Current activities

Imaging agents to further understanding in biology.

Diseases such as cancer and heart disease are highly complex and heterogenic in nature. We need additional tools to aid in early diagnosis, monitor prognosis and to understand interventions at a molecular level. My research group develops innovative molecular probes for cell and tissue imaging that are very unique as they do not photobleach and have long emission life times. This allows them to be visualised in live cells in real time, a key requirement if we want to understand disease at a molecular level. The research involves synthesis of small molecules, evaluating behaviour in cells and understanding how this impacts on our understanding of disease processes. Much of my work direct translation to industry and to this end I am a co-founder of ReZolve Scientific, a University of South Australia spin-out company. My research group is highly collaborative in nature and we interact with cell biologists, physiologists and key inorganic chemists to achieve our outcomes.

For further information please contact Dr Sally Plush

Development of Sensors

Sensors are tools that detect specific biological, chemical or physical processes, however obtaining a rapid visual signal can be difficult. Fluorescent sensors offer a number of advantages in this field, especially those that utilise luminescent lanthanide ions as they are highly emissive and can be tuned to a wide variety of applications. My research group currently develops sensors for wound fluid, water quality and pharmaceutics. This research involves links with material scientists, biologists and virologists.

For further information please contact Dr Sally Plush

Analysis of substances of abuse in wastewater

Substances of abuse place a large burden on the health budget and their personal and social harms are far-reaching.  Understanding the extent of substance abuse is problematic as it relies on many sources of information, such as surveys, police seizures and emergency hospital admissions.  Since users excrete markers of substance abuse into the sewer system, having methods to detect metabolites in wastewater allows for population-scale monitoring of compounds of interest.  Trends developing over time reveal escalation, reduction or stabilisation of substance use, which can inform government policy or the effectiveness of intervention programs.  The method is non-invasive and does not aim to identify users.  Rather, it is about population well-being.  Our group has developed methods for detecting markers of more than 20 substances of abuse, including alcohol, tobacco, illicit stimulants, opioids, cannabis and new psychoactive substances.  The project is continuously expanding as new drugs enter the market, or to include more regions in the study.  Currently we are monitoring more than 50 capital and regional sites across Australia in partnership with the University of Queensland.

For further information, contact Dr Cobus Gerber

Immunotherapy delivery systems for treatment of solid tumours

Immunotherapies are an emerging treatment in the fight against cancer, whereby a patient’s own cells are programmed to attack cancers. The immune cells are isolated from the blood, engineered to recognise cancer cells and then expanded in number before being re-injected into the patient. To date, this approach has been used to successfully treat blood cancers such as leukaemia, and we are now looking to adapt immunotherapies for the treatment of solid tumours. To achieve this, it is necessary to control the delivery of immune cells over a sustained period and within the vicinity of the tumour. Towards this goal, my group in collaboration with the Cooperative Research Centre for Cell Therapy Manufacturing (CRC CTM) and researchers at the Adelaide and Seattle (US) Women’s and Children’s Hospitals are developing and testing new delivery technologies.  

For further information, please contact Dr Anton Blencowe

Antimicrobial coatings for medical devices

Surgeries that involve implantation of medical devices, such prosthetic heart values, carry a high risk of infection. In worst case scenarios, the infection can be so bad that the medical device has to be removed. A solution to reduce the risk of infection involves coating the surface of the medical device with an antibacterial agent. However, careful consideration needs to be given to the type of coating used as to prevent toxicity to the patient’s own tissues. To tackle this problem, my group is developing antibacterial coatings that allow integration of medical devices with mammalian tissue, whilst killing bacteria and preventing bacterial colonisation. This work is being conducted in collaboration with the Wound Management Innovation Cooperative Research Centre (WMI CRC) and researchers at the University of Adelaide and USNW.

For further information, please contact Dr Anton Blencowe

Oxygen releasing materials for biomedical applications

Oxygen is central to all life on earth. Human tissues that have an inadequate supply of oxygen enter into a hypoxic state (oxygen starvation), which can lead to cell death. For instance, donor tissue or organs intended for transplant (e.g., kidney) have to be transported and implanted within a short timeframe to prevent death of the tissue from oxygen starvation. In the case of large chronic wounds, the tissue healing process is hindered partially due to poor oxygen supply to the tissue. Therefore, my group is developing several oxygen delivery technologies for the treatment of chronic wounds and the preservation of tissues. This work is in collaboration with the WMI CRC.

For further information, please contact Dr Anton Blencowe

Population protecting implants for reintroduction of native animals

Sadly, we have seen a significant decline of native animals (as well as several extinction events) in Australia since European settlement, largely due to introduced predators (e.g., feral cats). Whilst there are ongoing efforts to reduce feral cat numbers throughout Australia, there are also efforts to reintroduce native animals to many areas. However, many of these efforts are thwarted by feral cats that prey of these reintroduced populations. Therefore, we are investigating a new population protecting implant to protect native animals and provide a more targeted method of controlling feral cats and foxes that reduces potential exposure of non-target animals to toxins. This research is being conducted in collaboration with researchers at PIRSA, the University of Adelaide and Ecological Horizons.

