IMBoutput Research update from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience IMB scientists central to research excellence PhD student wins scholarship Skiing towards knowledge of muscle and fat metabolism IMB celebrates Brain Awareness Week IMB scientist wins prestigious national award IMB researcher to lead new international 09 No. research centre In brief... Researchers get in sync with Australian synchrotron Autumn 07 IMB PhD student calls for volunteers with albinism IMB scientists central to research excellence Two Australian Research Council (ARC) Centres at the IMB have been named as Centres of Excellence, a scheme that recognises exceptional performances with an extension of funding for a further three years. The ARC Centre of Excellence in Biotechnology and Development will receive a further $6.42 million from 2008. Professor Peter Koopman heads the Queensland node of this centre, which is headquartered at the University of Newcastle, with other nodes at the University of Melbourne and Monash University. The Centre investigates the complex development of male germ cells, the cells in the body that become sperm. Defects in these cells can lead to infertility as well as cancer. Professor Koopman and his team last year identified the chemical signals that trigger germ cells to begin sperm formation. “This information revolutionised our understanding of how sperm and eggs develop, and the additional funding will help us apply this discovery to testicular cancer and male infertility,” Professor Koopman said. Meanwhile, the ARC Centre for Bioinformatics will have its status upgraded to become a Centre of Excellence, and will receive a further $3.3 million from 2008. It will now be known as the ARC Centre of Excellence for Bioinformatics. Bioinformatics is a field that involves the collection, management and analysis of large amounts of biological data using networks of computers and databases. The Centre’s mission is to use bioinformatics in order to understand how genetic information is translated into the physical and functional characteristics of mammalian cells, and also to develop and improve the techniques used in bioinformatics. It is headquartered at UQ within the IMB, with nodes at the Australian National University, Deakin University, the University of Newcastle and IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center. The extra funding will allow a node to be added at Macquarie University, Director of the Centre Professor Mark Ragan said. PhD student wins Dr Rosamond Siemon scholarship An IMB PhD student has won the inaugural Dr Rosamond Siemon Postgraduate Renal Research Scholarship. Ms Caroline Hendry received the scholarship, awarded to the best postgraduate student undertaking multidisciplinary, collaborative research into renal disease, repair and regeneration. Ms Hendry did honours at the IMB in 2006 under Professor Melissa Little, investigating the potential for adult kidney cells to revert back to an embryonic form, where they could be prompted to regenerate kidney tissue. For her PhD, Ms Hendry will continue this project, moving into a human cell system and scaling up the search for targets that may push an adult kidney cell backwards into an unspecialised cell. If this can be done, Ms Hendry will then test the potential of the reverted cells, using a renal potential assay that is currently being developed in house. This may provide a possible treatment for chronic renal disease (CRD), a debilitating disease where renal function gradually declines until it reaches end-stage renal failure (ESRF), when the renal filtration rate falls below 10 percent. Once a person has ESRF, they can only be treated with either dialysis or a transplant, and only one in four patients are lucky enough to receive a transplant. “CRD and ESRF are devastating, and they are expensive to treat,” Ms Hendry said. (Continued on next page) Ms Caroline Hendry. www.imb.uq.edu.au IMB student wins Skiing towards knowledge of muscle scholarship and fat metabolism An IMB researcher has been awarded a US$50 000 grant to study a protein that may eventually lead to treatments for diseases (Continued from page 1) such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. At present there are more than 60,000 Dr Gary Leong was awarded the grant by the United States Endocrine Society to investigate the actions of the protein Ski on Australians in the later stages of CRD, with a muscle and fat metabolism. further 600,000 at risk of developing CRD. In Ski is a transcription factor - in simple terms, a protein that switches a gene on and off in different contexts and tissues - and its 2006, this cost the health system $1.8 billion importance in regulating muscle and fat mass is well recognised by scientists. dollars, a cost which is likely to increase to $4.7 billion by 2010. “The deletion of Ski results in decreased muscle mass, while its overexpression leads to increased muscle and decreased fat mass,” Dr Leong said. “There is an acute need for therapies that are more advanced than the current treatment Despite these well-documented effects of Ski on muscle and fat development, the actions of Ski on muscle and fat metabolism methods, as the mammalian kidney has very remain to be determined, something which Dr Leong hopes to improve. limited potential to regenerate renal structures He will also investigate the interaction of Ski with another family of transcription factors known as nuclear receptors. after chronic damage,” Ms Hendry said. Nuclear receptors are responsible for many metabolic functions, including the production of fat and regulation of skeletal muscle “In contrast, certain amphibians, such as metabolism. salamanders and newts, show a unique ability to completely regenerate complex anatomic Once we understand how Ski regulates muscle and fat metabolism, both on its own and through its interaction with nuclear structures such as limbs. receptors, we may potentially identify genes that could be targeted for therapy,” Dr Leong said. “This is possible through dedifferentiation of “The significance of identifying these types of targets is increasing as the incidence of metabolic diseases such as obesity, type the cells. 