Health

Good health, well-being and security of human population are of high priority. The health research conducted at the CNST focusses on:

  • Developing new molecular biological tools for more sensitive, accurate and faster DNA diagnostics and screening
  • Examining viruses and the detection of them for use in medical diagnostics
  • Developing microbial resistant coatings
  • Investigating the toxicity of nanoparticles and observeing their interactions with drugs

Lipid membranes form barriers in cells, either within the cell to form intracellular compartments with discrete biochemical functions, or surrounding the cell to form the cellular membrane, the physical outer limit of the cell.  Membrane proteins embedded within the lipid membrane serve many functions including drug metabolism and transport of electrolytes across the membrane. One area of research aims to characterise how silver nanoparticles (AgNP), a chemical widely used for its antibiotic properties, interact with cells at the cellular membrane.  Initial experiments utilise synthetic lipid membranes as a model system for studying biological membranes and further studies will increase the complexity of the model by incorporating proteins into the synthetic membrane. This study will enable researchers to determine the means by which AgNP inhibit drug metabolising proteins to cause drug-drug interactions, and better understand how AgNP kill cells.

 

TEM image of silver nanoparticles, ranging in size from approximately 2nm to 30nm
 
 

Another area of research is to use lipid membranes with the aim of generating a novel biosensor platform to identify and quantify the activity of transport proteins. Transport proteins are membrane proteins which move molecules, such as ions, across lipid membrane barriers; however, the rate of transfer is difficult to measure.  This biosensor will incorporate porous nanomaterials with a lipid membrane, housing specific transport proteins of interest, to generate an optical sensor of membrane transport protein activity.

 

Currently there are two main streams of DNA research dedicated to:

  1. Human genome analysis for rapid/in-field genetic profiling and more accurate and simple multi-parametric typing of chromosomal abnormalities (translocations) linked with genetic induced cancers.
    This research will lead to timely and efficient DNA-based human identification, medical diagnostics prediction of treatment and outcome of genetically determined diseases. To address these challenges we utilise a non-enzymatic DNA strand-displacement reaction, also known as “toehold” displacement. A “zipper” mode or a consecutive “base-by-base” re-hybridization mechanism of the “toehold” displacement allows for the highly efficient discrimination of reacting DNAs. This unique approach has huge potential as it allows for better understanding of the fundamental process underpinning DNA molecular recognition.
  2. Development of new techniques for the detection and genotyping of viruses.
    This research is focused on the development of a new technique for the sensitive detection and geno-grouping of single-strand RNA specific to norovirus (NOVs) within microfluidic devices or microarrays. For this, an isothermal Rolling Circle nucleic acid Amplification (RCA) is combined with a DNA strand displacement assisted primer generation technique and implemented into/onto microarrays/microfluidic devices. This will result in a simple, fast, highly specific tool that will be suitable as an in-field diagnostic tool for the detection and geno-grouping of NOVs.