Research highlights

Opening a molecular gate

LIMS researchers including Professor Brian Smith, with colleagues from WEHI, have found the ‘key’ to opening a molecular gate controlling currents of potassium ions across cell membranes. Their discovery unlocks the potential to develop new drugs that can target a range of diseases, including cancers and diabetes as well as neurological and cardiac disorders. The study in Nature Communications makes a conceptual breakthrough in understanding how the channels are gated.

Flaw in Nobel chemistry technique

LIMS PhD student Lahclan Barwise and Professor Jason Dutton found a flaw in elemental analysis, a 100 year old, Nobel prize winning chemistry technique used to measure the C, H and N content of molecules. Obtaining accurate data is essential for the charaterisation of new compounds but researchers frequently face poor data that does not meet journal standards, wasting valuable time and money. The LIMS team, with La Trobe University statistics expert Dr Rupert Kuveke as part of an international team, sent a variety of samples to elemental analysis service providers around the world. In over 10% of cases, returned results did not meet journal standards. Their findings, published in ACS Central Science, show that chemistry journals may need to increase their allowable window for elemental analysis to ensure greater rigour in the consideration of standards of random error. This would lead to more accurate results that don’t unnecessarily drain resources.

Portable medical diagnostic tool

Researchers have shown how thousands of dollars can be shaved off the cost of a portable medical diagnostic instrument by basing it on a small, cheap computer, known as a Raspberry Pi. Diseases are often diagnosed by quantifying the levels of certain proteins in samples like blood, but this is usually done in a pathology lab using expensive instruments. The research team, led by Professor Conor Hogan, developed a portable instrument that measures the amount light emitted from samples under electrical stimulation, a process known as electrochemiluminescence. This significantly reduces the cost of point-of-care medical diagnostic tools, the hope is that disease monitoring could become more accessible in developing countries and remote communities. Read in Bioelectrochemistry.

Apoptosis' role in cancer prevention

Apoptosis is a process that plays a role in cancer prevention. Bak is key member of this process and has been shown (in work recently published by Dr Nicholas Smith, Prof Brian Smith and colleagues) to modify its environment when activated. The modelling showed Bak collects the main constituents of body fat (triacylglycerides) in the mitochondrial membrane. The study in Biophysical Journal also showed increased levels of the body fat in the membrane reduced the activity of Bak. The Smith lab is exploring the molecular connections between obesity and cancer.