Research Highlights

Over the past seven years, the Centre has undertaken numerous innovative research projects and laid the foundation for many bio-nano applications. CBNS moved the visualisation of cell-level structures to a new level. We increased the awareness, understanding and acceptance of bio-nano science and technology in society. Below is a list of selected research highlights from 2014 to 2021:

3D bio printer that can rapidly create 3D tumours

UNSW Node Leader and CI Professor Justin Gooding and CI Professor Maria Kavallaris AM released a specially designed 3D printer that can rapidly create 3D tumours. Most cancers are diagnosed – and their biology studied – on plastic dishes or microscope slides. This two-dimensional approach does not reflect what happens in the human body, where tumours are three dimensional. Centre researchers have developed a 3D printer that creates hundreds of these 3D tumours in a tumour-like environment in hours, not weeks. The technology – published in the journal iScience and already garnering interest from international pharmaceutical companies – allows a patient to have multiple samples of their cancer grown in a lab, each one able to be tested against either different drugs or different doses of a drug to see which has the best chance of working, without using trial and error in the patient. The study has shown that the 3D printer has successfully created multiple 3D versions of breast cancer cells and neuroblastoma cells in a controlled environment
iScience, 2020, 23, 101621


Amyloid protein aggregation, a hallmark of type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease

Since January 2015, the team around Professor Pu-Chun Ke (Monash and UQ) has been investigating the biophysical and pathobiological mechanisms of amyloid protein aggregation, a hallmark of type 2 Diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The Ke team has significantly advanced the field and further developed a range of promising nanomedicine strategies against these diseases with a global burden of over 450 million. In 6 years, the Ke team has established itself as a leader in amyloidosis inhibition, a new frontier of nanomedicine targeting a range of debilitating brain and metabolic diseases. The body of work by the Ke team exemplifies the founding principle of the CBNS in advancing multidisciplinary research and education at the bio-nano interface and nanomedicine.
Adv. Sci. 2020, 7, 2001299


A pain app (in development)

Dr Nik Veldhuis (Monash), CI Professor Kris Thurecht (UQ) and CI Associate Professor John McGhee (UNSW) formed a collaboration in 2020 targeting the neuro-nano interface to provide a window into pain. To demonstrate how pain signalling occurs in neurons and how nanoparticle may aid analgesia, a series of interactive visualisations will be generated with CI Associate Professor John McGhee. These will be visually distinct from previous 3DVAL projects, for visualising neuronal excitability (aka pain) and drug release/distribution. The team aims to make an interactive, easy-to-use interface to maximise education and outreach. The first phase is to show how pain occurs. This will be followed by the second phase; illustrating where opioids are distributed in the body and how nanomedicine may re-direct drugs to specific injured tissues.


Engineering stealth particles

Poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG), an FDA-approved polymer that enhances surface hydrophilicity, is a prototypic ‘stealth’ material that reduces association and uptake by immune cells. In 2014, UoM CBNS team members pioneered the assembly of PEG particle nanoengineering techniques based on template assembly (Adv. Mater. 2014, 26, 7295). In collaboration with other CIs/researchers across different research fields (including experts in immunology, molecular imaging, antibody technology, pharmacokinetics, proteomics, and bioinformatics), the team demonstrated that the physicochemical properties of PEG particles can strongly influence their biological function, including biodistribution, circulation time, tumour targeting, and intracellular trafficking. Ultimately, this suggests that human subjects will vary widely in their response to nanomedicines.
ACS Nano 2020, 14, 11, 15723–15737


Minimum information reporting in bio–nano experimental literature

Studying the interactions between nanoengineered materials and biological systems plays a vital role in the development of biological applications of nanotechnology and the improvement of our fundamental understanding of the bio-nano interface. A significant barrier to progress in this multidisciplinary area is the variability of published literature with regards to characterisations performed and experimental details reported. With his work, the team around Dr Matt Faria (UoM) suggests a ‘minimum information standard’ for experimental literature investigating bio-nano interactions. This standard consists of specific components to be reported, divided into three categories: material characterisation, biological characterisation and details of experimental protocols. Our intention is for these proposed standards to improve reproducibility, increase quantitative comparisons of bio-nano materials, and facilitate meta analyses and in silico modelling.
Nature Nanotechnology 2018, 13, 777–785


Rapid COVID-19 blood test

A team around CI Dr Simon Corrie (Monash) were able to identify recent COVID-19 cases using 25 microlitres of plasma from blood samples. The research team developed a simple agglutination assay – an analysis to determine the presence and amount of a substance in blood – to detect the presence of antibodies raised in response to the SARS-CoV-2 infection. Positive COVID-19 cases caused an agglutination or a clustering of red blood cells, which was easily identifiable to the naked eye. Researchers were able to retrieve positive or negative readings in about 20 minutes.
ACS Sensors 2020, 5, 8, 2596–2603


Nanoscape/Journey to the Centre of the Cell

This ambitious project aims to bring more authentic scales and densities of biological entities to real-time cinematic visualisations of cellular landscapes. Built using the PC gaming platform Unity, Nanoscapes employs a data-first approach to populate a computer-generated cell surface with key molecules and processes to observe the action of nanoparticles in tumour environments. The application serves as both an interactive educational tool and a provoking artefact promoting deeper speculation about nanoworlds. The work is led by CI Associate Professor John McGhee from UNSW. (The project was granted the CBNS Distinguished Research Award)
VR JTCC – Visualising bio-imaging and data in 3D virtual reality