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease continues to rise.” “Differentiation occurs when cells go from an This research project, in collaboration with Professor George Muscat and his group at the IMB, links the IMB with Dr Leong’s embryonic form where they can become many clinical research group at the Mater Children’s Hospital, where Dr Leong focuses on child obesity research in his role as a types of cells into a specialised type of cell that paediatric endocrinologist. can only produce other cells of the same type in limited numbers. “Dedifferentiation is this process in reverse. It occurs when a specialised cell reverts back to being the cellular equivalent of a blank slate, IMB celebrates Brain Awareness Week where it can produce cells of any type and its proliferation is greatly increased.” The possibility of dedifferentiation has already IMB marked 2007 Brain Awareness Week with a free public memorial lecture for a celebrated neuroscientist. been described in mammals in brain, muscle and connective tissue cells, but not yet in The IMB and the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) co-hosted the third annual Toshiya Yamada Memorial Lecture, which was held kidneys. in the Queensland Bioscience Precinct on Wednesday 14 March. Ms Hendry hopes it will be possible to force Dr Toshiya Yamada was a neuroscientist with the IMB until his sudden death in 2001. adult kidney cells to revert to a progenitor state “This lecture is held each March and is an opportunity for us to honour Toshi’s memory and to celebrate his scientific through manipulation of cellular targets. achievements,” Professor Brandon Wainwright, IMB Director, said. The resulting unspecialised cells might then Dr Yamada’s discovery of the molecules essential for regulating the correct wiring of the spinal cord and parts of the brain forms be able to develop like the normal embryonic much of the basis of modern neurobiology, and he was instrumental in the resurgence of Australia as a leader in the field of cells that originally generated the kidney, and developmental neurobiology. regenerate kidney tissue. The 2007 memorial lecture was given by Professor Ryoichiro Kageyama, Director of the Institute for Virus Research at Kyoto Any therapy resulting from this process would University, Japan. not be available for several years, but Ms Hendry said it was important to start the Professor Kageyama studies the proteins that regulate the important processes of neural development in order to understand the research now, as the rate of CRF is rising at 6-8 molecular mechanism of neural differentiation and development. percent per annum, primarily due to increasing During his lecture Professor Kageyama spoke of Dr Yamada’s positive influence on Japanese scientists, saying that he had rates of Type II diabetes and obesity. inspired many with his breakthrough research. The work is funded by the Australian Stem Cell Dr Yamada was born in Japan, and studied for his undergraduate, Masters and PhD degrees at the University of Tsukuba, Japan. Centre as part of the activities of the Renal Regeneration Consortium. Brain Awareness Week ran from 12 March – 18 March, and is an international effort aimed at advancing public awareness about the progress and benefits of brain research. The Dr Rosamond Siemon Postgraduate Renal Research Scholarship was established by Dr Rosamond Siemon, a historian and former UQ PhD student and staff member. Dr Siemon, who wrote The Mayne Inheritance and The Eccentric Mr Wienholt, has also bequeathed a generous donation towards Professor Little’s research. Professor Little with Dr Siemon. (L-R) QBI Director Professor Perry Bartlett, Lisa Yamada, Professor Kageyama, Linda Yamada, Akira Yamada, Bruce Moore, Professor Wainwright and Kenji Yamada. Funding boost IMB scientist wins prestigious national for cancer award research Associate Professor Rick Sturm was awarded the prestigious Julian Wells Medal at the Lorne Genome Conference in mid- Three projects led by IMB researchers will February. receive $156 000 in funding each from the The medal and accompanying lecture were established to commemorate Julian Wells, a biochemist from the University of Queensland Cancer Fund. Adelaide, who died in 1993. Professor Brandon Wainwright, Professor John Julian made major contributions to the development of molecular biology in Australia, the initiation and success of the Lorne Hancock and Associate Professor Richard Sturm Genome Conference, and to understanding genome organisation and function. all received two-year grants from the QCF, which funds research into all aspects of cancer. It is particularly poignant that Associate Professor Sturm has won this award, as Julian Wells was his PhD supervisor. Professor Brandon Wainwright, who combines The medal is awarded every year at the Lorne Genome Conference to an Australian scientist who has “made an outstanding his research program with his job as Director of contribution to our understanding of gene action, genome organisation or genomic evolution”, according to the committee. the IMB, will lead a team comprising researchers Associate Professor Sturm’s lecture was titled “Human from the IMB, the Queensland Brain Institute, the Pigmentation Genetics: Explaining variation in skin, hair Royal Children’s Hospital and the Duke