Here at La Trobe, we don’t just value academic excellence – we support and champion work that makes a real difference in Australia and beyond.
Our ‘What We’re Working On’ series spotlights some of the world-class research we’re doing to understand and solve fundamental challenges and to ultimately improve our communities and the lives of others.
Below is a round-up of four research stories we’re showcasing this month.
Early detection of autism
An estimated one in 50 children are on the autism spectrum. La Trobe’s Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC) is Australia’s first centre dedicated to researching autism spectrum disorders. Part of OTARC’s research focus is looking for ways to diagnose autism in children before they reach verbal maturity. The earlier a child is diagnosed, the sooner they can start life-changing treatment assistance and support to reach their full potential.
OTARC has improved the lives of children and their families, and has now developed an app, ASDetect, that helps with early diagnosis.
Recovery from ACL knee injury
Our researchers have discovered that one in three people under the age of 20 who’ve had ACL knee reconstruction surgery will suffer a second injury within the following five years. These repeat injuries may increase the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis, and can also have a profound psychological impact on young people who would otherwise expect to remain active throughout adulthood.
La Trobe’s Dr Kate Webster is at the forefront of research to reduce ACL injuries. Dr Webster and her team are working to minimise the risk of re-injury through better rehabilitation practices which will lead to a better quality of life for young adults post ACL surgery.
Read our interview with Dr Webster, and watch our video featuring La Trobe’s Brooke Howells, who has suffered eight broken arms and two ACL knee injuries in her life and is now researching the effects of knee surgery.
Most people associate bacteria with disease, however, La Trobe researchers are working towards using naturally occurring helpful bacteria as a solution to a range of issues in today’s society. One of these solutions includes creating more fertile land for farmers where the helpful bacteria works to eliminate pollution, remove waste and improve plant health.
Additionally, this research has identified bacteria that can eat and breathe electricity using renewable resources to produce power that we can use. This could potentially be very useful in Australia where the location of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are not located near populated areas. This ground-breaking research can also contribute to understanding the role that bacteria plays within our bodies to keep us healthy.
Water is our most precious resource, but with climate change posing a very real threat to supplies, we need to find better ways to manage it. Our researchers are looking to the past for answers, analysing water management methods used in 19th-century Victorian gold mining.
Victoria doesn’t have a lot of surface water, so miners became very highly skilled in building catchment systems to capture and store rainwater, then diverting it long distances to where they wanted it. These pioneering skills were instrumental in building large-scale municipal water supply systems for cities. Moreover, the projects implemented by the miners also pioneered private ownership laws as well as pioneering the process that informs water allocation practices today.
This research provides a long-term perspective on human engagement with the environment, as well as an understanding of the best ways to occupy, manage, and maintain the land today and into the future.