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Articles categorized as ‘University of Sydney Research Programs’

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

University of Sydney offering $10 million in new scholarships for international postgraduate students

International students will have even more reason to choose the University of Sydney for their postgraduate research degrees, with the announcement of 40 new fully funded PhD scholarships available from 2017.

“We want to attract the best students from anywhere in the world and these new scholarships—growing to an investment of $10 million per year—will help us do that,” said Associate Professor Ross Coleman, the university’s Director of Graduate Research.

University of Sydney offering $10 million in new scholarships for international postgraduate students

Find out how you can apply for a Sydney scholarship (Photo: University of Sydney)

“The university was founded on a principle of meritocratic admission and we are pleased to build on this foundation with these new PhD scholarships,” said Associate Professor Coleman.

“Graduate students are future researchers and high-level thinkers who will help solve the problems facing the world, as well as making new knowledge available to everyone. These new scholarships will help more of the cleverest people do their PhD studies with us.”

The new scholarships will be available to all international postgraduate research students in any discipline, and students will be considered for the scholarships when they tick the scholarship option on their application to study. Scholarship winners will be selected on the basis of academic performance in qualifying degrees and any prior research experience.

Like all University of Sydney centrally awarded postgraduate research scholarships, these new scholarships will be available all year with no application closing dates. The best students will get a scholarship offer in less than two months from submitting their application to study.

The new scholarships follow the same allocation as the federal government’s Research Training Program scholarships, which are for both domestic and international postgraduate research students. The university’s new international student scholarships include

  • tuition fees for the postgraduate research degree;
  • a stipend to assist students with their living costs while undertaking their postgraduate research degree; and
  • an allowance to assist students with ancillary costs of their degree, including relocation costs to Sydney, thesis printing and academic publication costs, and overseas student health cover costs.

“The value of a PhD is in the capacity of the doctoral graduate to identify and think through difficult problems. By increasing the number of funded PhD scholarships for students to work with our world-leading researchers, the University of Sydney is investing significantly in a better future,” said Associate Professor Coleman.

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Would you like more information about research degrees available at the University of Sydney? Contact OzTREKK Australian Research Programs Admissions Officer Adam Smith at adam@oztrekk.com.

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

Students make $750 drug cheaply with Open Source Malaria team

Sydney Grammar School students, under the supervision of the University of Sydney and global members of the Open Source Malaria consortium, have reproduced an essential medicine in their high school laboratories. The drug, Daraprim, had been the subject of controversy when the price was hiked from US$13.50 to US$750 a dose last year.

Students make $750 drug cheaply with Open Source Malaria team

(L-R) University of Sydney researchers Associate Professor Matthew Todd and Dr Alice Williamson with Sydney Grammar School students and teachers Erin Sheridan and Dr Malcolm Binns (Photo via University of Sydney)

Daraprim—originally used as an antimalarial after its synthesis by Nobel Prize winner Gertrude Elion—is now more widely used as an anti-parasitic treatment for toxoplasmosis, which can be a dangerous disease for pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems, such as those living with HIV or AIDS.

Daraprim is listed by the World Health Organization as an essential medicine.

In September 2015, Turing Pharmaceuticals acquired the market rights to Daraprim and raised the price of a dose more than 5000 percent overnight. CEO at the time, Martin Shkreli, stuck by the price, despite criticism.

To highlight the inequity of the monopoly, high school students in Sydney have been working with the Open Source Malaria consortium to make Daraprim in the laboratory using inexpensive starting materials, as part of the Breaking good – Open Source Malaria Schools and Undergraduate Program.

Scientists anywhere in the world were able to view all the data generated and mentor the students to accelerate the science under the coordination from the University of Sydney’s Dr Alice Williamson and Associate Professor Matthew Todd.

Dr Williamson from the Sydney School of Chemistry said the scientific community could provide advice and guidance to the students online in real time.

“The enthusiasm of the students and their teachers Malcolm Binns and Erin Sheridan was translated into a complete route in the public domain by the use of the Open Source Malaria platform,” Dr Williamson said.

“Anyone could take part and all data and ideas are shared in real time.”

Associate Professor Matthew Todd said the innovative open-source approach lowered the barrier to participation by researchers outside traditional institutions, such as universities and pharmaceutical companies, allowing students to work on real research problems of importance to human health.

“Daraprim may be quickly and simply made, bringing into question the need for such a high price for this important medicine,” Associate Professor Todd said.

Open Source Malaria is supported by the Medicines for Malaria Venture and the Australian Government.

Research at the Sydney Faculty of Pharmacy

Postgraduate study allows interested students to gain experience and skills in research. The Sydney Faculty of Pharmacy has a rich research track record and students have the opportunity to work with world leaders in several research fields. Pharmacy qualifications offer unique career options and flexibility, combining a professional degree with research experience. Graduates may seek employment in full-time research work or choose to pursue a research-based higher degree.

Sydney Pharmacy School graduates with research experience are sought after candidates for senior roles in the pharmaceutical industry.

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Would you like more information about studying pharmacy at the Sydney Faculty of Pharmacy? Contact OzTREKK’s Australian Pharmacy Schools Admissions Officer Krista McVeigh at krista@oztrekk.com.

Monday, October 24th, 2016

Sydney veterinary research: Is your dog happy?

Dogs aren’t as easy to read as you might think.

Dogs generally seem to be cheerful, happy-go-lucky characters, so you might expect that most would have an optimistic outlook on life. In fact some dogs are distinctly more pessimistic than others.

Sydney vet research: Is your dog happy?

Who’s a happy boy?

“This research is exciting because it measures positive and negative emotional states in dogs objectively and non-invasively. It offers researchers and dog owners an insight into the outlook of dogs and how that changes,” said Dr Melissa Starling, from the Sydney Faculty of Veterinary Science.

“Finding out as accurately as possible whether a particular dog is optimistic or pessimistic is particularly helpful in the context of working and service dogs and has important implications for animal welfare.”

Dogs were taught to associate two different sounds (two octaves apart) with whether they would get the preferred reward of milk or instead get the same amount of water. Once the dogs have learnt the discrimination task, they are presented with ambiguous tones.

If dogs respond after ambiguous tones, it shows that they expect good things will happen to them, and they are called optimistic. They can show how optimistic they are by which tones they respond to. A very optimistic dog may even respond to tones that sound more like those played before water is offered.

However, it does mean that both individuals and institutions (kennels, dog minders) can have a much more accurate insight into the emotional make-up of their dogs.

According to the research a dog with an optimistic personality expects more good things to happen, and fewer bad things. She will take risks and gain access to rewards. She is a dog that picks herself up when things don’t go her way, and tries again. Minor setbacks don’t bother her.

If your dog has a pessimistic personality, he expects fewer good things to happen and more bad things. This may make him cautious and risk averse. He may readily give up when things don’t go his way, because minor setbacks distress him. He may not be unhappy per se, but he is likely to be most content with the status quo and need some encouragement to try new things.

“Pessimistic dogs appeared to be much more stressed by failing a task than optimistic dogs. They would whine and pace and avoid repeating the task while the optimistic dogs would appear unfazed and continue,” said Dr Starling.

“This research could help working dog trainers select dogs best suited to working roles. If we knew how optimistic or pessimistic the best candidates for a working role are, we could test dogs’ optimism early and identify good candidates for training for that role. A pessimistic dog that avoids risks would be better as a guide dog while an optimistic, persistent dog would be more suited to detecting drugs or explosives.”

Dr Starling has been working with Assistance Dogs Australia, a charity organisation that provides service and companion dogs to people with disabilities, to investigate whether an optimism measure could aid in selecting suitable candidates for training.

The research not only suggests how personality may affect the way dogs see the world and how they behave but how positive or negative their current mood is.

“If we know how optimistic or pessimistic an animal usually is, it’s possible to track changes in that optimism that will indicate when it is in a more positive or negative emotional state than usual,” said Dr Starling.

“The remarkable power of this is the opportunity to essentially ask a dog ‘How are you feeling?’ and get an answer. It could be used to monitor their welfare in any environment, to assess how effective enrichment activities might be in improving welfare, and pinpoint exactly what a dog finds emotionally distressing.”

Sydney Doctor of Veterinary Medicine

The Sydney Veterinary School’s DVM program encourages enrolment of students from diverse backgrounds and aims to help them achieve their goals to become veterinary medical professionals in the global community. Teaching is research-driven to ensure Sydney veterinary students will learn from the latest developments and advances in evidence-based practice, veterinary science research, animal behaviour and welfare science and veterinary public health.

Program: Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
Location: Sydney, New South Wales
Semester intake: February
Program duration: 4 years

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If you have questions about Sydney Veterinary School, please contact OzTREKK’s Australian Veterinary Schools Officer Shannon Tilston at shannon@oztrekk.com. We’re here to help!

Monday, July 11th, 2016

Giving horses a voice on painful nosebands

The first study to confirm stress responses when horses are prevented from moving their jaws has brought the spotlight on increasingly popular nosebands, with estimates that one in two horses competing in dressage, show-jumping and eventing cannot open their mouths because of tight-fitting nosebands.

University of Sydney veterinary School

Learn more about Sydney Veterinary School

A serious animal welfare issue for horses in equestrian events has been highlighted by new research from the Sydney Faculty of Veterinary Science.

This is the first study to show physiological stress responses when horses are prevented from moving their jaws.

The use of restrictive nosebands to bind together the jaws of sport horses is increasingly popular, with some estimates suggesting that half of the horses competing in dressage, show-jumping and eventing cannot open their mouths at all.

The study’s senior author, Professor Paul McGreevy, said the research shows how restrictive nosebands compromise natural behaviours and trigger a significant stress response in horses, which may violate the International Equestrian Federation’s (FEI) rule that nosebands are “never as tightly fixed so as to harm the horse.”

“In light of the current results, horse sport administrators may need to decide which oral behaviours they can afford to see eliminated in the name of sport,” the Sydney Veterinary School professor said.

“Tight nosebands can mask unacceptably rough riding. While wearing a bitted bridle, horses are highly motivated to open their mouths to find comfort, but in dressage competitions, this response attracts penalties.”

To avoid such penalties, many riders now crank the jaws together with a system of leather pulleys (a crank noseband). This device is permitted under noseband rules, written before cranking was conceived, even though it increases pain and discomfort from the bits. This increase in aversive pressure boosts the rider’s control of the horse, which is why such nosebands appeal not only to dressage riders but also to many show-jumpers and eventers.

Pressure from nosebands has been likened to pressure from a tourniquet and often exceeds levels associated in humans with tissue and nerve damage. Crank nosebands are padded to avoid cutting into the surface of the skin, but inside the mouth, they force the cheeks against naturally sharp molars and are associated with lacerations and ulcers.

“The horse’s challenge when managing discomfort from a single bit is magnified if it is required to accommodate two bits, as is common at the elite level in dressage,” said Professor McGreevy.

“For example, every dressage horse at Olympic level must compete with a double bridle which means there are two metal bits in its mouth, one of which is a lever that tightens a metal chain under the chin. The incentive for riders to bind these horses’ jaws together to prevent displays of resistance increases accordingly.”

The team from the University of Sydney has been studying the effects of noseband tightening on horses’ behaviour, cardiac responses and eye temperature (a proxy for physiological stress).

In a paper published recently in PLOS ONE, the team reports that tight nosebands profoundly reduce yawning, licking, chewing and, perhaps worst of all, swallowing in horses wearing a double bridle.

The unique study is also the first to show that when the nosebands are removed and yawning, chewing, licking and swallowing are no longer prevented, horses show more of these behaviours.

”This so-called post-inhibitory rebound reveals the fundamental importance of these oral comfort behaviours,” Professor McGreevy said.

Many manuals and older rule books propose two fingers be used as a spacer to guard against over-tightening but some fail to specify where these should be placed or the size of the fingers.

In light of the prevalence of noseband tightening, the International Society for Equitation Science has called for a limit on noseband tightening and for the routine use of a standardised taper gauge, proposing this would be good for horse welfare and the sustainability of the sports themselves.

Sydney Doctor of Veterinary Medicine

The Sydney Veterinary School’s DVM program encourages enrolment of students from diverse backgrounds and aims to help them achieve their goals to become veterinary medical professionals in the global community. Teaching is research-driven to ensure Sydney veterinary students will learn from the latest developments and advances in evidence-based practice, veterinary science research, animal behaviour and welfare science and veterinary public health.

Program title: Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
Location: Sydney, New South Wales
Semester intake: March
Program duration: 4 years

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Would you like more information about Sydney Veterinary School? Contact OzTREKK’s Australian Veterinary Schools Officer Shannon Tilston at shannon@oztrekk.com or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355.

Friday, June 17th, 2016

Sydney public health researchers awarded top grant

Public health researchers at the University of Sydney tackled one of the biggest issues facing modern healthcare: turning healthy people into sick patients due to over-diagnosis and over-treatment made possible by new, highly sensitive screening and diagnostic tests.

Sydney Public health researchers awarded top NHMRC grant

Learn more about Sydney Public Health School

A panel of seven experts explored the hotly debated topics at a public forum from on May 30 at the university.

“We will consider a radical idea that sometimes wiser healthcare means less healthcare. Or at least, less healthcare for people who don’t need it, so we can give more healthcare to people who need it,” said Professor Alexandra Barratt, from the Sydney School of Public Health.

The research team was recently awarded a $2.5-million National Health and Medical Research Council grant to establish a Centre for Research Excellence (CRE) to develop strategies to mitigate the over-diagnosis and over-treatment issues.

“Recently, we have witnessed an explosion of new diagnostic and screening technologies available including advanced imaging, biomarkers and genomic tests. Some of these tests are even marketed directly to the public,” added Professor Barratt, CRE Chief Investigator.

“Ideally these tests improve health by identifying diseases or risks that need to be treated; however, sometimes these tests lead to over-diagnosis and over-treatment which not only harms patients but wastes health resources through unnecessary procedures.

“The CRE will focus on cancer and cardiovascular disease. New diagnostics are already appearing in clinical use in these areas, and these diseases account for a large burden of death, disease and health care spending in Australia.

Public health researcher and ethicist Associate Professor Stacy Carter said, “Most importantly, this research is about improving health outcomes for patients, in Australia and internationally.

“Our findings will assist patients, citizens, healthcare funders and health professionals to adopt helpful new technologies and avoid harmful new technologies to get the best possible outcomes from our healthcare system.”

Health psychologist Professor Kirsten McCaffery said “We are an internationally leading, multidisciplinary team and Australia is at the forefront of this new area of research. This funding puts us in a unique position to continue and expand the world class work we are doing.”

Public Health at the University of Sydney

The public health program at the University of Sydney focuses on the prevention of illness and the promotion of health, with practitioners playing a proactive rather than a reactive role, especially with regard to the coordination of relevant community resources. The program provides the opportunity to develop skills and acquire knowledge essential for the effective practice of public health, including the effective management of community health problems.

Program: Master of Public Health
Location: Sydney, New South Wales
Semester intakes: March and July
Duration: 1 year

Apply to the Sydney Public Health School!

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If you have any questions about studying public health at the University of Sydney, please contact OzTREKK’s Australian Public Health Schools Admissions Officer Adam Smith at adam@oztrekk.com.

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

Sydney Dentistry cutting the risk of chronic diseases through better oral health

The University of Sydney’s new Chair of Lifespan Oral Health has set his sights on a $20m research centre.

The University of Sydney’s newly appointed Chair of Lifespan Oral Health, Professor Jöerg Eberhard has set his sights on establishing a world-class research centre dedicated to improving oral health and unraveling connections between poor oral health and major health issues such as heart attacks, stroke, vascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and poor outcomes in pregnancy.