University and eye colour.” Medical Centre in the U.S.A. Associate Professor Sturm has been studying the The team will investigate a genetic pathway human genes that control skin, hair and eye colour known as the “hedgehog pathway”, which is for many years, firstly identifying the genes, describing altered in many forms of cancer. any polymorphisms that are present, determining their “We have previously shown that the hedgehog function and regulation and lastly surveying the differences pathway is important not only in common human between populations. cancer, but also in the regulation of brain stem In his lecture, Associate Professor Sturm said that cells,” Professor Wainwright said. understanding the regulation of pigment production is “This project will further investigate the role of vitally important, as melanin pigments have a key role in the hedgehog pathway in the most common form protecting skin cells from the carcinogenic effects of UV of brain tumours in children, and in brain stem light. cells. Rick is the second IMB researcher to receive the Julian “This knowledge will lead to a better understanding Wells Medal, following Professor Peter Koopman’s win of how to treat these tumours, as well as give us in 1998. key insights into brain development.” Brain tumours are the second-most common cancer of childhood and the leading cause of cancer-related death and disability in children. IMB researcher to lead new Professor John Hancock, who conducts his research in addition to his role as IMB Deputy international research centre Director (Research), and Dr Sarah Plowman will use their grant to study the protein K-Ras and the micro-environment in which it operates. A Queensland researcher will lead a new world-class research centre being established in Edinburgh, Scotland. After a worldwide search Professor David Hume, currently Director of the ARC Special Research Centre for Functional and Applied “With the knowledge we gain from studying Genomics at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) at The University of Queensland, became Director of the Edinburgh K-Ras, we will be well-placed to design drugs Bioscience Research Centre on 1 May, 2007. that specifically target this protein,” Professor Hancock said. Professor Hume (pictured below right) will initially begin in the position part-time, dividing his work between the Centre and the IMB, before moving full-time to Scotland at the beginning of 2008. “K-Ras is frequently mutated in human cancers, with mutations occurring in 90 percent of At the outset, the Centre will house around 450 scientists from the Roslin Institute, the University of Edinburgh Royal (Dick) School pancreatic cancers, 50 percent of colon cancers of Veterinary Studies, the Institute for Animal Health Neuropathogenesis Unit (NPU), and the Scottish Agricultural College. and 30 percent of lung cancers. The first stage is the immediate amalgamation of the BBSRC-funded Roslin and NPU. The fully-merged Centre will be formally “Clearly, the clinical impact of a drug that could established around May 2008, and from 2010 will be housed in a £55 million (AUD$138 million) building on the University of selectively neutralise K-Ras function in these Edinburgh’s Easter Bush campus. It will investigate animal health and welfare, and their implications for human health. tumours would be enormous.” Professor Hume is a world-class genomic scientist, whose research focuses on macrophages and osteoclasts, cells that are Associate Professor Richard Sturm and Dr critical to the body’s ability to fight off disease, remove damaged tissue and dying cells and decalcify bone. Understanding Tony Cook along with Dr Helen Leonard from how these cells operate could lead to therapies to boost their normal function as well as limit the damage that they cause in the Queensland Institute of Medical Research inflammatory and infectious diseases. are hoping to move a step closer to treating Professor Hume has been at The University of Queensland since 1988, and melanomas by studying skin cells that become was a founding member of the Centre for Molecular Biology that grew to malignant. become the IMB. He said his decision to leave the IMB was difficult, but “To provide an effective treatment regime for his time at The University of Queensland would provide a solid base for melanoma it is essential to develop a fundamental running the Centre. understanding of how the disease arises and “I have very much enjoyed the research environment at the IMB and The progresses,” Associate Professor Sturm said. University of Queensland, and I am looking forward to taking what I have Melanoma cells derive from the melanocyte cells learned here and applying it to the challenge of merging prestigious partner of the skin - the cells that produce and contain organisations, such as the Roslin Institute, into one exciting research the pigment melanin, which gives skin, hair and centre,” Professor Hume said. eyes their colour. The Roslin Institute was the organisation responsible for the cloning of “We wish to study the melanocyte precursor Dolly the sheep, and recently announced that it has breed 500 genetically cells known as melanoblasts that act as a latent modified chickens capable of laying eggs with high concentrations of reservoir of adult melanocytes as a person cancer-fighting proteins. grows,” Professor Sturm said. “Although we are very sorry to lose Professor Hume, it is a fantastic “It is possible that these precursor cells acting opportunity to lead an internationally significant research Institute and as stem cells give rise to the melanoma tumour we wish him all the best in his future endeavour and look forward to cell.” collaborating with him on research projects from the new Institute,” Professor Brandon