National fight against cancer and Alzheimer’s disease

Posted on February 21, 2014

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Key role for La Trobe in new Government Research Centres of Excellence

Botanist Professor Whelan: documenting biological pathways of enzymes is essential to understanding disease in humans –  as well plants.

The Federal Government has awarded $8m to three La Trobe University scientists for leading-edge research into next-generation immunological and plant-based therapies for cancer and other diseases.

Research groups led by physicists Dr Brian Abbey and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Keith Nugent, and by Professor of Botany Jim Whelan, will play a key role in two new national Australian Research Council (ARC) Co-operative Centres of Excellence.

Dr Abbey and Professor Nugent’s work will be carried out in association with the $28m ARC Centre of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging based at Monash University.

Inside our immune system

The Centre develops extremely high-resolution imaging technologies to explore the immune system – to better understand how it functions and harness it the fight against cancer and other diseases.

La Trobe’s globally-recognised advances in X-ray imaging help achieve this and have already provided highly accurate 3D views of important structures inside biological cells. The University will spearhead Australia’s engagement with revolutionary new international X-ray laser facilities.

Dr Abbey, top, and Professor Nugent: helping spearhead engagement with revolutionary new international X-ray laser facilities.

Dr Abbey, top, and Professor Nugent: helping spearhead engagement with  new international X-ray laser facilities.

Professor Nugent said the Government’s latest research support highlights La Trobe’s pre-eminence at the frontier of X-ray science. ‘It helps us build on our connections with world-leading scientific resourcessuch as the X-ray laser facilities at Stanford and in Europe as well as our leadership roles at the Australian Synchrotron,’ he said.

Botany and brain chemistry

Professor Jim Whelan, a specialist in plant energy metabolism, leads the La Trobe hub for the $26m ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology located at the University of Western Australia.

He is part of an international scientific team that recently discovered a new substance in the common weed thale cress which has an important link to human brain chemistry involved in Alzheimer’s disease.

Professor Nugent said the new research funds recognise the University’s critical role in ‘trying to answer the big questions in health, agricultural and environmental research under La Trobe’s new Future Ready Research Focus Areas’.

ARC Centres of Excellence are high-quality collaborations between research bodies, government and business to maintain and develop national priority research of international standing.

La Trobe University is also part of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Coherent X-ray Science whose mission is to be the world leader in the development of coherent X-ray diffraction for imaging biological structures.