Success stories and exciting news

Welcome to this page where we would like to share with you the outcome of research projects that have used CMM capabilities and resources in one or another. We try to highlight stories along The University of Queensland's (UQ) strategical areas from science and sustainability to health and humanities, in the hope that by sharing these stories others might be inspired to get in contact with us.

UQ Impact Areas:

  • Leading healthy lives
  • Building better bioeconomies
  • Achieving resilient environments and livelihoods
  • Designing technology for tomorrow
  • Transforming societies

CMM’s infrastructure enables a wide range of researchers and companies to generate new insights in their research and development area eg. Environment, Agriculture, Food, Health, Energy, Defence, Engineering, Infrastructure, Education (Inspire, MyScope) and professional learning to name a few.

Furthermore we want to share smaller success stories around Microscopy, Imaging and Spectroscopy, all around structure research and determination of our physical reality of existence of matter from the micro-meter to the sub nano-meter atomic scale. Motto: “How do you know unless you see/look”.

Please come and find out more, be inspired and learn how UQ researchers and external clients from CMM create change. (See also UQ's research impact webpage).

Congratulations Professor Rob Parton

Congratulations to CMM's Deputy Director, Professor Rob Parton on being awarded a prestigious Australian Research Council (ARC) Australian Laureate Fellowship

Rob was awarded $2.9 million and will use the Laureate to investigate how therapeutics specifically delivered to target cells in a body rather than broad-spectrum treatments such as chemotherapy causing significant side effects.

His research at UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) involves understanding how medicines move from the bloodstream into tissue and then into specific parts of cells.

Rob's team will track nanoparticles that can precisely target diseased cells without delivering medicines to healthy cells – therefore avoiding side effects.

‘The Laureate will enable us to uncover key mechanisms in different cell types that enable a nanoparticle to be tailored to pass into a specific diseased cell,’ he said.

‘In the past researchers have studied cells in a culture dish in the laboratory. The aim of the Laureate is to understand how cells work in their natural environment.’

The ARC Australian Laureate Fellowships are highly coveted, providing support allowing leading scientists to focus on significant research areas.

Rob's team will utilize CMM's state-of-the-art equipment for 3D correlative light and electron microscopy. He will also share his research widely, building on the virtual reality ‘Journey to the Centre of the Cell’ project that used 3D electron microscopy generated in the CMM to let people experience what it would be like to travel through a cancer cell.

2021 Nature Communications paper that made use of CMM's instruments

A digital single-molecule nanopillar SERS platform for predicting and monitoring immune toxicities in immunotherapy

CMM helped to develop (in our Clean Room EBL facility) the chip and coating techniques for 'binding antibodies' and catch cytokines as well as characterising the surfaces with SEM and Mass Spec. 

The device was invented at UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) by Professor Matt Trau's group in collaboration with Dr Alain Wuethrich and Junrong Li (Trau Group) and Dr Elliot Cheng (CMM).

“To precisely fabricate the pillar array, we opted to use an electron beam lithographic approach to write the array into a photon-sensitive material followed by physical vapour deposition of gold to create the gold-topped pillars, and selectively reactive ion etching to reveal the pillar structure (Supplementary Fig. 1). The nanopillar array chip consisted of 250,000 individual pillars. As shown in the scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of Fig. 1a, the cubic nanopillars have an edge-to-edge width of 1000 nm and are evenly distributed at 1000 nm intervals to suit the lateral Raman microscope resolution (~1000 nm) that fulfils the Rayleigh criterion separation required to acquire a single SERS spectrum from each pillar without spectral overlap from adjacent pillars".

"By using specific gold-thiol chemistry with the linker molecule dithiobis (succinimidyl propionate) (DSP), the gold-topped pillars were selectively functionalised with target recognition antibodies (anti-FGF-2, anti-G-CSF, anti-GM-CSF, and anti-CX3CL1) and acted as the small compartments to capture and confine the individual cytokine. Upon DSP binding on the gold-topped pillars through gold-thiol bond, DSP uses N-hydroxysuccimide (NHS) ester to react with the amine groups of the antibodies".

Dr Elliot Cheng is our CMM expert in nano-structuring, patterning and characterisations.  Mass Spec was done by Dr Brett Hamilton and students.

International Space Station Tests Virus-fighting Surface Coating Developed by Boeing and The University of Queensland

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are conducting experiments with an antimicrobial surface coating designed to fight the spread of bacteria and viruses, including the Earth-bound SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Developed by Boeing [NYSE: BA] and The University of Queensland (UQ), the joint research project was tested aboard Boeing's ecoDemonstrator last year as part of the company's Confident Travel Initiative.

'While testing continues on orbit and on Earth, we're encouraged by the preliminary results of the antimicrobial chemical compound," said Mike Delaney, Boeing's chief aerospace safety officer. "There is the potential for broad-based applicability for a surface coating like this when used in conjunction with other measures to prevent disease transmission."

(Read full article).

2021 Nature Communications paper that made use of CMM's instruments

Inverted perovskite solar cell with 21.1% efficiency and high moisture resistance

Australian scientists have built a perovskite solar cell based on 2D and 3D salts. By adding a fluorinated lead salt in the processing solution – normally used to form 3D methylammonium lead iodide – they were able to achieve a 21.1% efficiency, an open-circuit voltage of 1.12 V, a short-circuit current of 22.4 mA/cm2, and a fill factor of 84%.

The scientists at the University of Queensland have fabricated a solar cell based on a mixture of 2D and 3D salts. They claim that the cell is more moisture-resistant and durable than “conventional” perovskite cells based on 3D materials alone and used CMM for characterising their materials.  

Link to paper:

Fats fighting back against bacteria

Electron micrograph of macrophage with bacteria (green) surrounded by lipid droplets (pink).

Droplets of fat inside our cells are helping the body’s own defence system fight back against infection, University of Queensland researchers have discovered.

The international collaboration between UQ Institute for Molecular Bioscience researchers Professor Robert Parton and Professor Matt Sweet, and the University of Barcelona’s Professor Albert Pol found that these fat droplets are both a food source and weapon against bacterial invaders.

“It was previously thought that bacteria were merely using the lipid droplets to feed on, but we have discovered these fatty droplets are involved in the battle between the pathogens and our cells,” Professor Parton said.

“Fat is part of the cell’s arsenal—cells manufacture toxic proteins, package them into the lipid droplets, then fire them at the intruders.

“This is a new way that cells are protecting themselves, using fats as a covert weapon, and giving us new insights into ways of fighting infection.”

(Read full article).

Vaxxas sign deal with Queensland State Government

A colour-enhanced SEM image of the Nanopatch micro-projections cooled with a vaccine.

As published by 7 News, Vaxxas has signed an agreement with the Queensland government to produce enough needle-free vaccine kits to deliver 300 million doses each year.

Vaxxas agreed to produce its high-density micro Array Patch vaccine delivery system in Queensland after the Palaszczuk government committed to building a new medical plant in Brisbane. Treasurer Cameron Dick said the Vaxxas system had the potential to “revolutionise the delivery of vaccines around the world”.

Vaxxas is a biotechnology company pioneering the next generation of needlefree vaccine delivery platforms with its Nanopatch.

The company’s technology features thousands of micron-sized pointed tips, or projections, which help to deliver vaccines directly to the abundant immune cells found just below the surface of the skin.

Using the Nanopatch, the vaccination process is simple and safe, patient friendly, requires less vaccine than traditional injections into the muscle, and no refrigeration is required – this enables vaccines to be administered in areas that had previously been hard to reach.

The company formed in 2011 and has been harnessing the NCRIS-funded networks of  Microscopy Australia and ANFF ever since.

Read more about Vaxxas’ technology platform by clicking here.

Australian stinging trees inject scorpion-like venom

Australia is home to some of the world’s most dangerous wildlife. Anyone who spends time outdoors in eastern Australia is wise to keep an eye out for snakes, spiders, swooping birds, crocodiles, deadly cone snails and tiny toxic jellyfish.

But what not everybody knows is that even some of the trees will get you.

Research on the venom of Australian stinging trees, found in the country’s northeast, shows these dangerous plants can inject unwary
wanderers with chemicals much like those found in the stings of scorpions, spiders and cone snails.

(Read full article).

Pots of gold engineered to help with early disease detection

From left to right: Dr MD Shahriar Hossain, PhD Candidate Mostafa Masud and Professor Yusuke Yamauchi

University of Queensland researchers have developed biosensors that use nanoengineered porous gold which more effectively detect early signs of disease, improving patient outcomes.

Most diagnostic methods use costly materials and are time-consuming and expensive to run, but AIBN PhD candidate Mostafa Masud and research supervisors Professor Yusuke Yamauchi from AIBN and Dr MD Shahriar Hossain from the School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering have developed a cheaper, faster and ultrasensitive biosensor for point-of-care testing.

Mr Masud said the most exciting thing about the project was that it broke through some of the current limitations associated with early detection of diseases.

“This new diagnostic technique allows for direct detection of disease-specific miRNA, which wasn’t previously possible,” Mr Masud said.

(Read full article).

