Home' InDaily : December 16th 2010 Contents After a tough day in the laboratory, