University of Adelaide researchers have developed a world-first optical sensor that can detect vitamin B12 in diluted human blood – a first step towards a low-cost, portable, broadscale vitamin B12 deficiency test. Vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Such a device would enable the tracking of vitamin B12 levels in high-risk patients and early intervention – to top up vitamin B12 levels when low – and help overcome the limitations of current testing methods which are time-consuming and costly.
The research, by scientists in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP), the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing, and the Schools of Physical Sciences and Medicine, is being presented today at an international biophotonics conference in Adelaide – the inaugural SPIE BioPhotonics Australasia conference. Biophotonics is the science of using light (optical technologies) to analyse and measure biological material.
“Vitamin B12 deficiency has been shown to be a potential modifiable risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and is associated with cognitive decline,” says Dr Georgios Tsiminis, Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide. “Older adults are particularly at risk of B12 deficiency due to age-related reduction in absorbing vitamin B12 received through their diet.
“Our sensor is an early first step towards a point-of-care solution for measuring and tracking B12 in healthy ageing adults. This would allow doctors to monitor B12 levels and intervene as soon as B12 deficiency was detected.”
The sensor is still at proof-of-concept stage but, with development, has wide-reaching potential applications.
“Currently our device could not aid in diagnosing vitamin B12 deficiency in a general practice setting,” says Dr Tsiminis. “However, this is the first time a rapid technique based on optical spectroscopy has been shown to be able to detect vitamin B12 in human blood serum. We believe this is a very promising first step towards achieving this goal.”
The optical sensor measurement of B12 in human blood takes less than a minute and requires minimum preparation. This is the first demonstration of vitamin B12 being measured in human blood serum without the need for a full laboratory test.
The sensor uses an optical measuring technique called Raman spectroscopy which produces a unique optical fingerprint of a target molecule, in this case vitamin B12.
“Our method provides a realistic basis for a system that is portable, cost-effective, and affords rapid results, along the lines of the pin-prick test for diabetes,” says Dr Tsiminis.
“Time and cost limitations currently mean that regular and frequent B12 measurements are not being carried out. Having such a device could make this testing routine, potentially having a real impact on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”
Established in 1874, it is the third oldest university in Australia. It is associated with five Nobel laureates, 104 Rhodes scholars and is a member of the Group of Eight, as well as the sandstone universities.
Its main campus is on the cultural boulevard of North Terrace in the Adelaide city centre, adjacent to the Art Gallery of South Australia, the South Australian Museum and the State Library of South Australia. The university has five campuses throughout the state: North Terrace; Roseworthy College at Roseworthy; The Waite Institute at Urrbrae; Thebarton; and the National Wine Centre in the Adelaide Park Lands. It has a sixth campus, the Ngee Ann – Adelaide Education Centre (NAAEC), in Singapore.
University of Adelaide research articles from Innovation Toronto
- Pumping Efficiency Into Electrical Motors – July 14, 2014
- Prostate cancer biomarkers identified in seminal fluid – June 15, 2014
- Stem cells from teeth can make brain-like cells – May 1, 2014
- Can animals really help people in hospitals, aged care? | human-animal bond – April 10, 2014
- Dreams, déjà vu and delusions caused by faulty “reality testing”
- Diagnosis just a breath away with new laser | lasers
- Sewer sensors sniff out signs of bombs and drugs
- Turning plastic bags into high-tech materials
- ‘Talking’ to structures to boost public safety
- Nanomaterial to help reduce CO2 emissions
- Bacteria Found to Thrive on Gold
- Extending Einstein’s theory beyond light speed
- Scientists can now block heroin, morphine addiction
- Salt Tolerance Breakthrough – Cross-bred wheat lifts yields
- EDWARD – a diwheel student-built vehicle that really works
- Scientists look to ultrasound for control of blue-green algae
- Build Your Own Internet with Mobile Mesh Networking
Researchers at the University of Adelaide have shown how a complex mix of plant compounds derived from ancient clinical practice in China – a Traditional Chinese Medicine – works to kill cancer cells.
Compound kushen injection (CKI) is approved for use in China to treat various cancer tumours, usually as an adjunct to western chemotherapy – but how it works has not been known.
This study, published in the journal Oncotarget, is one of the first to characterise the molecular action of a Traditional Chinese Medicine rather than breaking it down to its constituent parts.
“Most Traditional Chinese Medicine are based on hundreds or thousands of years of experience with their use in China,” says study leader, Professor David Adelson, Director of the Zhendong Australia – China Centre for the Molecular Basis of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
“There is often plenty of evidence that these medicines have a therapeutic benefit, but there isn’t the understanding of how or why.
“If we broke down and tested the components of many Traditional Chinese Medicines, we would find that individual compounds don’t have much activity on their own. It’s the combination of compounds which can be effective, and potentially means few side-effects as well.
“This is one of the first studies to show the molecular mode of action of a complex mixture of plant-based compounds – in this case extracts from the roots of two medicinal herbs, Kushen and Baituling – by applying what’s known as a systems biology approach. This is a way of analysing complex biological systems that attempts to take into account all measurable aspects of the system rather than focussing on a single variable.”
The Zhendong Australia China Centre for Molecular Traditional Chinese Medicine was established at the University of Adelaide in 2012 in a collaboration with the China-based Shanxi College of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Zhendong Pharmaceutical Company.
The Centre was established with a donation by the Zhendong Pharmaceutical Company, with the aim of understanding how Traditional Chinese Medicine works, and the long-term aim of possible integration into western medicine.
The researchers used high-throughput next generation sequencing technologies to identify genes and biological pathways targeted by CKI when applied to breast cancer cells grown in the laboratory.
“We showed that the patterns of gene expression triggered by CKI affect the same pathways as western chemotherapy but by acting on different genes in the same pathways,” says Professor Adelson.
“These genes regulate the cell cycle of division and death, and it seems that CKI alters the way the cell cycle is regulated to push cancer cells down the cell death pathway, therefore killing the cells.”
Professor Adelson says this technique could be used to analyse the molecular mechanisms of other Traditional Chinese Medicines, potentially opening their way for use in western medicine.
Australian researchers at the University of Adelaide have developed a method for embedding light-emitting nanoparticles into glass without losing any of their unique properties – a major step towards ‘smart glass’ applications such as 3D display screens or remote radiation sensors.
This new “hybrid glass” successfully combines the properties of these special luminescent (or light-emitting) nanoparticles with the well-known aspects of glass, such as transparency and the ability to be processed into various shapes including very fine optical fibres.
The research, in collaboration with Macquarie University and University of Melbourne, has been published online in the journal Advanced Optical Materials.
“These novel luminescent nanoparticles, called upconversion nanoparticles, have become promising candidates for a whole variety of ultra-high tech applications such as biological sensing, biomedical imaging and 3D volumetric displays,” says lead author Dr Tim Zhao, from the University of Adelaide’s School of Physical Sciences and Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS).
“Integrating these nanoparticles into glass, which is usually inert, opens up exciting possibilities for new hybrid materials and devices that can take advantage of the properties of nanoparticles in ways we haven’t been able to do before. For example, neuroscientists currently use dye injected into the brain and lasers to be able to guide a glass pipette to the site they are interested in. If fluorescent nanoparticles were embedded in the glass pipettes, the unique luminescence of the hybrid glass could act like a torch to guide the pipette directly to the individual neurons of interest.”
Although this method was developed with upconversion nanoparticles, the researchers believe their new ‘direct-doping’ approach can be generalised to other nanoparticles with interesting photonic, electronic and magnetic properties. There will be many applications – depending on the properties of the nanoparticle.
Our excitement with and rapid uptake of technology – and the growing opportunities for artificial brain enhancement – are putting humans more firmly on the path to becoming cyborgs, according to evolution experts from the University of Adelaide.
In their new book The Dynamic Human, authors Professor Maciej Henneberg and Dr Aurthur Saniotis chart the full scope of human evolution, with a look at the past, present and future development of our species.
And while they believe that future humans will more readily combine their own organic material with technology, the authors caution that such enhancements must not ignore humans’ highly complex biology.
Professor Henneberg and Dr Saniotis are members of the Biological Anthropology and Comparative Anatomy Research Unit in the University of Adelaide’s School of Medicine. They are also associates of the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.
Professor Henneberg says their underlying approach to the book is that the human species continues to evolve: “There is still a tendency by some to view the current form of human beings as static, and that we will stay as such into the future unless some catastrophe causes our extinction,” he says.
Physicists are putting themselves out of a job, using artificial intelligence to run a complex experiment.
The experiment, developed by physicists from ANU, University of Adelaide and UNSW ADFA, created an extremely cold gas trapped in a laser beam, known as a Bose-Einstein condensate, replicating the experiment that won the 2001 Nobel Prize.
“I didn’t expect the machine could learn to do the experiment itself, from scratch, in under an hour,” said co-lead researcher Paul Wigley from ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering.
“A simple computer program would have taken longer than the age of the universe to run through all the combinations and work this out.”
