5 examples of game-changing scientific research at La Trobe

For National Science Week we look at some of the ground-breaking work being carried out by scientists at La Trobe University.

1. Sex changing fish, kangaroo genomes and the disappearance of the male chromosome

Science is fascinating, it’s a never-ending detective story.

Professor Jenny Graves AO

In 2017 Professor Jenny Graves was the first woman to be individually awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

In her five decades of work she has kick-started genomic and epigenetic research in Australia, mapped the genomes of the kangaroo and platypus, and predicted the eventual disappearance of the male chromosome.

She’s continuously making ground breaking discoveries and her latest research, published just a few weeks ago, is an international collaboration that reveals the secrets of sex-changing fish.

2. Stem cell therapy to treat stroke patients

After a stroke the key is working to save neurons before they die. ‘Time is brain’ is the catchcry, so by rapidly treating a stroke and saving brain tissue, we reduce lasting damage which can cause disability.

Professor Chris Sobey

World-first research led by Professor Chris Sobey and his team at La Trobe University has found that injecting human amniotic cells discarded after birth into stroke patients could significantly reduce brain injury and aid recovery.

Stroke is one of Australia’s biggest killers and a leading cause of disability. Stroke is treatable; however, treatments are time critical and currently only a limited number of Australians have access. Some of the most recent advancements in ischemic stroke treatment – strokes caused by a clot – can only be delivered within the first few hours of a stroke.

This research has now led to a world first stem-cell therapy trial.

3. Securing the future of food supply

The future of food supply is a global problem and La Trobe’s Professor Jim Whelan has just being appointed to the Australian Academy of Science in recognition of how his discoveries, in relation to how plants grow, can tackle this problem.

His work looks to understand why plants choose to either grow, or attempt to tolerate, environmental stresses like drought and flooding. By understanding how these decisions are made, we will be able to optimise growth under these exact conditions.

4. Evidence-based Medicinal Cannabis research

In 2018 we announced a $25+ million Research Hub for Medicinal Agriculture, an initiative that will combine extensive research and industry expertise to create new jobs and drive better health outcomes.

The ARC Research Hub for Medicinal Agriculture is led by Professor Tony Bacic and will fill an important gap by conducting vital research into plant varieties, commercial cultivation practices, chemical synthesis and extraction techniques. 

The Hub will use evidence-based research to safeguard quality, safety, purity, mode of action of cannabinoids and scale of cultivation, and production of medicinal cannabis.

The Cann Group Ltd led by La Trobe alumni Peter Crock is also based at La Trobe University’s Research and Innovation Precinct.

5. Using shark antibodies to treat human diseases

To the average person sharks are a creature to steer clear of, but in the scientific world treatments based on shark antibody have the potential to save lives.

Dr Michael Foley

Dr Mick Foley and his research group from La Trobe’s Institute of Molecular Science (LIMS) and biotechnology company AdAlta Limited created a humanised version of the shark protein called the i-body, and identified a lead therapeutic i-body candidate for the treatment of fibrosis. Through the company AdAlta, the group is continuing progress towards human clinical trials in pulmonary fibrosis, a devastating disease for which there is limited treatment.

Dr Mick Foley