Sydney Dental School

Professor Jöerg Eberhard, Chair of Lifespan Oral Health (Photo credit: University of Sydney)

“The Sydney Faculty of Dentistry has a strong research record revealing how chronic infections and degeneration of the gums and teeth raise the risk of disease processes throughout the body,” says Professor Eberhard, who is based at the University of Sydney’s Westmead campus.

Oral diseases are commonplace. A third of Australian adults have untreated dental decay and one in four have moderate to severe gum disease, conditions that both raise the risk of chronic health conditions.

Establishing a $20m world-class Research Centre in Lifespan Oral Health

A $3.6-million donation to the University of Sydney in 2015 was the stimulus for a bold plan to establish the inaugural Chair of Lifespan Oral Health and a $20-million research centre spearheading research, policy, advocacy and education initiatives to prevent and reduce chronic diseases caused by poor oral health.

“This newly established Chair means I am responsible for developing and driving strategies that can improve the health of current and future generations of Australians.

“This mission goes beyond traditional dentistry and medicine by extending to education, nutrition, agriculture, economics, public health policy, the built environment, and communication technologies.

“The ability to bring together researchers from many disciplines is a unique feature of this appointment and represents an extraordinary opportunity to integrate oral health into broader health issues.

“I’m confident that our research, education and policy work will help to improve oral health but also the systemic health of the population, and I’m very happy to be joining the University of Sydney in this new endeavour.”

The university recently released a prospectus describing plans to translate its research findings into real-world impacts and raising $20 million to establish the world-class research centre.

“This appointment will greatly enable the necessary science and clinical research, help strengthen the education of next-generation dentists, and integrate dental health in national and international health strategies,” says Professor Chris Peck, Dean of Dentistry at the University of Sydney.

“The new Chair’s research will be incorporated into the university’s Dentistry curricula, as well as new clinical treatment guidelines for future dental professionals, and in continuing professional development programs for current practitioners.

“The centre will build on the work of the new Chair and develop a whole-of-health disease prevention strategy that defines benefits to individuals, the community and government through improved health, reduced costs and evidence-based health policy development,” said Professor Peck.

University of Sydney Dental School

The Sydney Dental School’s Doctor of Dental Medicine is a graduate-entry program that has been purposefully designed to adhere to the well-rounded course structure of the North American postgraduate model, but has also maintained the sophisticated clinical training for which the university has come to be renowned, giving students an applicable knowledge of dental health from the community to the laboratory.

Program: Doctor of Dental Medicine
Location: Sydney, New South Wales
Next available intake: February 2017
Duration: 4 years
Application deadline: June 21, 2016

Apply to the University of Sydney Dental School!

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Do you have any questions regarding Sydney Dental School? Contact OzTREKK’s Australian Dental Schools Admissions Officer Adam Smith at adam@oztrekk.com or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355.

Friday, January 29th, 2016

University of Sydney scholars named among world’s most influential scientific minds

Six University of Sydney scholars have been named among the world’s most influential scientific minds in a new analysis of thousands of academic papers by Thomson Reuters.

The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds 2015 report is based on the number of cited research papers an academic published from 2003 to 2013.

University of Sydney Medical School

Learn more about studying at the University of Sydney

It identifies the best and most influential scholars from among the world’s estimated nine million researchers who publish upwards of two million papers each year.

The report also includes a ranking of the “hottest researchers” whose recently published papers were cited at extraordinarily high levels over a short period of time.

Highly cited scholars were assigned to one of 21 main specialty areas, based on a majority of the specific journals in which they published their highly cited papers between 2003 and 2013. The large, populous and active life-sciences fields of Clinical Medicine, Biology and Biochemistry, and Molecular Biology and Genetics were prolific in producing highly cited researchers.

By contrast, smaller fields such as Computer Science, Mathematics and Economics and Business, with comparatively lower numbers of researchers and journals, produced proportionally fewer highly cited scholars.

