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Australian Nanotechnology Alliance

In This Issue

Vaxxas gets $15m injection to develop needle-free vaccine
Tiny wires a step towards photonic chip
Researchers Develop Nanomaterial to Recycle Waste Heat
Promising Australian ovarian cancer Therapy receives European support
CSIRO materials scientist takes Eureka prize for Commercialisation of innovation

Event Calendar

December 2011
January 2012
February 2011
March 2011
April 2011
May 2011
June 2011

Chairman's Corner

Ian Gentle

In the Federal Government’s recent publication Tomorrow: Quality Jobs – Australia’s Future, Australia’s Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb reminds us that Australia, while only representing around 0.3 percent of the world’s population, manages to produce more than three percent of new research. Now that is certainly boxing above one’s weight!

In this edition of the ANA newsletter we are again reminded of our world class research and our world class researchers.

Australia’s prestigious Eureka prize for commercialisation of innovation was presented to Dr Wojciech Gutowski from CSIRO’s Materials Science and Engineering Division for his work dramatically reducing the wastage and environmental impact of coatings in the automotive industry. Dr Gutowski has developed revolutionary technology that eliminates the need to use harmful and costly wet paint. His breakthrough improves the ‘stickability' of electrostatic powder coating using solvent-free resin that allows powder coatings, paints and inks to better adhere to plastics. Meanwhile, the L’Oreal Australia for Women in Science Fellowship has seen University of Melbourne researcher Dr Georgina Such awarded for her development of a smarter way to deliver drugs. Dr Such has developed miniscule capsules designed like a set of Russian babushka dolls that move through the blood stream to target cancer cells and nothing else.

Two medical stories are also highlighted this month. Firstly from Queensland, Professor Mark Kendall’s brilliant nanopatch, which I believe is set to not only revolutionise the administration of vaccines through non-traditional injections, but that possibilities exist for overcoming basic issues like refrigeration of vaccine and delivery. Just imagine the benefits to developing countries, or even in developed countries in times of pandemic, to have a vaccine “mailed” to your home. The translation of research from the bench to practicality like Professor Kendall’s nanopatch is a topic of great interest to the ANA.

Meanwhile, Australian health care company Prima BioMed received a boost to its ovarian cancer research with the German state of Saxony granted the company €4.1 million to fund parts of the CVac™ European clinical program in collaboration with Fraunhofer IZI.

If you have great stories like the ones highlighted in this edition, let us know as we love promoting Australian nano-research and applications. Send your stories to me at i.gentle@uq.edu.au.

Ian Gentle (Professor)
Chariman - Australian Nanotechnology Alliance


Notice Board

$5Million gift to further nanoscience advances: A generous gift of $5 million from one of Australia's leading businessmen will enable the University of Sydney to make major advances in the field of nanoscience. The gift from John Hooke CBE, former Chairman and CEO of Amalgamated Wireless Australasia (AWA) will endow a new academic chair in the School of Physics and the Australian Institute of Nanoscience which is to be built at the University of Sydney. The chair will be named the John Hooke Chair of Nanosciences. The new Australian Institute of Nanoscience at the University of Sydney is to be housed in a purpose built facility adjacent to and integrated with the School of Physics. Funded by the Federal government and the University it will bring together researchers and teachers working in world class laboratories for research in quantum science, photonics, biomedical science and material systems at the single atom level. Work on the new building is due to commence early in 2012 and it is expected to be completed in early 2014


L’Oréal Australia for Women in Science Fellowships Announced: Three $20,000 L’Oréal Australia For Women in Science Fellowships for 2011 were awarded to talented Australian women in science on Tuesday, 23 August 2011. Then on 24 August the three fellows visited the Australian Synchrotron and presented their research to 160 female students in year’s 9-11 for the L’Oréal Australia Girls in Science forum. L’Oréal this year awards three remarkable young women scientists from Melbourne, Brisbane and Townsville who have been acknowledged for their outstanding research in maintaining biodiversity in the face of climate change, and developing more efficient and effective therapies for disease. And the winners were:

  • A smarter way to deliver drugs: Georgina Such, University of Melbourne, is inventing a smarter way to deliver drugs—a miniscule capsule designed like a set of Russian babushka dolls that sneaks through the blood stream to target cancer cells and nothing else. Read full profile.
  • Can we save the tiger with mathematics: Eve McDonald-Madden, University of Queensland/CSIRO, is using mathematics and artificial intelligence to develop systems that allow us to make tough conservation decisions with limited information. Read full profile.
  • The complex life of coral: Tracy Ainsworth, James Cook University, Townsville is changing our understanding of the life of the tiny coral animals that built Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef—now threatened by a warming ocean and by bleaching. Read full profile.

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Vaxxas gets $15m injection to develop needle-free vaccine

Earlier this month, The University of Queensland’s Prof Michael Kendall secured an investment of $15 million for his startup company, Vaxxas Pty. Ltd. to take his nanpatch technology to the next stage. The investment came from venture groups led by OneVentures. Other investors include Brandon Capital Partners, the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund and U.S.-based HealthCare Ventures.

The Nanopatch is a stamp-sized, drug-coated strip that promises to revolutionise healthcare, and make that painful needle prick a thing of the past. The Nanopatch is being called the biggest breakthrough in vaccine delivery since the invention of the syringe in 1853 with many advantages that go beyond just helping the needle-phobic.

Early-stage testing in animals has showed that a flu vaccine delivered via the Nanopatch was 150 times more effective than the syringe, and may not require the additional adjuvants required to enhance the vaccine’s response. This arises from the fact that the Nanopatch has thousands of small projections that deliver the vaccine to abundant immune cells in the skin, whereas the traditional syringe hits the muscle where there are fewer immune cells.

Even more significantly, the Nanopatch doesn’t require refrigeration, enabling it to be easily transported across vast areas of the developing world that is in most need of vaccines. This will greaty improve distribution in places like Africa, where currently about half of vaccines do not working properly because of a breakdown in the cold chain.

The Nanopatch, which has been tested to deliver vaccines for Human Papilloma Virus, Human Simplex Virus (HSV 2), Chikungunya and West Nile Virus, also prevents needle-stick injuries during vaccination – which again is a particularly important problem in Africa; with a third of vaccines affected by other complications brought about through cross contamination needle stick injury.

Kendall has worked on the Nanopatch for the past eight years, starting from the time when he was at Oxford. In 2006, he returned to Australia, accepting the role of professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Queensland. He was awarded a Smart State Fellowship in 2006 – with the government giving $300,000 and UQ a further $960,000. He also has received more than $1.2 million under the Innovation Projects Fund. Kendall’s research also has been funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The syndicate’s investment in Vaxxas is consistent with its willingness to work with Australia’s leading research institutes, including the AIBN (Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology), to transform this exciting research effort into a commercially useful product. We need to convert the promise of the technology into a reality,” he added.

Vaxxas is the first Queensland company to be funded under the Bio Capital Fund, which has swelled to nearly $250 million, established last year with the help of Health Care Ventures and Eli Lilly, among others. The investment was negotiated in the main by UniQuest Pty Limited, the University of Queensland’s main commercialisation company.

Source: Lifescientist.com.au, August 2011


Tiny wires a step towards photonic chip

Australian researchers have engineered one of the world’s smallest ever nanowires for the next generation of telecommunication technology, bringing them one step closer to the creation of a ‘photonic chip’, which would lead to a faster, more sustainable internet.

In a paper published in the journal Nano Letters (DOI: 10.1021/nl202173t), researchers from Swinburne University of Technology and the Australian National University describe how they fabricated a tiny nanowire within a special type of glass known as chalcogenide.

According to lead author Elisa Nicoletti, this is a significant step towards the realisation of the photonic chip – the primary goal of the Centre for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS), a nation-wide collaborative project involving six universities and over 130 researchers.

