers suspect the octopuses’ behaviours are meant to make them appear larger and more conspicuous.

The findings expand scientists’ understanding of how octopuses interact and communicate with each other. The researchers now suspect that social interactions among octopuses are likely to occur wherever food is plentiful and hiding places are scarce.

They will continue to study these octopuses and explore what role these signaling behaviors and other interactions play in their lives.

Published originally by The University of Sydney.

Abigail Allwood

Winning the space race

Dr Abigail Allwood is an earth science alumnus from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) who took her research to NASA – where she now works in planetary chemistry and astrobiology as the first woman and the first Australian to lead a project team for life on Mars.

This inspiring video explores Allwood’s return home, and her six-day tour travelling around Queensland sharing her Mars research to students and the public.

During her tour, Allwood participated in ten educational events, mostly based at QUT, including a panel discussion with esteemed journalist Robyn Williams from Radio National in Sydney.

“Space exploration is one of the greatest sources of inspiration for young minds.” 

The themes of Allwood’s presentations cover how space can be a gateway fascination for young people, encouraging them into scientific enquiry. Her presentations also describe how doing an earth science degree led to her becoming an astrobiologist at NASA. And of course, her talks cover the possibility of finding life on Mars…

Allwood gave presentations to high school and research students, describing her atypical journey from studying geology in Australia to working on the Mars mission with NASA.

– Jesse Hawley

EMU High-Resolution Backscattering Spectrometer

Watch this animation to see how neutrons travel through the EMU Backscattering Spectrometer and are scattered from a sample. EMU is one of a suite of neutron-scattering instruments at ANSTO (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation) based at the Bragg Institute.

Atoms move in a variety of ways, for example by vibrating, oscillating and rotating within a material, and this can have a huge effect on the material’s properties and function. EMU reveals dynamics in protein samples, for example, helping scientists to better understand human biology – ultimately leading to better drug design.

EMU will open up a new energy window to the Australian research community, one that cannot easily be accessed with X-ray or optical spectroscopy, though some of the same physics or chemistry can sometimes be tackled with NMR or muon-spin resonance.

EMU is funded as part of the Australian Government’s Super-Science Initiative.  Its conceptual design was completed in early 2010. Find out more at ANSTO.

Medical device could save lives

Medical device could save lives

An award-winning medical device could save lives. The ECGx/Medibase system, developed by the Medical Engineering Database Solutions (MEDS) team of students from RMIT University in Melbourne, is a groundbreaking technology used in ambulances to allow a patient’s electrocardiogram (ECG) information to be shared with doctors at the hospital in advance of the ambulance’s arrival, leading to more efficient care and improved patient survival.

Jaad Cabbabe, project leader for the MEDS team, explains that the “eureka” moment for the idea came during a discussion with a doctor who used to work in the emergency department at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne. “The idea just clicked,” says Cabbabe.

“It offered a solution to a real problem that exists in hospitals and is not currently being addressed.”

Although ambulances in Australia use state-of-the-art ECGs with communication capabilities, the current technology doesn’t transmit patient data to doctors in advance of an ambulance’s arrival to hospital, which means doctors have to wait for vital patient information before they can formulate a diagnosis and treatment plan. Also, within hospitals ECGs are currently shared between doctors by fax or scanned photograph – methods that are neither efficient nor secure.

The ECGx/Medibase system transmits a patient’s ECG data to a central database, where medical professionals can access it, leading to a reduction in waiting times for diagnosis and treatment. The system has the capacity to save time, facilitate information sharing, improve consultations and decision-making, and allow doctors to more precisely target the needs of patients.

The ECGx/Medibase system is designed to be technology “agnostic”, or designed to to allow communication between the range of technologies currently being used by ambulances and hospitals.

The system won the prestigious Telstra University Challenge 2015: Connected World award in September. Cabbabe says the win has given the team a huge benefit through access to Telstra’s technical and commercial expertise and resources, helping them plan ahead, with the ultimate aim of commercialising the system. The team has also been invited to apply to muru-D, Telstra’s technology incubator, which provides upfront funds and state-of-the-art facilities for new technology start-ups.