The six University of Sydney scholars named among the world’s most influential scientific minds:

Emeritus Professor Bruce Armstrong – Sydney School of Public Health, Sax Institute, Sydney Medical School. Citation field: social sciences.

Professor Adrian Bauman – Sydney School of Public Health, Charles Perkins Centre, Sydney Medical School. Citation field: social sciences.

Professor Manfred Lenzen – School of Physics, Faculty of Science. Citation field: economics and business.

Professor Stephen MacMahon – The George Institute for Global Health, Sydney Medical School. Citation field: clinical medicine.

Professor Bruce Neal – The George Institute for Global Health, Sydney Medical School. Citation field: clinical medicine.

Professor Mark Woodward – The George Institute for Global Health, Sydney Medical School. Citation field: clinical medicine.

Australia had 103 highly cited scholars, ranking fifth behind the US, UK, Germany and China. The USA’s University of California System was the leading university represented with 160 highly cited researchers, followed by Harvard University.

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Would you like more information about the programs offered at the University of Sydney? Contact OzTREKK at info@oztrekk.com or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355.

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

Lambert donation puts Australia at forefront of medicinal cannabinoid research

A $33.7-million gift to the University of Sydney places Australia at the forefront of medicinal cannabinoid research.

“Our vision is to make Australia a world-leader in researching how to realise the powerful medicinal potential of the cannabis plant,” said Barry Lambert, who together with his wife Joy, has funded the Lambert Initiative.

University of Sydney Medical School

Learn more about studying at Sydney Medical School

“The experience of our granddaughter, who suffers debilitating epilepsy, has opened our eyes to the extraordinary possibility of cannabinoids treating not only her condition but a range of chronic illnesses that often don’t respond to conventional treatments.

“We believe this investment in the future of Australian science and medicine will provide the much-needed evidence to rapidly advance the use of medicinal cannabinoids in the treatment of childhood epilepsy and other serious illnesses.”

The donation is the largest gift ever made to research at the University of Sydney.

“The Lamberts’ unprecedented gift holds the promise of achieving innovative and effective new medicines to alleviate the suffering of countless numbers of people,” said Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney.

“It enables research across a broad range of applications from addiction, cancer, obesity, childhood epilepsy and chronic pain to dementia and mental health disorders. Their generosity recognises the university’s commitment to cross-disciplinary research that can achieve life-changing outcomes. It is our privilege and responsibility to respond.

“A world-first in the extent of its support for medicinal cannabis research, it places Australia in the front rank of countries, such as the Netherlands, the United States and Israel, leading the world in this new era of cannabinoid science.”

The Lambert Initiative funds a multi-year program to build on the university’s extensive clinical and scientific cannabinoid-related expertise to ultimately produce cannabinoid-based medicines.

NSW Premier Mike Baird has congratulated the University of Sydney on the significant initiative and applauded the generosity of the Lamberts.

“NSW is breaking new ground in terms of medical cannabis research and this major investment confirms our state’s leadership in this area,” Mr Baird said.

“The Lamberts’ investment gives our cause enormous momentum and my hope is it dramatically increases the cross-sector knowledge sharing required to ultimately produce cannabinoid-based medicines that are safe, reliable and affordable.

“I recently met with the lead investigators of the Lambert Initiative and am pleased that they are already embedded in our clinical trials.”

A priority of the Initiative will be to understand how cannabidiol (CBD) works to treat paediatric epilepsy and to explore the potential of the nine other cannabinoids, currently identified as of greatest therapeutic interest, to address the condition.

The strategy will go on to determine which of these cannabinoids hold the greatest promise in treating specific diseases and, using rigorous, high-quality evidence, move them towards human clinical trials.

From the start the Initiative will undertake medicinal chemistry to drive the creation of new highly targeted medications based on its emerging understanding of how cannabinoids treat disease. At the heart of the program will be sharing such knowledge with the public, government and medical professionals with both outreach and education.

The lead investigators of the Lambert Initiative, from the Faculty of Science and Sydney Medical School, with decades of cannabinoid research between them, are Professor Iain McGregor, Associate Professor Nicholas Lintzeris and Dr David  Allsop.