Wainwright, Director of the IMB, said. “In the longer term this study will provide insight into how melanoma cells grow and behave as “His friendship, energy, intellect and vision will be very much missed by they spread, and help begin to design therapeutic us all.” interventions to treat this cancer.” In brief... Professor Melissa Little was the guest editor Researchers get in sync with Australian synchrotron Researchers from the IMB will be at the forefront of new research possibilities with the signing of an agreement for scientists from The University of Queensland I of The Journal of Biolaw and Business, an international quarterly publication aimed at (UQ) to use the soon-to-be-opened Australian Synchrotron in Victoria. CEOs and other C-level business executives, UQ is part of a Queensland consortium of universities, which was one of the as well as other professionals interested in founding partners in the consortium that will allow researchers to access an biotechnology law, business, regulatory and Australian-based synchrotron for the first time. policy matters. The other partners in the Queensland consortium are the Queensland University Professor Little (pictured below) edited the of Technology, Griffith University and James Cook University who, along with the May issue, which focused on the Australian Queensland Government, have raised $5 million to become Foundation Investors biotechnology industry. in the facility. For more information please visit the following A synchrotron accelerates electrons to almost the speed of light and they are address: http://www.biolawbusiness.com/ then deflected through magnetic fields to create extremely bright light. The light is channelled down beamlines to experimental workstations where it is used for research. Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor David Siddle, said UQ researchers were very eager to start working at the Melbourne-based facility. “A number of UQ researchers are already doing world- leading research using facilities Professor David Siddle. overseas,” Professor Siddle said. “Now they’ll be able to do it in their own backyard, relatively speaking.” Professor Jenny Martin from the IMB is an example of UQ synchrotron research, working on chronic inflammation as well as the way adrenaline functions in the brain. “UQ is pleased to be involved in the Australian Synchrotron from such an early stage, in what looks like being one of the most exciting research facilities ever built in this country,” Professor Siddle said. “Access to such a facility will be of enormous benefit to the growing Queensland biotech industry as well as the minerals industries, agriculture, advanced manufacturing, materials engineering, environmental technology and many other sectors.” Initial testing of the synchrotron is currently being carried out with the facility Professor Brandon Wainwright, IMB Director, expected to be fully operational later this year. has been named as a Chair of a Research Quality Framework (RQF) Assessment Panel. Professor Jenny Martin The RQF has been set up by the Federal Government to assess all publicly-funded research performed in Australia, and determine future funding. The Honourable Julie Bishop MP, Minister for Science, Education and Training, described IMB PhD student calls for volunteers the Assessment Panel Chairs as “senior researchers of international standing who will guide the work of the panels in their judgements on the quality and impact of research”. with albinism Professor Wainwright (pictured) will chair An IMB PhD student is studying the inheritance of albinism in South Pacific and Australian populations, and is looking for the clinical sciences and clinical physiology volunteers with the condition. panel. Albinism is a rare genetic condition where individuals cannot produce the pigment melanin, or can only produce it at very low levels. Melanin is the pigment responsible for eye, hair and skin colour, so those with the condition often have very light colouring in these features. They also suffer from eye problems, including poor vision, nystagmus, which is rapid involuntary movements of the eye, and strabismus, which occurs when sufferers cannot align their eyes simultaneously. Helene Johanson, a PhD student in the laboratory of Associate Professor Richard Sturm, said that albinism affects approximately one in every 20 000 people worldwide. “My project will focus on identifying the genetic cause of albinism in individuals from Australia and the South Pacific region, as there have been limited studies for these populations,” Ms Johanson said. “We also hope to clarify the levels of albinism in Australia, as there are currently no published statistics on this.” If the international statistics hold true for Australia, there will be approximately 1000 people with albinism living in this country, based on an Australian population estimate of 20 000 000 people. People with albinism who are interested in participating in the study, or who would like more information, should contact Helene Johanson on 07 3288 1511 or firstname.lastname@example.org The 2006 IMB Annual Report is now complete. The study has been cleared by the Human Ethics Committee of The University of Queensland in accordance with National Health If you would like a copy it is available on the and Medical Research Council guidelines, and is being run in co-operation with the Albinism Fellowship of Australia Inc. web at www.imb.uq.edu.au (follow the “About If you would like to speak to an officer of the University not involved in the study, you may contact Ms Michelle Montecino, Human the IMB” link). Ethics Officer, on 07 3365 3924 or email@example.com If you would like a hard copy please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.