The system is currently at the prototype stage, and requires further technical development before it can be considered for a field trial. “The next six months developing the working prototype will be key,” says Cabbabe. “But the real world application and the various [ECG] technologies we are proposing to work with is our biggest technical challenge.” The ECG technologies used in ambulances are not currently able to communicate with hospital systems, posing a technical challenge for the team.

Other challenges include navigating legal and regulatory hoops for medical devices, and passing their third year exams.

– Carl Williams

Quantum computing breakthrough

Quantum computing breakthrough

A team of Australian engineers have made a quantum computing breakthrough. They built a quantum logic gate in silicon for the first time, making calculations between two qubits of information possible – and thereby clearing the final hurdle to making silicon quantum computers a reality.

The significant advance, by a team at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney appeared in the international journal Nature.

Design innovations are blowing in the wind

RMIT researchers are using state-of-the-art modelling techniques to study the effects of wind on cities, paving the way for design innovations in building, energy harvesting and drone technology.

The turbulence modelling studies will allow engineers to optimise the shape of buildings, as well as identify areas of rapid airflow within cities that could be used to harvest energy.

Researchers also hope to use the airflow studies to develop more energy efficient drones that use the power of updrafts during flight.

Dr Abdulghani Mohamed, from RMIT’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems research group, said simulations developed by the research team can visualise the shape of updrafts as they developed over buildings and show their variation over time.

“By analysing the interaction of wind with buildings, our research opens new possibilities for improving designs to take better advantage of nature,” he says.

“Buildings can be built to enhance airflow at street level and ventilation, while wind turbines can be precisely positioned in high-speed airflow areas for urban energy harvesting – providing free power for low-energy electronics.

“The airflow simulations will also help us further our work on energy harvesting for micro-sized drones, developing technology that can help them use updrafts to gain height quicker and fly for longer, without using extra energy.”

Scientists and engineers have traditionally relied on building small-scale city replicas and testing them in wind tunnels to make detailed airflow predictions.

This time-consuming and expensive process is being gradually replaced with numerical flow simulations, also known as Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD).

The researchers – Mohamed, Professor Simon Watkins (RMIT), Dr Robert Carrese (LEAP Australia) and Professor David Fletcher (University of Sydney) – created a CFD model to accurately predict the highly complex and dynamic airflow field around buildings at RMIT’s Bundoora campus west, in Melbourne’s north.

The simulation was validated using a series of full and model-scale experiments, with the results published in the prestigious Journal of Wind Engineering and Industrial Aerodynamics.

The next stage in the research will involve an extensive flight test campaign to further prove the feasibility of the concept of long endurance micro-sized drones, for use in a number of industries including structural monitoring, land surveying, mobile temporary networks and pollution tracking.

This article was first published by RMIT University on 9 August 2015. Read the original article here.

How does 3D printing work?

Dr Martin Leary from the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering explains how 3D printing works in a short video, as part of RMIT’s “How Things Work” YouTube series.

For more details, and for a transcript of the video, visit the RMIT website.

This video was first published by RMIT University on 3 December 2014 as part of RMIT’s “How Things Work” YouTube series.

Fields of glory

With the potential to add $250billion to Australia’s economy over the next two decades, according to a 2014 report by global consultancy Deloitte, agriculture has been deemed one of our five “super growth sectors”.

The Deloitte report, the final in its Building the Lucky Country series on future prosperity, says agriculture could be “as big as mining” for Australia, thanks to a combination of factors that include an increase in global population, rising food demand, food security issues and the changing dietary demands of Asia’s growing middle class in countries like China, India and Indonesia.

“Essentially, we have what the world wants and will increasingly need over the next 20 years,” says Rob McConnel, Deloitte’s Agribusiness National Leader.

“The global opportunity becomes obvious when you see the numbers, and the numbers are compelling. The world’s population is around 7billion and this is forecast to increase to 9billion by 2050, which is a 28% increase.”

The world will need to increase global food production by around 75% and Australian agribusiness “has the goods” to be a major player in meeting this demand, he says. But our challenges include investing more in research and development, improving tertiary education courses to produce more agribusiness and food science graduates, and “having a mature conversation” about foreign investment in agribusiness assets.

Also in 2014, economic consultants McKinsey & Company published a report on actions needed to build Australia’s international competitiveness across all sectors of the economy. The report, Compete to Prosper – Improving Australia’s Global Competitiveness, concludes that only one economic sector – agriculture – “stands out as strongly competitive”, but warns that its future contribution to the national economy should not be taken for granted.