“We have all devoted our careers to cannabis science, one of the fastest moving frontiers in pharmacology. We now know there are more than 100 different compounds we call cannabinoids, many of which have incredible therapeutic properties that we are only beginning to understand,” said Professor Iain McGregor.

“The Lambert Initiative allows us to gather the key science researchers and clinicians from Australia and worldwide to work within, or in association with, the Lambert Initiative. Much of the research will happen on-site at the University of Sydney but it will also support and promote specialist researchers throughout Australia to encourage them to undertake collaborative cannabinoid-related research.

“We have also made a flying start by becoming embedded in the NSW government’s sponsored clinical trials of medicinal cannabis, offering our unique cannabinoid clinical trials expertise, including exploring its safety and effectiveness for treating paediatric epilepsy.”

With every gift to the University of Sydney, donors become part of INSPIRED, the campaign to support the University of Sydney, which aims to raise $600 million by 2017.

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Questions about studying at Sydney Medical School? Contact OzTREKK’s Australian Medical Schools Admissions Officer Sarah Bridson at sarah@oztrekk.com or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355.

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

Starchy carbs, not a Paleo diet, advanced the human race

Published in the Quarterly Review of Biology, the hypothesis challenges the long-standing belief that the increase in size of the human brain around 800,000 years ago was the result of increased meat consumption.

The research is a blow to advocates of the Paleo diet, which shuns starch-rich vegetables and grains.

It’s okay to eat starchy carbs!

“Global increases in obesity and diet-related metabolic diseases have led to enormous interest in ancestral or ‘Palaeolithic’ diets,” said Professor Jennie Brand-Miller from the Charles Perkins Centre, who co-authored the research with Professor Les Copeland from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Agriculture and Environment and international colleagues.

“Up until now, there has been a heavy focus on the role of animal protein in the development of the human brain over the last two million years. The importance of carbohydrate, particularly in the form of starch-rich plant foods, has been largely overlooked. Our research suggests that dietary carbohydrates, along with meat, were essential for the evolution of modern big-brained humans.

“The evidence suggests that Palaeolithic humans would not have evolved on today’s ‘Paleo’ diet.”

According to the researchers, the high glucose demands required for the development of modern humans’ large brains would not have been met on a low carbohydrate diet. The human brain uses up to 25 per cent of the body’s energy budget and up to 60 per cent of blood glucose.

Human pregnancy and lactation, in particular, place additional demands on the body’s glucose budget, along with increased body size and the need for mobility and dietary flexibility.

Starches would have been readily available to early human populations in the form of tubers, seeds and some fruits and nuts. But it was only with the advent of cooking that such foods became more easily digested, leading to “transformational” changes in human evolution, said co-author Professor Les Copeland.

“Cooking starchy foods was central to the dietary change that triggered and sustained the growth of the human brain,” Professor Copeland said.

Researchers also point to evidence in salivary amylase genes, which increase the amount of salivary enzymes produced to digest starch. While modern humans have on average six copies of salivary amylase genes, other primates have only an average of two. The exact point at which salivary amylase genes multiplied is uncertain, but genetic evidence suggests it occurred in the last million years, around the same time that cooking became a common practice.

“After cooking became widespread, starch digestion advanced and became the source of preformed dietary glucose that permitted the acceleration in brain size,” Professor Copeland said.

“In terms of energy supplied to an increasingly large brain, increased starch consumption may have provided a substantial evolutionary advantage.”

Co-author Karen Hardy, a researcher with the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, said: “We believe that while meat was important, brain growth is less likely to have happened without the energy obtained from carbohydrates. While cooking has also been proposed as contributing to early brain development, cooking carbohydrates only makes sense if the body has the enzymic equipment to process these.”

According to the researchers, a diet similar to that which gave us our large brains in the Palaeolithic era would be positive for human health. However, unlike the modern Paleo diet, that diet should include underground starchy foods such as potatoes, taro, yams and sweet potatoes, as well as more recently introduced starchy grains like wheat, rye, barley, corn, oats, quinoa and millet.

