Griffith University Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim has been honoured as this year’s Australian of the Year recipient.
The retired biomedical scientist, whose ground-breaking stem-cell research was instrumental in helping a paralysed man walk again, accepted the prestigious award during a live announcement at Parliament House in Canberra on Australia Day eve.
Griffith University Professor Emeritus Alan Mackay-Sim is the 2017 Queensland Australian of the Year (Photo via Griffith University)
Professor Mackay-Sim has spent his career researching how nerve cells in the nose regenerate and pioneered a way to safely apply that same regenerative process to damaged spinal cords.
Recognised as the 2003 Queenslander of the Year and the 2017 Queensland Australian of the Year, Professor Mackay-Sim will now spend the next year fulfilling his duties for the Australian title while still overseeing several research projects at the Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery.
Those projects include stem cell research into treatments for conditions such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to talk about the importance of research on spinal cord injury and brain diseases,” Professor Mackay-Sim said in his speech.
“About new treatments using stem cells and cell transplantation, undreamed of 20 years ago. About how we must, as Australians, prioritise our spending so that we can afford not only to look after the diseased and disabled in our communities but also to afford the research for new and radical treatments to reduce future health costs.
“As a nation we must be part of this. And we must invest in young scientists.”
Professor Mackay-Sim highlighted the vital need for continued support and funding for research to ensure this life changing work isn’t compromised.
Vice Chancellor Professor Ian O’Connor congratulated Professor Mackay-Sim on his national award.
“Griffith University is extremely proud to have such a remarkable man and scientist among us,” he said.
“Alan’s research has laid the foundation for global efforts to use stem cell surgery to repair spinal cord injury. It is an extraordinary field.
“He is a deserved recipient of Australian of the Year and we join the rest of the country in applauding him.”
Pro Vice Chancellor (Sciences) Professor Andrew Smith said, “We are delighted Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim and his research has been recognised at the highest level. Griffith Sciences Group remains committed to supporting this pioneering stem cell research towards new innovative treatments for spinal injury.”
Our outstanding Australian dental schools are at it again.
The complications and high costs associated with dental implants could be a thing of the past as Griffith dentistry research aims to reduce the associated risks of infection using cutting-edge nanotechnology.
The study is being led by post-doctoral researcher Dr Karan Gulati from the Griffith School of Dentistry and Oral Health/Menzies Health Institute Queensland, who is presenting his research at this week’s Gold Coast Health and Medical Research Conference at the QT Hotel, Surfers Paradise (Dec. 1–2).
Hundreds of thousands of Australians need dental implants each year but the risks of infection and poor stability can be high, particularly if the patient has a condition such as osteoporosis or diabetes, which may compromise the dental healing process.
However early stage nanotechnology techniques in animal studies are now showing promise in allowing faster integration of an implant in order to prevent bacteria from setting in.
Nanotechnology is science, engineering and technology conducted at the nanoscale, which is about 1 to 100 nanometers.
“The technology I am using enables me to nano-engineer the surface of commercially established implants with nanotubes, which can later be loaded with drugs such as antibiotics or proteins for maximised therapeutic effect.”
“When these are inserted into the patient’s jaw, they improve soft- (gingiva) and hard-tissue (bone) integration and therefore dramatically decrease the likelihood of oral microbes being able to enter the tissue,” says Dr Gulati.
“Based on the initial results, we expect to achieve early implant stability and long-term success of such therapeutic dental implants.
“In addition, the overall costs to the patient are expected to be reduced, considering that there will be no expenses associated with follow up drug treatment, cleaning of possible bacterial attachment or correction of implant failure”
The groundbreaking work is still in the very early stages; however, clinical trials are planned to commence in 2017.
Dr Gulati says this implant technology can easily be extended to orthopaedic implants.
About Griffith Dentistry
The new $150-million purpose-built Griffith Health Centre, established in 2013, features state-of-the-art special-purpose dental facilities to assist Griffith dentistry students’ professional learning. Modern laboratories, including a commercial dental laboratory, will help them develop key skills in a fully supervised environment.
Program: Bachelor of Oral Health in Dental Science/Graduate Diploma of Dentistry Location: Gold Coast, Queensland Semester intake: February Duration: 5 years
To be eligible to apply to Griffith University’s Bachelor of Oral Health in Dental Science, applicants must have
academic achievement in year 12 or equivalent with one of biological science, chemistry, physics, or maths B;
Griffith University researchers have found that koalas are more clever than they thought them to be in a world-first study that tracked the Australian animal more comprehensively than ever before in suburban Brisbane.
