2020 Victoria Fellows profiles

The Victoria Fellowships in 2020 were awarded to:

Life sciences:

Click here to watch the Victoria Fellowship recipients in the Life Sciences.

 

Physical sciences:

Click here to watch the Victoria Fellowship recipients in the Physical Sciences. 

 

Dr Jody Gerdts

Bee Scientifics PTY LTD

Varroa mites are the largest cause of honey bee colony losses globally impacting both pollination services and honey production. While Australia’s apicultural industry remains free of these devastating mites, & considerable resources are dedicated to early detection & eradication, the threat of Varroa becoming established in Australia remains.

Dr Gerdts proposes to commence research studies in the Netherlands at Arista Bee Research F oundation working with BartJan Fernhout, who has been instrumental in the current investigation importing biosecure germplasm into Australia.

Dr Gerdts will also visit world-leading seed company, Bejo Bejo, to explore

their interest in importing germplasm

from their breeding programs into Australia to increase pollination specific phenotypes essential for

successful crop pollination. Pollination specific phenotypes would be of great benefit to the almond industry, with 53 per cent of its production coming from Victoria.

 

 

 

 

Dr Caitlin Jenvey

La Trobe University

Standard practice is to treat worm infected sheep with drugs, but control is threatened by the evolution of drug-resistant worms. Therefore, easy, affordable, practical, non-chemical control methods need to be developed for use by Australian livestock producers.

Dr Jenvey has developed a novel laboratory-based test to identify worm-resistant sheep. These point-of-care (POC) tests are miniaturised versions of laboratory-based tests. They are stable under a variety of conditions, have a quick turn-around, are user-friendly, can be performed on farm, and are cost-effective.

Dr Jenvey will visit Dr Valentina Busin, and her colleagues, at the University of Glasgow where she will learn how to transfer an existing laboratory-based test into a POC test. This will then be used to develop a multiplex POC test for the detection of worm-resistant sheep on Victorian sheep farms.

 

 

 

Dr Denver Linklater

RMIT University

Through a comprehensive range of in vitro and in vivo tests, Dr Linklater is focused on finding new materials which can be implanted during surgery and reduce the risk of bacterial infection. The aim is to determine the suitability of nanostructured bactericidal materials as implantable biomaterials and produce implantable materials that resist bacterial infection and reduce the risk of post-operative complications, resulting in vastly improved patient recovery rates and quality-of-life.

Dr Linklater will collaborate with Professor Boris Chichkov at Leibniz University as well as the Institute for Advanced Biosciences in France and the Implant Research and Development (NIFE), Germany.

This research aims to decrease the current overuse of antibiotics as well as promote research and development into new products that will prevent, detect and contain antimicrobial resistance, reducing the burden on the Victorian health system.

 

 

 

 

Dr Jennifer Perret

The University of Melbourne

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a non-reversible airway obstruction associated with shortness of breath, disability and premature death. It is the leading cause of preventable hospitalisation in Australia and is commonly diagnosed in older adults, in its advanced stages, when treatments are ineffective.

Using machine learning technology and world-class cohort data,

Dr Perret will lead the development of an innovative risk calculator for general practitioners to identify high risk candidates for non-invasive and inexpensive lung function testing to end COPD cases at an early stage.

Dr Perret will gain expertise in the analysis of multi-centre and transnational datasets, prediction modelling and methods to maximise statistical power at ISGlobal in Spain and Imperial College, London. Her work will assist Victorians by detecting COPD earlier, when preventive strategies are of greater benefit.

 

 

 

Mrs Priscilla Prestes

Federation University

High blood pressure is the leading risk factor for heart disease and burden of death in Australia. Circular RNAs are new molecules in the human kidney that may contribute to blood pressure regulation. These non-coding RNAs turn genes on and off by changing how the DNA is read inside cells instead of changing its sequence, known as the epigenome.

Mrs Prestes has identified that dysregulation of circular RNA contributes to blood pressure control and hypertension development that can be targeted for therapy.

Mrs Prestes will use pilot data from a unique tissue biobank resource from the TRANScriptome of renaL human TissuE (TRANSLATE) study at the University of Manchester. Once the necessary techniques to efficiently manipulate the circular RNA expression in vitro have been established she will bring this new technique back to Victoria.

 

 

Dr Julia Walker

Monash University

Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is a cytokine, a small protein that plays a role in our host immune response towards infection and could play a role in acute COVID-19 cases and influenza. Currently, IL-6 dynamics are not able to be measured outside the body, making their impact and the role they play on our health hard to define.

Dr Walker’s research aims to develop a cellular sensor for IL-6 in the body which would track the movement and dynamics of IL-6 in real time, through non-invasive photoacoustic imaging. The information provided by such a sensor would reveal IL-6 activity in the cytokine storm and how this then affects such disease as acute COVID-19, influenzas, cancer and stress.