Consisting of countless kilometres of optic fibre cable, the internet is connected by electronic routers. However, these routers work at much slower speeds than the optic cables, which slows the system down. The photonic chip would solve this problem, powering ultra-fast telecommunications networks that transfer information at the speed of light.

But the scientists aren’t there yet. The realisation of the chip will rely on a range of factors, including the fabrication of extremely small materials and the researchers’ ability to harness a unique optical property known as the ‘non-linear effect’. This is where the Australian team’s tiny new nanowires come into play.

“In order to make the chip small, every component needs to be extremely small,” Nicoletti said. “So we always try to push it that bit further to make our nanostructures as tiny as possible.”

Up until now, researchers have only been able to make nanowires of this size in polymers, which don’t have the same unique characteristics as chalcogenide glass.

Chalcogenide exhibits non-linearity, which means its optical density changes according to the applied light intensity.

“If you pump high density light into an optic fibre made of non-linear material, you can actually change its properties, and therefore change the way other light moves along it,” Nicoletti said

It is this combination of tiny materials and non-linearity, which has brought the researchers one step closer to their ultimate goal.

According to Professor Min Gu, who is Director of Swinburne’s Centre for Micro-Photonics and leading the Swinburne arm of CUDOS, the group’s success will not only create a much faster internet, it will also lead to a more sustainable one.

“Not many people realise this, but the internet is a major energy consumer. It’s projected that in the next decade it will count for half of the world’s energy use,” he said. “So making it more efficient will make a huge difference to our carbon footprint.”

Source: Media release – Swinburne University September 2011


Researchers Develop Nanomaterial to Recycle Waste Heat

Research teams at the University of Wollongong have collaborated with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in the US to develop a nanomaterial to collect wasted heat from industrial processes and electrical devices, and to covert this into electricity. These new thermoelectric materials could lead to techniques for better capturing and putting this waste heat to work.

Waste heat is sometimes referred to as secondary heat or low-grade heat and included the heat produced by machines, electrical equipment and industrial processes. It is a by-product of nearly all electrical devices and industrial processes from driving a car to flying an aircraft or operating a power plant.

The process of recycling heat offers great potential for harvesting power and increasing the efficiency of all electrical devices, and is expected to play an increasingly important role in meeting the energy challenges of the future. The process of recycling heat requires a material that has high electrical conductivity and low thermal conductivity. One of the most promising candidates for this job is zinc oxide (ZnO), a non-toxic, inexpensive material with a high melting point.

However, zinc oxide has high levels of both electrical and thermal conductivity. This quality can be a hindrance in converting waste heat to electricity as lowering one property of the material without affecting the other is a very difficult process.

The research team from Wollongong have addressed this problem by adding very small amounts of aluminium to the zinc oxide and processing the combined materials in a regular microwave oven. Through this method, the team was able to create enough nanomaterial to make a miniature equipment measuring a few centimetres. Instead of the regular methods where nanomaterials are created on substrates, the new inexpensive process has the ability to create pellets of the nanomaterial that can then be applied to any surface.

This method can also be scaled up for industrial production to create greener power plants, aircrafts, cars and other systems and devices. The research was funded by IBM, University of Wollongong, Australian Research Council, Rensselaer Nanotechnology Centre and S3TEC (the US Department of Energy Office of Basic Energy Science funded Energy Frontier Research Centre).

Source: Meridian Nanotechnology News and University of Wollongong website, September 2011


Promising Australian ovarian cancer Therapy receives European support

Australian health care company Prima BioMed (Prima) (Prima BioMed is an ASX listed Australian health care company) has received a major boost to its ovarian cancer research. The German state of Saxony granted the company EUR 4.1 million to fund parts of the CVac™ European clinical program in collaboration with the Fraunhofer IZI (Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy). The Fraunhofer IZI will handle the manufacture of investigational medicinal products and conduct quality controls for the European arm of the study.