The Griffith Environmental Futures Research Institute team, made up of Cathryn Dexter, Justin Scott and Professor Darryl Jones, verified 130 crossings by koalas involving a retrofitted structure or eco-passage over a 30-month period.
Can a koala learn new tricks? Studies say absolutely! (Photo credit: Griffith University)
The findings were released in a paper titled Using complementary remote detection methods for retrofitted eco-passages: a case study for monitoring individual koalas in south-east Queensland published by the CSIRO July 26.
Professor Darryl Jones of the Griffith School of Environment said nobody knew whether the structures would actually keep koalas safe from being hit by cars or if they would work.
“We expected the animals to take a while to get used to them,” he said.
“To our great surprise they were using them three weeks into it. Can you teach koalas new tricks? You can; that’s the point. I was the first skeptical person to say they’re not that smart.”
The team used a range of technologies that allowed them to not just generically monitor whether koalas passed through the crossing but pinpointed individual koalas and the exact time they entered and left the tunnel.
Using camera traps, audio radio transmitters, RFID tags (similar to microchips in pets) and WIDs (wireless ID tags)—which act like RFID tags but can be detected from a much greater distance—they gathered more information than any previous research.
The WIDs were developed by two Griffith graduates Rob Appleby and Jason Edgar who now run their own wildlife monitoring company, Wild Spy, and were a part of the research.
“This is all about trying to make absolutely sure that koalas are using some of the structures we’ve put out for them to get safely under roads,” Professor Jones said.
“Knowing how they do that is really difficult. You can get photos but you don’t know if it’s the same animal each time.
“The essence of this you can get really import information using a range of technologies at the same time. That’s a world first. Nobody has done that so comprehensively before.
“We really wanted to know what individual koalas were doing, whether they crossed at the same time each day. We wanted more information than most people ever need and we did that using this range of technologies.”
Professor Jones said most people living in suburban Brisbane or parts of the Gold Coast did not realise koalas lived all around them and that these structures were keeping them safe in their backyards and off the roads.
The research was supported by funding from the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads, which was responsible for the structures.
“The tunnels were an experiment,” Professor Jones said. “Nobody knew whether they would work or not. We really wanted to know what the local koala was doing so we got ridiculous amount of details of these animals.
“We needed to be clear on whether they were successful because the structures were so innovative and risky that we tried really hard to prove it. That’s why it was worth it.
“Although we don’t want the koalas to be disturbed, all over the place on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane there are special koala specific tunnels and ledges that are allowing them to cross. Those animals are not going to be hit anymore so that’s good news.
The crossings studied in Brisbane were within the jurisdictions of Brisbane City, Redland City and Moreton Bay Regional Council.
Traffic volumes for this region are predicted to increase by 19 per cent, or 2.8 million trips per day between 2006 and 2031.
The paper states: “The continuous clearing of koala habitat for development has placed a great deal of pressure on local koala populations and the risk of vehicle strike is recognised as a key threatening process for ongoing koala persistence in this region.
“The focus must shift from studies that simply assess how many species pass through an eco-passage (i.e., presence), to those that assess the utilisation level by individuals.
“Such information will represent a powerful step forward in providing road authorities with recommendations in relation to the design and placement of crossing structures, and ensuring that the costs equal the ecological benefit.”
Griffith School of Environment
The Griffith School of Environment was thought of as revolutionary; today it is more important than ever. Over that time the environment and sustainable practice has evolved from a fringe issue to a mainstream challenge to government, industry and even individual households. Griffith is helping society to face those challenges.
The university has expanded on their initial programs to offer not only environmental and natural sciences but also urban planning and architecture with a focus on sustainable development. Griffith University’s undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs include
marine science; and
urban and environmental planning.
The school has the largest group of environmental professionals in any university in Australia, and among the largest in the world.
Combatting racism within a multicultural society is the focus of new Griffith University research.
The large-scale project is led by Dr Fiona Kate Barlow from the Menzies Health Institute Queensland, following the award of a Future Fellowship from the Australian Research Council valued at just over $800,000.
Study at Griffith University, Queensland
One of only 50 Future Fellowships awarded to scientists nationally, the research will see Dr Barlow drawing on established social psychological theories of prejudice, aiming to combat racism by ascertaining how it is maintained and how its damaging consequences can be diminished.
