Tag Archives: cancer research

top stories

Top stories of the year

Featured image above: AI progress makes history – #2 of the top stories in STEM from 2016.

1. New way to cut up DNA

On October 28, a team of Chinese scientists made history when they injected the first adult human with cells genetically modified via CRISPR, a low-cost DNA editing mechanism.

Part of a clinical trial to treat lung cancer, this application of CRISPR is expected to be the first of many in the global fight against poor health and disease. 

2. AI reads scientific papers, distils findings, plays Go

Artificially intelligent systems soared to new heights in 2016, taking it to number 2 on our list of top stories. A company called Iris created a new AI system able to read scientific papers, understand their core concepts and find other papers offering relevant information.

In the gaming arena, Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo program became the first AI system to beat world champion, Lee Se-dol, at the boardgame Go. Invented in China, Go is thought to be at least 2,500 years old. It offers so many potential moves that until this year, human intuition was able to prevail over the computing power of technology in calculating winning strategies. 

3. Scientists find the missing link in evolution

For a long time, the mechanism by which organisms evolved from single cells to multicellular entities remained a mystery. This year, researches pinpointed a molecule called GK-PID, which underwent a critical mutation some 800 million years ago.

With this single mutation, GK-PID gained the ability to string chromosomes together in a way that allowed cells to divide without becoming cancerous – a fundamental enabler for the evolution of all modern life. GK-PID remains vital to successful tissue growth in animals today. 

4. Data can be stored for 13.8 billion years

All technology is subject to degradation from environmental influences, including heat. This means that until recently, humans have been without any form of truly long-term data storage.  

Scientists from the University of Southampton made the top stories of 2016 when they developed a disc that can theoretically survive for longer than the universe has been in existence. Made of nano-structured glass, with the capacity to hold 360TB of data, and stable up to 1,000°C, the disc could survive for over 13.8 billion years. 

5. Mass coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef

The most severe bleaching ever recorded on the Great Barrier Reef occurred this year. Heavy loss of coral occurred across a 700km stretch of the northern reef, which had previously been the most pristine area of the 2300km world heritage site.

North of Port Douglas, an average of 67% of shallow-water corals became bleached in 2016. Scientists blame sea temperature rise, which was sharpest in the early months of the year, and which resulted in a devastating loss of algae that corals rely on for food. 

6. Climate protocol ratified – but Stephen hawking warns it may be too late

On the 4 November 2016, the Paris Agreement became effective. An international initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and control climate change, the Paris Agreement required ratification by at least 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions in order to become operational.

So far 117 countries have joined the cause, with Australia among them. But some of the world’s greatest minds, including Stephen Hawking, believe time is running out if the human race is to preserve its planet. 

7. Young people kick some serious science goals

A group of high schoolers from Sydney Grammar succeeded in recreating a vital drug used to treat deadly parasites, for a fraction of the market price.

The drug, known as Daraprim, has been available for 63 years and is used in the treatment of malaria and HIV. There was public outcry in September when Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of the drug from US$13.50 to US$750. 

In collaboration with the University of Sydney and the Open Source Malaria Consortium, a year 11 class at Sydney Grammar created the drug at a cost of only $2 per dose, and made their work freely available online.

8. Gravitational waves detected

Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity was confirmed in February, when scientists observed gravitational waves making ripples in space and time. 

Gravitational waves are thought to occur when two black holes merge into a single, much larger, black hole. They carry important information about their origins, and about gravity, that helps physicists better understand the universe. 

The gravitational waves were observed by twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory detectors in Louisiana and Washington. Australian scientists helped to build some of the instruments used in their detection.

9. Moving away from chemotherapy

Researchers at the University College London made a leap forward in cancer treatment when they found a way to identify cancer markers present across all cells that have grown and mutated from a primary tumour. They also succeeded in identifying immune cells able to recognise these markers and destroy the cancerous cells. 

This breakthrough opens the door not only for better immuno-oncology treatments to replace the toxic drugs involved in chemotherapy, but also for the development of personalised treatments that are more effective for each individual.

10. New prime number discovered

The seventh largest prime number ever found was discovered in November. Over 9.3 million digits long, the number 10223*231172165+1 was identified by researchers who borrowed the computer power of thousands of collaborators around the world to search through possibilities, via a platform called PrimeGrid. 

This discovery also takes mathematicians one step closer to solving the Sierpinski problem, which asks for the smallest, positive, odd number ‘k’ in the formula k x 2n + 1, where all components of the formula are non-prime numbers. After the discovery of the newest prime number, only five possibilities for the Sierpinski number remain.

– Heather Catchpole & Elise Roberts

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Gravity waves hello

Have a story we missed? Contact us to let us know your picks of the top stories in STEM in 2016.

breast cancer

Breast cancer probe detects deadly cells

Featured image above: Dr Erik Shartner with the prototype optical fibre sensor, which can detect breast cancer during surgery. Credit: University of Adelaide

An optical fibre probe has been developed to detect breast cancer tissue during surgery.

Working with excised breast cancer tissue, researchers from the University of Adelaide developed the device to differentiate cancerous cells from healthy ones.

Project leader at the Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) Dr Erik Schartner said the probe could reduce the need for follow-up surgery, which is currently required in up to 20 per cent of breast cancer cases.

“At the moment most of the soft tissue cancers use a similar method during surgery to identify whether they’ve gotten all the cancer out, and that method is very crude,” he says.

“They’ll get some radiology beforehand which tells them where the cancer should be, and the surgeon then will remove it to the best of their ability.

“But the conclusive measurements are done with pathology a couple of days or a couple of weeks after the surgery, so the patient is sown back up, thinks the cancer is removed and then they discover two weeks later with a call from the surgeon that they need to go through this whole traumatic process again.”