Following the initial sensor development, the pilot in vitro and in vivo photoacoustic imaging studies will be carried out at Chemical Imaging of Living Systems Institute, Northeastern University with Professor Heather Clark.

 

 

 

 

 

Physical sciences

 

Dr Taimur Ahmed

RMIT University

The human brain comprises billions of neurons interconnected in networks to perform cognitive processes by communicating to each other using a sequence of electrical signals. Any disorder in the signalling sequence leads to the neural disconnection and chaotic response in the form of epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, dementia and memory loss.

Development of a new class of artificial neurons, which not only mimic the cognitive processes but also can help to understand neural disorders and their manipulation for targeted diagnoses, is the focus of Dr Ahmed’s work. Dr Ahmed will collaborate with the Bioelectronics Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology led by Professor Polina Anikeeva.

The project outcomes will help put Victoria’s research at the forefront of the rapidly growing international market in medical bionics and machine learning industries in Victoria.

 

  

 

Dr Andreas Boes

RMIT University

Dr Boes believes that photonic chip technology can be used to achieve high precision inertial movement sensors on a single semiconductor chip providing fast and accurate sensing and feedback in real time, weighing only a few grams and powered by a battery fitting in the palm of your hand.

To work on this technology, Dr Boes will visit Professor Christelle Monat and Dr Christian at Grillet Ecole Centrale de Lyon, Professor Gunter Roelkens at Gent University, Dr Jochen Schroeder and Professor Victor Torres Company of Chalmers University, Professor Michal Lipson at Columbia University and Professor John Bowers of the University of California.

Victoria, a state with a solid and agile manufacturing base, will benefit by the development of this technology through the next generation of self-driving cars, drones, robotics, manufacturing machinery, navigation, sensing and surgery equipment.

 

 

Dr Fatemeh Jalali

IBM Research Australia

With the proliferation of IoT devices and sensors on the internet into the billions, the assumption that all computation can simply be pushed into the ‘cloud’ is not practical.

Dr Jalali is focusing on building a dynamic solution switching between Fog/Edge and cloud for IoT applications to improve performance and better utilise Fog/Edge-Cloud capabilities. A new platform named DEFT (Dynamic Edge-Fabric environmenT) is being proposed that can learn, using machine learning, where best to execute each task based on real-time system status and task requirements, along with learned behaviour from past performance of the available resources.

Developing efficient learning algorithms, Dr Jalali will work with experts at MIT and IBM-MIT as well as meet with experts in the fields of communications and computer networks. Then Dr Jalali will collaborate with the University of Leeds to study the resilience automated systems.

 

 

Dr Conrad Wasko

The University of Melbourne

As increasing rainfall intensifies, so does the risk of flooding in urban areas. Dr Wasko proposes to understand how rainfall patterns are changing on a global scale, quantifying their impact on water availability, and develop methods for adjusting rainfall patterns for flood modelling in infrastructure design.

Dr Wasko will work with Professor Hayley Fowler at Newcastle University (UK) to understand how rainfall patterns, critical to understanding flood and water supply risk, are changing with climate change. He will also collaborate with several of the world’s leading experts in the field, including Dr Geert Lenderink from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute.

This research will bring back a world-leading understanding of changes in rainfall patterns and their impact of water supplies to inform recommendations on the impact of climate change on water supplies in Victoria.

 

  

Dr Ali Yavari 

Swinburne University 

In smart agriculture, drones monitor fertilisation and irrigation in real-time to improve product efficiency. While drones are autonomous, the transmission and processing of the massive amounts of data they collect is limited.

Dr Yavari is aiming to overcome these constraints by designing and developing a platform that can facilitate human-IoT-interaction using augmented and virtual reality. Using 5G, this platform will provide significant improvements for smart manufacturing and smart healthcare.

Dr Yavari will collaborate with Newcastle Urban Observatory and INRIA Paris to develop the first human IoT-interaction platform using virtual and augmented reality over the 5G mobile network.

This will create the knowledge base and preliminary development for potential IoT applications to be offered through this platform to industries in Victoria.

 

 

Dr Maggie Zhai

RMIT University

Protein and gene-based therapeutics, or vaccines, have the potential to revolutionise current treatments for many complex diseases. However, these fragile molecules are prone to degradation upon entry into biological systems.

Dr Zhai aims to circumvent this by developing a novel drug encapsulating material consisting of lipid nanoparticles with a sponge-like network of swollen water pores.

Visiting the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health, Switzerland, Lund University and Imperial College London, as well as two world-class synchrotron radiation facilities in Europe, Dr Zhai will identify opportunities to co-design the required materials and characterise their structure.

This work will strengthen Victoria’s already highly integrated biomedical research and world-class hubs, increasing knowledge that facilitates cross-disciplinary innovation in the treatment and prevention of complex diseases.

 

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