While Australia is well-positioned, geographically and economically, to gain access to new markets in Asia, this growth is not assured, the McKinsey report says. Australia faces a “pervasive competitiveness problem” and many sectors of its economy lag behind international benchmarks.

The report argues that disruptive technologies such as robotics and digital communications are redefining economies and global trade, with supply chains fragmenting and becoming more specialised. The report uses Apple’s iPod as an example of a high-demand product that contains 451 distinct components sourced from around the world.

This means the global flows of those components, or “intermediate goods”, are more than three times greater than for the final product, and competition is moving from the level of industry sectors like manufacturing or retail to areas like design and logistics.

“Tools for file sharing and collaboration allow engineering plans to be drafted by teams in multiple countries; more sophisticated logistics allow construction firms to prefabricate everything from bathrooms in multi-storey dwellings to steel structures for liquefied natural gas processing plants,” the McKinsey report points out.

WHAT DOES THIS mean for Australian agriculture? Future farm research teams will include data analysts, software programmers, agronomists, statisticians, engineers, geneticists, cell biologists, hydrologists and atmospheric physicists. Farmers will use geo-location data to analyse climate, water tables and soils, and calculate inputs such as fertilisers and chemicals for weed and disease control. Farm robotics, from drone surveillance of livestock and crops to sophisticated digital systems that track soil moisture and farm water management, will be a major growth area.

The Australian Government has announced $100million in new grants for rural industries research. At the Australasian Research Managers Society conference in Canberra in September 2014,
the Department of Agriculture Senior Executive Richard Webb said “non-traditional areas” such as farm robotics will be funded by grants offered through Australia’s 15 Rural Research and Development Corporations. Australia is already a world leader in this area, Webb emphasised, adding that there was “plenty of scope” to work across industries and to adapt mining and defence robotic systems to farming.

Precision agriculture research, which involves the use of satellite mapping and remote sensors, is another area where Australia can lead. The Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney has developed a world-first robot sensor for vegetable farming – a solar-powered robot called Ladybird that will help farmers collect crop data, detect pests and control weeds.

The Plant Biosecurity CRC is working with researchers at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) on the use of drones to detect diseases in wheat and other crops, as well as the spread of the myrtle rust fungus in Australia’s national parks.

Sustainable grazing systems also have the potential to improve farm productivity and profitability, while making Australia’s farms more resilient to climate variability. The Future Farm Industries CRC recently ended its seven-year research program with a string of successes, including two Eureka national science awards for its use of native perennials and shrubs to create drought resistant pasture systems. These new pastures can improve nutrition for livestock and help control intestinal parasites in sheep, reducing drenching and chemical costs. Following trials by the CRC with farmers in WA and NSW, these systems are in use across more than 1million hectares of farmland, and estimates suggest they could increase farm profitability by around $1.6billion by 2030.

The Future Farm Industries CRC also explored the possibility of planting woody crops, such as oil mallees, to diversify farm income from new industries such as aviation biofuels. In 2013, it won a CRC Association national award for innovation excellence for a low-emissions mallee harvester (capable of continuous harvesting) developed with Richard Sulman, Principal Engineer in Australian consultancy Biosystems Engineering.

160115_agricultureSMAUSTRALIA’S GLOBALLY competitive agronomists will also make greater use of genetics to improve crops and livestock. The Sheep CRC is using full genomic sequencing to improve the effectiveness of DNA tests used by wool and sheep meat producers when selecting breeding stock. The Dairy Futures CRC is involved in a global collaboration of more than 20 international participants led by Australian scientists to collect more than 1000 DNA sequences of bulls to identify gene mutations that cause embryonic death in dairy cattle (see page 20).

Four years ago, Australia’s Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb led a review of Australia’s international agricultural research programs and found that when national investments in agricultural science, technology and training were taken into account, the number of people benefiting from Australian agricultural expertise was around 400million a year.

“We are good at this,” he wrote in an introduction to the report. “Australia has a longstanding worldwide reputation for excellence in science related to food and agriculture. This is an area where Australia can show leadership.”

www.pbcrc.com.au

www.sheepcrc.org.au

www.dairyfuturescrc.com.au

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