Ovarian cancer is one of the most common causes of cancer death in women. The standard management of ovarian cancer currently involves surgery followed by chemotherapy. There is a clear need to develop novel approaches to treatment to increase the survival of patients. The CVac™ cancer vaccine approach stimulates the patient's own immune system to target and destroy tumours.

The autologous (where donor and recipient are the same person) immune therapy CVacTM is based on the modification of the body's own immune cells. Tumour cells are capable of evading the immune defence in various ways. The CVacTM method modifies the patient's specialised immune cells to make them recognise the tumour cells and activate diverse defence mechanisms of the immune system. These so-called dendritic cells are targeted to recognise a specific protein (biomarker) that is present exclusively on the tumour cells. The immune system is thus capable of specifically attacking the tumour cells without affecting healthy cells. This form of treatment is therefore much gentler for the patient than irradiation and chemotherapies and also holds the promise of lower relapse rates.

The CVac™ cancer vaccine consists of an agent (in this case a mannan, a special kind of polymer), attached to a tumour cell surface protein, mucin 1. The product is known as MFP or mannan fusion protein. The treatment is patient-specific and delivered to patients via dendritic cell therapy. The patient's own dendritic cells are isolated from their blood after which MFP is mixed with the cells to introduce the protein mucin-1 into, and expressed on, the surface of the cells.

CVac™ is Prima BioMed’s lead product and is of significant importance in addressing this currently unmet need for new treatments for ovarian cancer. CVac™ is a maintenance therapy administered post-surgery and post-chemotherapy to delay relapse and control metastases. Regulatory approval and commercialisation of CVac™ is now the core focus for Prima. It has completed two successful clinical trials and is progressing toward eventual commercialisation in the United States, Australia, Europe, with the long term goal is to develop commercial cancer treatment technologies and programs for global markets.


CSIRO materials scientist takes Eureka prize for Commercialisation of innovation

For his research in the field of interfacial interactions of sealants, adhesives and coatings, Dr Wojciech Gutowski, a Chief Research Scientist of the Materials Science and Engineering Division, has won the 2011 Australian Museum Eureka Prize for Commercialisation of Innovation.

While exhaust emissions from cars are a toxic nightmare for the planet, vehicles actually start polluting even before they hit the road.

Solvent-based spray paint on vehicles represents, after exhaust fumes, the second-biggest environmental hazard associated with cars. A quarter of the paint solids end up in landfill, while the solvents are released as volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere. It is a scenario that is bad for the environment and our health.

The problem lies in the fact that wet spray paint does not transfer well on to plastic; only about 35 per cent of it sticks to the surface. Dr Gutowski has developed a revolutionary eco-technology that eliminates the need to use harmful and costly wet paint. His breakthrough improves the ‘stickability' of electrostatic powder coating. The technology uses solvent-free resin that allows powder coatings, paints and inks to better adhere to plastics.

This is a first true zero-waste coating technology that completely eliminates solid and liquid waste, volatile organic chemicals and the use of water in a range of industries that need to powder-coat products. The Eureka prize judges believed that this technology has broader significance beyond car production, transforming manufacturing industries that make painted plastic components for cars, aircraft, furniture and buildings.

The technology is based on engineering an interface onto the surface of non-conductive material, such as plastic, to drastically increase its surface conductivity and enhance coating adhesion. This lets plastics have the same transfer efficiencies as metal when using electrostatic powder-coating. The end result is 100 per cent transfer efficiency (no waste) of a solvent-less coating (not harmful to human health or the environment) with excellent adhesion (it stays on).

Surface modification technologies developed by Professor Gutowski can be used with polymers, composites, ceramics and organic materials such as wood and natural fibres. His technologies are presently being employed by major international companies such as General Motors, Ford and Boeing.

Already in use in the automotive industry in Australia and overseas, the technology can be applied for coating of exterior and interior components of a vehicle. The estimated saving to the Australian industry alone courtesy of the substitution of wet paints is about $100 million per year.