“It is clear that our physiology should be optimised to the diet we experienced in our evolutionary past,” Professor Brand-Miller said.

“Eating meat may have kick-started the evolution of bigger brains, but cooked starchy foods, together with more salivary amylase genes, made us smarter still.”

The study was co-authored with international researchers Dr Karen Hardy (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) and Professor Mark Thomas and Katherine Brown (University College London).

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Find out more about science degrees available at the University of Sydney. Contact OzTREKK Australian Science Programs Admissions Officer Rachel Brady at rachel@oztrekk.com or call 1-866-698-7355.

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

Sydney School of Biological Sciences helps create killer bee genetic testing

A genetic test that can prevent the entry of ‘killer’ bees into Australia and worldwide spread has been created by researchers at the University of Sydney and their collaborators at York University in Canada.

The news is of critical importance to Australia, which produces an estimated $4 to $6 billion of farm and garden crops that rely on honeybee pollination.

Australia faces the paradoxical problem of needing to import bees resistant to a pest that threatens to devastate Australia’s bee population but being unable to do so while the risk of introducing ‘killer’ bees still exists.

University of Sydney Sciences

Study biological sciences at the University of Sydney

“Having a tool that can identify desirable and undesirable bee subspecies will be of value to breeding and conservation programs throughout the world,” said Dr Nadine Chapman from the Sydney School of Biological Sciences.

She is lead author of an article on the research published in Molecular Ecology Resources on April 21.

“Pollination of crops by honeybees adds many billions of dollars to the world economy, so any strategy that can prevent losses is an important contribution to food security.”

Before publication the work won Dr Chapman a CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship Award.

The looming threat to Australian honeybees comes from the Varroa mite, present in all beekeeping countries except Australia. It devastates colonies by sucking bees’ blood and spreading blood-borne diseases.

Sydney School of Biological Sciences researchers, working with the United States Department of Agriculture, have previously found that Australian honeybees do not have resistance to the mite and it could destroy bee stocks within a couple of years.

“The answer is to import Varroa-resistant bee semen and queen bees so we can breed resistance into our bee stocks as a form of ‘inoculation’ that could protect our bees,” said Dr Chapman.

“Until now this option has been restricted because Australian beekeepers are only able to import bees from the small number of countries that are free of ‘killer bees,’ which originated in Africa.

“As the name implies, killer bees (as Africanised bees are commonly called), are highly aggressive and are considered unacceptable for beekeeping. It is assumed that they would replace our current honeybee populations in the key beekeeping regions.”

Dr Chapman worked with Professor Ben Oldroyd from the Sydney School of Biological Sciences and with researchers at York University in Canada, the US Department of Agriculture and the Agricultural Research Council in South Africa.

The researchers developed a test that identifies how much of three main ancestral lineages—Eastern European, Western European and African—are present. To lower the risk of killer bees coming to Australia, those with high African ancestry will be denied entry.

“Using this test Australia will be able to import honeybees, including Varroa-resistant bees, from countries where killer bees are present, including the United States,” Dr Chapman said.

Associate Professor Amro Zayed, a researcher from York University said, “Our genetic test is highly accurate, which is considerably better than the old tests that have a high tendency to misclassify hybrid bees.”

Dr Chapman is now working on making the genetic test more affordable and plans to work with the United States Department of Agriculture to develop a protocol for the importation of Varroa-resistant bees.

Australia’s bee importation regulations are currently being reviewed by the Department of Agriculture.

Australia’s Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation supported this research.

About the Sydney School of Biological Sciences

The Sydney School of Biological Sciences has over 30 academic staff members who are active in teaching, research, and have outstanding international reputations. The interests of the academic staff span molecular biology; genetics; cell biology; physiology; behaviour; biodiversity; ecology and evolution of Australian plants and animals; and student-learning in biology. The practical applications of this expertise include conservation and management of natural resources; biotechnology; bioinformatics; disease control; and teaching and learning procedures and resources.

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