2016 Victoria Fellows profiles
The 2016 Victoria Fellowships were awarded to:
- Dr Ravichandar Babarao
- Dr George Chen
- Dr Tamar Greaves
- Dr Christian Gunawan
- Dr Kang Liang
- Dr Subashani Maniam
Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, University of Melbourne
The pathogen Staphylococcus aureus or golden staph is a common cause of life-threatening infection in humans. Ms Baines’ PhD research has focussed on understanding how genetic-subtypes of S. aureus evolve, and how antibiotic use influences the development and spread of these drug-resistant bacteria. Her study mission to the University of Bath, in England; and the Pasteur Institute, in France, will provide Ms Baines with specialised skills to identify genetic predictors of disease, explore the evolution and spread of drug-resistant S. aureus in Australia, and identify cases of Staphylococcal infection where patients may be at an increased risk of developing severe infections, complications or dying. Ms Baines will also attend the Gordon Research Conference on Staphylococcal Diseases, in the United States.
Royal Melbourne Hospital
Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. This statistic is set to rise, with more patients receiving organ and bone marrow transplants and life-saving immunosuppressive drugs, which increase their risk of developing skin cancers and other complications. Dr De Cruz will work alongside haematologists and dermatologists at King’s College Hospital and Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Trust, in England, to develop his expertise on the effects of immunosuppression on the skin. He will attend clinics for patients who have had organ, bone marrow or stem cell transplantation, and are receiving treatments for organ rejection and other skin conditions. The study mission will enable Dr De Cruz to set up a multi-disciplinary oncodermatology clinic at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, where at-risk patients have access to innovative treatments.
Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, University of Melbourne
The immune system uses various approaches to detect and destroy harmful pathogens. Dr McWilliam’s research focuses on specialised immune cells called MAIT cells that are activated when they “see” key molecules produced by invading bacteria and yeast, triggering an immune response against the pathogens. His study mission to the Rockefeller University, in the United States, will enable Dr McWilliam to acquire the technical skills to monitor protein trafficking in cells and understand how foreign molecules are imported into human cells and presented to these immune cells. This information is vital for developing candidate drugs that can boost immunity to life-threatening infections. Dr McWilliam will also visit a biotechnology company in the United States and gain key insights about the commercialisation of medical discoveries.
Implanted brain stimulators can alleviate symptoms for people living with Parkinson’s disease when medications are ineffective. Dr Perera has developed devices that measure tremor, balance, posture and gait in movement disorders, and is using these instruments to develop a next-generation deep brain stimulator that can automatically adapt and adjust stimulation according to need. The study mission to the University of Oxford, University of Cologne, and University of Milan, will enable Dr Perera to learn how to precisely locate implanted brain electrodes from MRI and CT brain scans, and observe how clinical trials are conducted. He will also attend the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society Conference in Korea and attend workshops on entrepreneurship and commercialisation. This knowledge will help him develop a deep brain stimulator and monitoring tools for the global market.
University of Melbourne
Australian marsupials in wild and captive breeding populations are susceptible to herpes virus outbreaks, which can cause disease and death, especially when they are stressed. Ms Vaz’s PhD research is focussed on sequencing marsupial herpes viruses to understand virus evolution and mammalian-viral interactions. She is also developing rapid and cost-effective diagnostic tests to detect these infections in marsupials. The study mission to the University of Bonn, in Germany; and Universidad Nacional de Colombia, in Colombia, will enable Ms Vaz to conduct specialised tests on marsupial herpes virus proteins, access tissue samples of unique and rarely studied South American marsupials, sequence herpes viruses if they are present and fill knowledge gaps. She will also gain a better understanding of how marsupial herpes viruses cause disease, which could lead to improved diagnostics tools, vaccines or anti-viral treatments.
Combining stem cells with biomaterial scaffolds, which control stem cell behaviour, is a promising approach to engineering tissues and stem cells for clinical use, model diseases and screen drugs. Dr Wang’s research focusses on how fabricated nanostructures called binary colloidal crystals regulate stem cell function and reprogramming. The study mission to UCLA and University of Nebraska, in the US; and University of Toronto, in Canada, will enable him to collaborate with leading bioengineers, share knowledge, learn new techniques and advance the field. Dr Wang will gain new insights about stem cell development, use new nanostructured materials to improve stem cell differentiation into specific cells, and understand the role they play in this process. He will also attend the Society for Biomaterials Annual Meeting and Exposition, in the US; and Canadian Medical and Biological Engineering Conference.