“Racism is a pervasive problem worldwide, and its harmful effects on the health of those facing it are estimated to cost Australia billions of dollars a year,” says Dr Barlow.
The project plans to investigate how small negative interracial interactions can perpetuate racial hostility and segregation; how negative interracial interactions might lead to extremist identification and sympathies; and how prejudice and discrimination develops between different minority groups.
It also plans to investigate how small positive intergroup interactions might reduce racism, as well as promoting well-being and health.
“There has no doubt been an incredible process of positive steps taken in challenging racism over the past few decades, however it still remains a huge problem in society,” says Dr Barlow.
“For example, there is still much evidence to suggest that racism affects people in terms of access to education, employment and even housing.
“This is to say nothing of the physical and emotional toll that exposure to racism takes.
“The aim is that the study’s outcomes may lead to solutions that promote social cohesion in Australia.”
Menzies Health Institute Queensland
Griffith University has partnered with the Menzies Foundation to form the fourth Australian Menzies health research institute.
The new Menzies Health Institute Queensland brings together more than 750 researchers working across a diverse range of areas such as
Building on Griffith University’s strong local and international research networks, this significant new institute will deliver outstanding research in biomedical sciences and social health, and drive national leadership in allied health research.
Griffith University scientists have developed a molecular waterproofing technique to improve the humidity tolerance of new solar cell technology.
The cells, based on a compound known as perovskite, are cheaper to make than traditional silicon cells, but their use in real-world devices has long been limited by a reduced efficiency in humid conditions, such as exist in Queensland.
Professor Huijun Zhao, Director of the Centre for Clean Environment and Energy (Photo credit: Griffith University)
However, researchers have now developed a water-resistant perovskite solar cell that can operate in a humid environment and maintain efficiency for longer.
Professor Huijun Zhao and Dr Yun Wang, from the Centre for Clean Environment and Energy within Griffith’s Environmental Futures Research Institute, led the Australian-Chinese project.
The breakthrough is an important step towards large-scale production of high-performance perovskite-based devices, deemed by many to represent the next wave of solar energy technology.
“The ‘holy grail’ of solar technologies is in their cost, efficiency, and stability,” said Professor Zhao, Director of the Centre for Clean Environment and Energy. “Cost and efficiency are the advantages of perovskite solar cells, but it is the stability issue that will directly determine their fate.
“We invented a simple dipping technique capable of functionalising perovskite films with some common moisture-tolerant molecules.
“The molecules adsorbed on the perovskite surface have a unique feature of high water resistance, resulting in the perovskite structures remaining stable after 30 days of long-term testing under 90 per cent relative humidity.”
Granted access to the Raijin supercomputer at the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) facility in Canberra, Dr Wang conducted electronic structure calculations to achieve an efficient water-resistant layer on the solar cells.
In an interview with NCI, Dr Wang said, “Scientists are currently looking for green technologies by preventing waste, using renewable resources, designing environmentally friendly products, increasing catalytic selectivity and reducing energy consumption.
“Using state-of-the-art quantum mechanics techniques combined with the development of data and materials science, scientists can now do ‘virtual’ screening of candidate materials to theoretically forecast their performance through comprehensive understanding of their structural, electronic, magnetic and optical properties.”
Dr Wang added the research is in response to long-term environmental and energy-related crises driven by population growth, limited fossil resources, pollution, and climate change.
“The screening of potential functional materials is an important step for using cheap, earth-abundant materials to improve renewable energy resources,” he said.
Griffith University Professor Zhao said the development brought scientists one step closer to the ‘holy grail’ of efficient, stable and cost-effective photovoltaic technology.
“These functionalised perovskites can exhibit similar photovoltaic performance to the pristine ones,” he said. “As well, this functionalisation technique is also the simplest, involving only dipping and washing steps. As such, it can be readily scaled up and adopted by manufacturers.”
Funding for the research came from the Australian Government, Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.
The research is published in the prestigious journal Nature Energy.
Research seeking solutions to the potential conflict between marine ecosystems and commercial and recreational fishing has earned Griffith University’s Dr Chris Brown a 2015 Young Tall Poppy Science Award.
Griffith Associate Prof Dr Chris Brown (Photo credit: Griffith University)
An initiative of the Australian Institute of Policy and Science, the prestigious awards were presented Aug. 20 to 11 young researchers by Queensland’s Minister for Science and Innovation, The Honourable Ms Leeanne Enoch MP, as part of the annual Science in Parliament program in Brisbane.