The rare plants that 'bleed' nickel

Sixteen years ago, Aiyen Tjoa was exploring a small mining town of Sorowako in the heart of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Sorowako once had been a home to immense diversity of plants, and most of them were found nowhere else. But then the small town became the hub of one of the largest nickel mining areas in the world, with one company alone extracting 5% of the global nickel supply.

When Tjoa, a soil biologist and lecturer in Tadulako University in Central Sulawesi, arrived in Sorowako in 2004, most of the lush vegetation had already been cleared for mining, leaving barren soil and dusty roads in its place.

But some bushes and young trees survived. Back then, Tjoa was eager to find those rare plants that were adapting well to their new, nickel-rich surroundings. These, she reasoned, could be “super plants” capable of taking up high levels of nickel from the soil and storing it in surprisingly high quantities. As well as cleaning the soil, these nickel-rich plants could be “mined” to provide an alternative source of the metal, allowing nickel to be harvested without destroying the ecosystem.

(Read full article).

Dr Antony Van der Ent

"Our group focusses on the ecophysiology and biogeochemistry of trace element regulation in  hyperaccumulator plants, and the use of advanced analytical techniques based on X-rays for characterising the in situ metallome of plants. Hyperaccumulators are plants that have the unusual ability to accumulate extreme concentrations of metal(loid)s in their living tissues. With our research, we aim to support the development of novel phytotechnologies that make use of the unique properties of hyperaccumulator plants, including phytoremediation and phytomining.

Micro-X-ray fluorescence (microXRF) elemental mapping is unique in providing in situ information, and with appropriate sample preparation, offer results true to biological conditions of the living plant. This techniques can provide a level of sensitivity for full characterisation of the ionome or metallome and is capable of simultaneously mapping hyperaccumulated and nutritional elements.

The UQ micro-X-ray Fluorescence facility at CMM has been developed with plant science applications in mind and can analyse samples up to 300*300 mm. The fast detection capability of the system makes it possible to analyse living plants or excised hydrated plant organs such as roots or leaves. The local availability of the facility is attractive for assessing live plants subjected to metal dosing treatments, as well as to undertake time-resolved studies. As such, the UQ micro-X-ray Fluorescence facility is used extensively by our group to analyse hyperaccumulator plants".

UQ researchers solve a 50-year-old enzyme mystery

The CMM was recently involved in a study published in the Journal Nature and led by UQ’s Professor Luke Guddat.

This study combined cutting-edge techniques such as cryo-electron microscopy and X-ray crystallography to reveal the complete three-dimensional structure of acetohydroxyacid synthase, an enzyme involved in the early stages of the biosynthesis of three essential amino acids – leucine, valine and isoleucine and a major target for herbicides and anti-tuberculosis treatments.

An additional important technique used in this study has involved the newly installed Refeyn oneMP mass-photometer in our QBP facility to demonstrate the change of the oligomeric state of the enzyme that is triggered by the presence of ATP.

This study paves the way for UQ researchers to use mass-photometry in their research.

The research paper can be accessed on the Nature website (DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2514-3).

(Read full article).

Common drug could improve cancer treatments

Colour-enhanced TEM image of a killer cell (red) attaching to a cancer cell (pink).

The anti-nausea and anti-psychotic drug, prochlorperazine (Stemetil), could be repurposed to make antibody treatment of tumours more effective. The research team from the Universities of Queensland, Sydney and Newcastle, and the Princess Alexandra Hospital is led by A/Prof. Fiona Simpson.

Antibodies designed to attack cancers stick to particular proteins on the surface of the tumour cells and cause these cells to die. This occurs via a process called natural killer cell-mediated antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC). The more protein molecules there are on the surface of the cell the more places there are for the antibodies to stick, making the treatment more effective.

These protein molecules normally carry signals from the outside of the cell to the inside. Prochlorperazine was found to temporarily block the movement of these proteins into the cells leaving more on the surface where they can stick to the antibodies resulting in increased cell death. By combining antibodies and prochlorperazine, the researchers have also shown that the current variations in treatment effectiveness can be overcome.

(Read full article).

Solar technology breakthrough at UQ

Professor Lianzhou Wang and his team.

A research team led by Professor Lianzhou Wang has set a world record for the conversion of solar energy to electricity via the use of nanoparticles called ‘quantum dots’.

When exposed to solar energy these dots pass electrons between one another generating an electrical current.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the US recognised the world record of 16.6% efficiency – the previous record in quantum dot solar cell category was 13.4%.

“This new generation of quantum dots is compatible with more affordable and large-scale printable technologies. The near 25% improvement in efficiency we have achieved over the previous world record is important. It is effectively the difference between quantum dot solar cell technology being an exciting ‘prospect’ and being commercially viable,” Professor Wang said. 

(Read full article).

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