Computer scientists at the University of Adelaide have developed a sophisticated but easy-to-use online tool to help build people’s trust in the cloud.
Cloud computing is widely recognised as a highly useful technology, with multiple benefits such as huge data storage capabilities, computational power, lower costs for companies and individuals, simplicity of use, and flexibility of application.
But the potential growth in the uptake of the cloud is being hampered by a major issue: people simply don’t trust it.
“Trust management is a top obstacle in cloud computing, and it’s a challenging area of research,” says the University’s Professor Michael Sheng, ARC Future Fellow in the School of Computer Science.
A University of Queensland researcher has made a big step toward the holy grail of biomedical science — a new form of effective pain relief.
“Translating the venom’s toxins into a viable drug has proved difficult,” Dr Clark said.
“But now we’ve been able to identify a core component of one of these conotoxins (toxins from cone snail venom) during laboratory tests.
“We think this will make it much easier to translate the active ingredient into a useful drug.”
Dr Clark said a sea snail used its venom to immobilise prey and protect itself.
Researchers at RMIT University and the University of Adelaide have joined forces to create a stretchable nano-scale device to manipulate light
The device manipulates light to such an extent that it can filter specific colours while still being transparent and could be used in the future to make smart contact lenses.
Using the technology, high-tech lenses could one day filter harmful optical radiation without interfering with vision – or in a more advanced version, transmit data and gather live vital information or even show information like a head-up display.
The light manipulation relies on creating tiny artificial crystals termed “dielectric resonators”, which are a fraction of the wavelength of light – 100-200 nanometers, or over 500 times thinner than a human hair.
The research combined the University of Adelaide researchers’ expertise in interaction of light with artificial materials with the materials science and nanofabrication expertise at RMIT University.
A world-first global analysis of marine responses to climbing human CO2 emissions has painted a grim picture of future fisheries and ocean ecosystems.
Published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), marine ecologists from the University of Adelaide say the expected ocean acidification and warming is likely to produce a reduction in diversity and numbers of various key species that underpin marine ecosystems around the world.
“This ‘simplification’ of our oceans will have profound consequences for our current way of life, particularly for coastal populations and those that rely on oceans for food and trade,” says Associate Professor Ivan Nagelkerken, Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow with the University’s Environment Institute.
Associate Professor Nagelkerken and fellow University of Adelaide marine ecologist Professor Sean Connell have conducted a ‘meta-analysis’ of the data from 632 published experiments covering tropical to artic waters, and a range of ecosystems from coral reefs, through kelp forests to open oceans.
Leading conservation scientists from around the world have called for a substantial role for nuclear power in future energy-generating scenarios in order to mitigate climate change and protect biodiversity.
In an open letter to environmentalists with more than 60 signatories, the scientists ask the environmental community to “weigh up the pros and cons of different energy sources using objective evidence and pragmatic trade-offs, rather than simply relying on idealistic perceptions of what is `green’ “.
Organised by ecologists Professor Barry Brook and Professor Corey Bradshaw from the University of Adelaide‘s Environment Institute, the letter supports their recent article `Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation’, published in the journal Conservation Biology.
“Full decarbonisation of the global electricity-generation sector is required soon to avoid the worst ravages of climate change,” says Professor Bradshaw, Director, Ecological Modelling at the Environment Institute and recently appointed Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change.
“Biodiversity is not only threatened by climate disruption arising largely from fossil-fuel derived emissions, it is also threatened by land transformation resulting from renewable energy sources, such as flooded areas for hydro-electricity, agricultural areas needed for biofuels and large spaces needed for wind and solar farms.”
New multi-scenario modelling of world human population has concluded that even stringent fertility restrictions or a catastrophic mass mortality would not bring about large enough change this century to solve issues of global sustainability.
Published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, ecologists Professor Corey Bradshaw and Professor Barry Brook from the University of Adelaide‘s Environment Institute say that the “virtually locked-in” population growth means the world must focus on policies and technologies that reverse rising consumption of natural resources and enhance recycling, for more immediate sustainability gains.
Fertility reduction efforts, however, through increased family-planning assistance and education, should still be pursued, as this will lead to hundreds of millions fewer people to feed by mid-century.
“Global population has risen so fast over the past century that roughly 14% of all the human beings that have ever existed are still alive today – that’s a sobering statistic,” says Professor Bradshaw, Director of Ecological Modelling in the Environment Institute and School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. “This is considered unsustainable for a range of reasons, not least being able to feed everyone as well as the impact on the climate and environment.