Elemental imaging technology developed at UTS could change our understanding of the role of metals and trace elements in the human body and what they can tell us about common diseases.
The imaging technology and resulting research program are the products of an ongoing relationship between UTS Professor Philip Doble and Agilent Technologies, a measurement company with a focus on life sciences and chemical analysis.
The UTS/Agilent partnership recently spawned two successful Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage applications, which attracted nearly $800,000 in the latest round of 2012 funding. The two organisations have now signed a new contract to extend the collaboration for another three years.
"We first started working with Agilent in 2001 when they set up a demonstration laboratory at UTS," Professor Doble said.
"Continuing our relationship and delving into these new collaborative Linkage projects gives us a great opportunity to build our understanding of a number of cancers and neurological disorders."
The first Linkage project aims to build an elemental atlas of a mouse brain to gain insights into the role that metals play in degenerative neurological disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
"What we can do is image the metal distribution [in a mouse brain model that is similar to people with Parkinson’s disease], and see what happens to, say, iron, copper, zinc, manganese and other elements," he said.
The second project looks trace of elements in the body using a technology called inductively-coupled mass spectrometry. Professor Doble and his team are investigating whether changes to normal trace elements levels could signal the presence of diseases, including a range of cancers.
"Certain diseases cause disequilibrium in these trace elements, [so gaining a better understanding of how trace elements behave and react could set the scene for the development of some really sophisticated diagnostic tools]," Professor Doble said.
The instruments behind inductively-coupled mass spectrometry technology were originally created for geological research. However, Professor Doble saw the potential for health care applications and, working with Agilent, reconfigured the equipment to create a truly novel technology with the potential to reshape the biomedical research field.
"Developing the technology is probably the most exciting aspect of the relationship with Agilent so far," he said.
"Already, it has led to collaborations with Seoul National University Hospital in Korea, Monash University and the Mental Health Research Institute in Melbourne."
UTS received funding for seven ARC Linkage Projects in the July 2012 round. They are:
• Doubly disadvantaged: harnessing elements of resilience and establishing information for systems change – led by Professor Patricia Davidson, UTS: Nursing, Midwifery and Health
• Chip liquid chromatography-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry: a new hyphenated microfluidic instrument for metallomics – led by Professor Philip Doble, UTS: Science
• The atlas of trace metals in the mouse brain: a new tool for neuroscientists – led by Professor Philip Doble, UTS: Science
• Talking fish: researching oral history and local knowledge in building community participation in Murray-Darling Basin river rehabilitation – led by Professor Heather Goodall, UTS: Science
• Cyber-racism and community resilience – led by Professor Andrew Jakubowicz, UTS: Arts and Social Sciences
• Integrating choice set formation and taste heterogeneity in market segmentation – led by Professor Joffre Swait, UTS Business School
• Bacterial detection and infection control using tethered membranes – led by Dr Stella Valenzuela, UTS: Science