The probe allows more accurate measurements be taken during surgery, with the surgeon provided with information via an LED light.

Using a pH probe tip, a prototype sensor was able to distinguish cancerous and healthy cells with 90 per cent accuracy.

The research behind the probe, published today in Cancer Research, found pH was a useful tool to distinguish the two types of tissue because cancerous cells naturally produce more acid during growth.

Currently the probe is aimed for use solely for treating breast cancer, but there is some possibility for it to be used as both a diagnostic tool and during other removal surgeries.

“The method we’re using, which is basically measuring the pH of the tissue, actually looks to be common across virtually all cancer types,” Schartner says.

“We can actually see there’s some scope there for diagnostic application for things like thyroid cancer, or even melanoma, which is something we’re following up.

“The question is more about the application as to how useful it is during surgery, to be able to get this identification, and in some of the other soft tissue cancers it would be useful as well.”

Earlier this year, researchers from CNBP also developed a fibre optic probe,  which could be used to examine the effects of drug use on the brain.

Schartner said both probes were noteworthy because they were far thinner than previously developed models at only a few microns across.

“The neat thing we see about this one is that it’s a lot quicker than some of the other commercial offerings and also the actual sample size you can measure is much smaller, so you get better resolution,” he says.

Researchers on the probe hope to progress to clinical trials in the near future, with a tentative product launch date in the next three years.

Also in Adelaide, researchers at the University of South Australia’s Future Industries Institute are developing tiny sensors that can detect the spread of cancer through the lymphatic system while a patient is having surgery to remove primary tumours, which could also dramatically reduce the need for follow up operations.

– Thomas Luke 

This article was first published by The Lead South Australia on 29 November 2016. Read the original article here.

funding cancer research

Cancer research investment boost

Featured image above: Cancer research at the Cancer Therapeutics Cooperative Research Centre has received a funding boost. Credit: CTx

The Chief Executive of the Cancer Therapeutics Cooperative Research Centre (CTx), Dr Warwick Tong, announced last week that a majority of its current partners have chosen to reinvest their share of the recent cash distribution from CTx back into the organisation.

In January 2016 CTx licensed its PRMT5 Project to MSD (known as Merck in the US and Canada) in a landmark deal and received over $14 million dollars as its share of the signature payment. Novel drugs arising from the project will be developed and commercialised by Merck. Potential future milestone payments and royalties will also be shared within the partnership.

“Our 2013 application to the Department of Industry CRC Programme outlined the intent to actively secure reinvestment of funds from any commercialisation success back into our cancer drug development activities”, said Tong. “To have this commitment from our partners is the validation and support we wanted.

“The more than seven million dollars will boost our ability to deliver new cancer drugs for adults and children”.

“CTx has made great use of its partnership network to deliver this project,” said Professor Grant McArthur Chair of the CTx Scientific Advisory Board. “The reinvestment is a very positive recognition by the partners that CTx will continue to provide benefits for patients and strengthen translational cancer research in Australia”.

This article was first published by the Cancer Therapeutics Cooperative Research Centre on 29 June 2016. Read the original article here.

To read more articles on research funding, visit:

$22.6 million research funding – A round of applications is expected to open in August for 11 newly funded Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) projects.

Australian research funding infographic – The latest OECD figures reveal how Australia’s science and research funding compares with other countries.

Connecting graduates with businesses

Connecting graduates with businesses

Gaining industry experience and seeing how their research can have practical applications is important to early career researchers. Universities and industry are now working together to help provide graduates with the opportunity to work on commercial solutions for real-life problems.

Sally Bradford won the 2015 Showcasing Early Career Researchers competition, and is a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Canberra. She developed an electronic mental health assessment app allowing physicians to diagnose and support their patients’ previously undisclosed issues. Bradford’s research is part of a larger collaborative project with the Young and Well CRC.

Perth-based cancer immunotherapy research group Selvax Pty Ltd has entered a commercial partnership with Curtin University. They signed a two-year contract to develop anti-cancer immunotherapy treatments in November 2015, after CEO Tony Fitzgerald saw value in Curtin Senior Research Fellow Dr Delia Nelson’s ten years of research into immunological agents.

“We want access to innovative research to make practical use of what researchers are discovering,” says Fitzgerald.

These industry partnerships aren’t new. “It’s a well-trodden path in the USA,” says Fitzgerald.

“But it’s not as common in Australia – we’re great at innovating, but not great at commercialising our work.”

Perth-based energy company Bombora Wave Power needed to know what sensors would work underwater with its unique wave energy converter (WEC), so they partnered with Edith Cowan University (ECU) through the university’s Industry and PhD Research Engagement Program, which matches Western Australian PhD candidates with industry. ECU graduate Gary Allwood researched ways of using optical fibre sensors to measure load and stress on the WEC system’s membrane.

“The partnership allowed me to do things that haven’t been done before, like use optical fibres as sensors instead of electrical sensors,” says Allwood, who will work with Bombora Wave Power to test the sensors.

There are other, similar Australian programs. CRCs offer a number of scholarships across 14 different fields of research, giving PhD students a chance to gain industry experience.

Monash University started its Graduate Research Interdisciplinary Programs (GRIPs) in early 2015, allowing PhD students to solve real-world problems through collaborative research.

The Chemicals and Plastics GRIP has 20 industry partners offering training and funding, including Dulux and 3M. One student is treating coffee grounds to create a fertiliser to improve the soil quality of agricultural land.

“This is an exciting and innovative model for postgraduate education that encourages interdisciplinary and industry-engaged practice,” says Monash University’s Vice-Provost for Graduate Education, Professor Zlatko Skrbis.

– Marisa Wikramanayake