Hybrid porous polymers called Metal-Organic Frameworks - which store molecules, remove pollutants or gases, and release target molecules - can benefit industry, the community and our environment. The study mission to the University of Cambridge and MOF Technologies, in the United Kingdom, will enable Dr Babarao to apply advanced computational modelling approaches and other techniques to test the stability of MOFs under different conditions, and see first-hand how industry manufactures them rapidly in large quantities and in an environmentally friendly way. This will help him predict mechanical properties and responses of MOFs, and design stable hybrid porous polymers that can withstand harsh conditions and be translated from the laboratory for commercial use. He will also visit leading researchers at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), in France.
University of Melbourne
Dairy is the largest agricultural industry in Victoria, contributing to 82% of Australia’s dairy exports. To remain internationally competitive, it is vital for the Australian dairy industry to adopt energy efficient technologies to reduce production costs and maximise returns. The study mission will enable Dr Chen to evaluate energy efficient forward osmosis membrane technology for the manufacture of dairy powder products at a pilot scale testing facility at the University of Surrey, in England. Through this international collaboration, Dr Chen will be able to apply for industry funding to help the Victorian dairy industry introduce this technology to optimise production processes. He will also attend the 3rd International Conference on Desalination using Membrane Technology, in Spain, and visit researchers at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, who conduct pilot scale studies in membrane technologies for dairy applications.
Protein molecules called enzymes are used as catalysts in the pharmaceutical, chemical and agricultural industries. To be effective, they need to withstand harsh processes. Dr Greaves’ research into designer solvents called protic ionic liquids indicates that PILs could potentially increase enzyme stability, improve the efficiency of chemical reactions and lead to a broader range of catalysts being used by industry. The study mission to the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, in Germany; Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Switzerland; Rutgers University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the US, will enable Dr Greaves to gain a better understanding of solvent-protein interactions, adopt new high-throughput methods and other approaches to advance her research, and provide intellectual property of commercial and industrial relevance. She will attend the 7th International Congress on Ionic Liquids, in Canada.
Millions of tonnes of crop and forestry waste containing cellulose are being converted into the chemical levoglucosenone in Australia. From this starting material, Dr Gunawan has used complex chemical processes to synthesize dairy lactone, a valuable flavour molecule that is present in trace amounts in cow’s milk and milk products. The study mission will enable Dr Gunawan to synthesize and purify dairy lactone in industrial quantities at a pilot scale plant at AgroParisTech, in France, to assess the viability of this approach. If successful, dairy lactone could be produced locally from a renewable source for use by cheese and dairy confection makers to enhance the flavour of food products. Dr Gunawan will also visit the Biorenewables Development Centre at the University of York, in England, to identify the equipment needed to set up a facility in Victoria.
Proteins called enzymes are used as catalysts by industry. As they are structurally unstable molecules, this limits their application for biomedical use. Dr Liang’s research into porous and hybrid structures called Metal-Organic Frameworks indicates that MOFs are able to provide a protective shell around enzymes, shielding them from extreme conditions while remaining bioactive. The study mission to Graz University of Technology, in Austria; and the National Institute for Materials Science, in Japan, will enable Dr Liang to establish and strengthen international collaborations with experts in nano-biotechnology. He will explore the potential of using functional enzymes and MOF coatings to construct stable, sensitive, and cheap biosensors and diagnostic chips. Dr Liang will optimise MOF-protected enzyme particle systems, assess if MOF particles can be integrated in nanoengineered devices and enhance his ability to translate these technologies for commercial application.
Batteries that store energy from solar panels can supply renewable energy on-site instead of exporting it to the power grid. To make them economically viable for households, batteries need to be affordable, efficient and deliver energy reliably when needed. Dr Maniam’s research into novel Napthalene Diimide-based polymers demonstrate their potential as next-generation energy storage and charge carriers in batteries, which are lighter and easier to manufacture. The study mission to a state-of-the-art battery research facility at Waseda University, in Japan, will enable her to design, synthesize, test and evaluate the efficiency of NDI-based polymers in batteries. Dr Maniam will gain a better understanding of these materials and also be exposed to the commercial challenges of the renewable energy field, which will inform her research.