A member of Griffith’s world-leading Australian Rivers Institute, Dr Brown’s research is focused on striking a sustainable balance between the importance of fish for human consumption as well as to the health of marine ecosystems.
“Fishing is regulated in two ways: marine parks, which protect ecosystems; and catch limits, which protect fisheries,” says Dr Brown.
“For instance, on the Great Barrier Reef, which supports about 63,000 jobs, there are numerous areas where fishing is banned and there are bag limits for recreational fishers.
“Parks are great because they ensure a few places are near pristine and have many fish; however, the problem is that parks don’t protect fish outside their boundaries, the Griffith University associate professor.
“In fact, extensive parks can actually concentrate fishing in outside areas.”
Dr Brown’s research shows that bag limits are just as important for healthy ecosystems because they apply everywhere and thus help protect the health of ecosystems outside park boundaries.
“The right combination of bag limits and parks can ensure we have healthy ecosystems and fish to catch,” says Dr Brown.
“In other words, ecosystems can have their fish, and we can eat them, too.”
About the Griffith University Australian Rivers Institute
The Griffith University Australian Rivers Institute is Australia’s largest university aquatic ecosystem research groups with globally recognised expertise in river, catchment and coastal ecosystems and the interaction with these systems in society. The institute brings together 130 staff and post-graduate students at the Nathan and Gold Coast campuses.
Research focuses on a “source to sea” philosophy delivering through six themes:
Marine research conducted by Griffith University PhD candidate Ryan Pearson has given fresh hope to investigators trying to solve the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.
After confirmation that a wing fragment washed ashore at Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean is indeed from MH370, Mr Pearson says analysis of barnacles encrusted on the debris could narrow the search area for the missing aircraft.
Australian Rivers Institute PhD candidate Ryan Pearson removes barnacles from a turtle (Photo credit: Griffith University)
The Boeing 777 was carrying 239 passengers and crew when it disappeared in March last year. All attempts to find the aircraft have failed.
However, the recent discovery of a section of wing called a flaperon, and now identified as belonging to the missing plane, has lifted hopes of a resolution to the mystery.
Mr Pearson, from Griffith’s Australian Rivers Institute, says barnacle shells can provide information about the water conditions under which they are formed and through which they have passed. Accordingly, examination of barnacles attached to the wing piece can help determine how long it had been in the water and the path it had taken.
Barnacles can also be aged based on growth rates and size, meaning that if those on the flaperon are found to be older than the date the plane disappeared, the fragment could not have come from MH370.
Mr Pearson’s original research focuses on whether the shell chemistry of barnacles can reveal the migratory origin of endangered loggerhead turtles.
“To conserve loggerhead turtles, we need to know which parts of the ocean they use and when they use them. Scientists have tried to do this by measuring the chemical composition of the turtles, but this doesn’t always work,” he says.
“Not all turtles within a group eat the same things in the same places, so the sampling of skin tissues from a few doesn’t always tell us the big picture; however, a barnacle’s diet doesn’t really affect its shell growth, so the chemical composition of the shell will more accurately reflect where they’ve been in the ocean, compared with a turtle’s skin.”
Mr Pearson will receive the Ecological Society of Australia’s 2015 Jill Landsberg Applied Conservation Scholarship award and $6000 research grant at the Society’s annual conference in Adelaide in December. He will present his research findings at ESA16 in Fremantle.
Dr Maxime Aubert, Senior Research Fellow in the Griffith School of Humanities, has been invited to participate in the fifth Indonesian-American Kavli Frontiers of Science symposium in Indonesia from July 28–31.
Dr Maxime Aubert (Photo credit: Griffith University)
The symposium is sponsored by the Indonesian Academy of Sciences, the US National Academy of Sciences and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
Kavli Frontiers of Science Symposium brings together outstanding young scientists to discuss exciting advances and opportunities in a broad range of disciplines.
This year Australia will join the symposium for the first time and send its 10 best early- to mid-career researchers. Approximately 70 young scientists will attend the symposium from the US, Indonesia and Australia.
Dr Aubert will discuss the history of early human creativity. He will elaborate on his groundbreaking discovery of 40,000-year-old cave art on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The study was published in the scientific journal Nature in October last year and was rated by the journal Science amongst the Top 10 Scientific Achievements of 2014.
Other topics to be discussed at the symposium include nanomaterials, astrophysics, infectious diseases, health informatics and marine microbiology.
The symposium series is the premiere activity within the US Academy of Sciences for distinguished young scientists. Since its inception in 1989, more than 100 of its “alumni” have been elected to the US National Academy of Sciences, and 10 have received Nobel Prizes.
New Director of the Office for Research Professor Andrea Bishop has a vision to make Griffith University’s research reputation soar.
“Griffith University already has a significant research capacity and a reputation in the tertiary sector as one to watch,’’ she said.
“I want to be a part of building on this success to help make Griffith one of the most influential research universities in Australia and the Asia Pacific.
Professor Andrea Bishop, new Office for Research Director
“I’m looking forward to supporting the university’s research success in the long term.”
She said research success was recognised through metrics and reputation and Griffith should focus on both.
“The research profile across the institution is variable, as you’d expect for a university with such breadth of research activity.
“As part of Griffith’s research support crew, we’ll be carefully assessing opportunities and working with researchers and research leaders across the university to leverage better outcomes, in line with our strategic priorities.”
The former Director of Research at Charles Sturt University, Professor Bishop has a PhD in physical chemistry.
She gained international research experience before moving to academia and a series of strategic leadership roles in higher education. She also undertook a brief secondment to the Australian Research Council’s Strategy Branch in 2013.
Professor Bishop has a strong, practical grounding in higher education and its administration informed by education qualifications and an MBA. She champions business intelligence in decision-making and has broad experience in driving positive organisational change.
The Office for Research is Griffith University’s provider of research services and research quality development and support.
“We will continue to provide this support by ensuring that the highly skilled professional staff of the Office for Research maintain an outward focus to support and advise our researchers and by building and maintain critical relationships within and beyond Griffith.”
About Griffith Research
Griffith University is one of Australia’s leading research universities with strengths ranging from the creative arts, social sciences, and humanities to science, engineering and health. The university exhibits national and world leading excellence in areas of strategic focus that include water science, criminology, health and chronic diseases, drug discovery, quantum physics, climate change adaptation, music, sustainable tourism and political science.
Griffith has a comprehensive research portfolio with many world-leading research areas and the university has set a strong foundation to grow its research strengths over the coming years.
Griffith’s Research Centres and Institutes provide a robust framework for focused research, while the university’s commitment to its Areas of Strategic Investment underpins its aspirations for world-leading research outcomes.
Griffith University and an international team of researchers have moved a step closer to identifying a broad spectrum treatment for the dreaded arthritogenic alphavirus infections.
The threat of a global alphavirus pandemic remains high, in particular from highly aggressive strains such as Chikungunya virus, and has emphasised the continued need for therapeutic strategies to combat these deadly viruses.
Study science at Griffith University
These mosquito-transmitted viruses are responsible for thousands of hospitalisations and deaths throughout the world. Alphaviruses cause endemic disease and, occasionally, large epidemics; for instance, the 2004–2011 chikungunya epidemic resulted in 1.4-6.5 million cases, with imported cases reported in nearly 40 countries. Alphaviruses include about 30 pathogens spread by mosquitoes, also including Ross River virus and Barmah Forest virus that cause persistent arthritis.
Professor Suresh Mahalingam, a Principal Research Leader at Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics, said research findings published in the international journal PLoS Pathogens demanded a total rethink of how these viruses work.
“Alphaviruses are transmitted to human after an infectious bite by the mosquitoes. These viruses infect the host cells and replicate rapidly, causing illness,” he said.
“The rising prevalence of arthritogenic alphavirus infections and the lack of treatments highlight the potential threat of a global alphavirus pandemic.”
“The team has for the first time shown that the protein pentraxin 3 (PTX3) plays a crucial role in promoting alphavirus infection and disease. These findings were quite unexpected because, until now, PTX3 was only known to protect against virus infection. This new discovery paves the way to improved vaccine and drug development. This would have a significant global impact.
“The end game is to have a number of drugs available that can tackle these viruses.”
Griffith University Graduate Science Degrees
Students studying science at Griffith University experience flexibility and choice from day one. With over 30 years’ experience delivering exceptional science, Griffith continues to lead the way with breakthrough degree programs that are preparing a new generation of leaders in the science disciplines. Throughout their degrees, students will develop a deep conceptual understanding of modern science, strong practical and analytical skills, and the intellectual agility essential for lifelong learning.