For further information, please contact Dr Anton Blencowe

Drug-polymer implants for the sustained delivery of pharmaceuticals

Oral administration of pharmaceuticals suffers from several disadvantages. Poor solubility and bioavailability are major hurdles for many compounds, which either prevents there use entirely, or limits delivery via other means (e.g., intravenous injection). Poor patient compliance is another problem that can lead to issues in treatment regimes. In comparison, drug eluting implants offer many advantages. Once implanted via an injection under the skin, the implants can deliver drugs over many months to years, eliminating issues associated with poor oral bioavailability and patient compliance. To address this opportunity, my group is developing implants for the delivery of drugs with poor bioavailability, as well as new implant technologies that enable zero order release of drugs.

For further information, please contact Dr Anton Blencowe

Dosimeters and fiducial markers for improved radiotherapy

Dosimeters are routinely used for measuring radiation dose and are used in the clinic to check radiotherapy regimes prior to patient treatment. Fiducial markers are injected around solid tumours (e.g., prostate cancer) and used to guide radiotherapy beams to the target. In addition to developing a number of new dosimeter systems, my group is now working in collaboration with researchers from MD Anderson Cancer Centre (US) and King Abdullah International Medical Research Centre (Saudi Arabia) to develop fiducial markers that also act as dosimeters. This new technology allows guided targeting of the radiation beam to shape to the solid tumour and provides a post-radiation readout of the dose of radiation delivered to the target site.

For further information, please contact Dr Anton Blencowe

Renewable biosurfactants from waste streams

Many industrial biotechnology and food technology processes produce waste streams that are either sent for disposal (waste dumps) or are incorporated into other low value food (animal) and agriculture (fertilizers) products. Therefore, a number of food companies are actively looking to make more use of their waste streams by producing higher value products. As a results with have partnered with CSIRO to develop new value-added materials from waste streams, and in particular, the development of new biosurfactants for the pharmaceutical, cosmetics and household product industries. Surfactants are used in a wide range of industries, and are predominantly manufactured from non-renewable resources and are non-degradable, leading to their accumulation in the environment. Therefore, this research involves the development of green and industrially scalable processes for the conversion of waste streams to biodegradable and environmentally friendly biosurfactants.

For further information, please contact Dr Anton Blencowe

Delivery of metabolic inhibitors to solid tumours

The rapid growth of many tumours leads to a switch in their metabolic processes that can be targeted by certain therapeutics. Most healthy cells under normal conditions produce energy using oxygen via oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS). However, when tumour cells divide very rapidly, they become starved of oxygen and can switch their energy production to anaerobic glycolysis, which also allows them to evade normal cell death pathways. Using specific compounds, it is possible to inhibit this energy production pathway and force the cancer cells to adopt OXPHOS and normal cell death pathways. To study the potential of this treatment for cancer, my group is developing nanoparticle delivery systems that allow the inhibitors to be delivered directly to tumours.     

For further information, please contact Dr Anton Blencowe

Development of efficient bioconjugation strategies

Over the last 20 years there has been significant interest in the development of chemistries that allow conjugation to complex biological systems. For instance, the tagging of proteins or cells with fluorescent dyes so that their function and behaviour can be monitored, or the conjugation of targeting antibodies to drug delivery devices to allow for targeted site specific delivery. As a result of the high complexity of these biological systems it is necessary to use coupling chemistries that are highly efficient and very specific to particular functionalities. Therefore, there is significant scope for the development of new coupling chemistries that proceed rapidly at low temperatures, don’t require complex precursors or catalysts, and are specific to particular functionalities. Working in collaboration with the CRC CTM, my group is developing new conjugation strategies that fulfil these criteria.

For further information, please contact Dr Anton Blencowe

3D bioprinting of tissues and biomaterial development

3D bioprinting offers the potential to rapidly generate complex cell and tissue constructs, which will underpin advances in the pharmaceutical sector (e.g., 3D models and assays for drug testing that can help reduce the reliance on animal models) and regenerative medicine (e.g., tissue and organ replacement therapies). The 3D bioprinting process is reliant on two major components; the 3D printing platform, and the printable support material, also known as the bioink. Printing different cell types with a specific 3D organisation in bioinks will allow fabrication of complex tissues that resemble natural tissues. However, for each cell type and application a specific bioink with precise mechanical and biological function has to be developed. To tackle these challenges, my group has partnered with a US-based printer manufacturer Aether to develop new bioinks and methods of printing complex multicellular structures.

For further information, please contact Dr Anton Blencowe

Areas of study and research

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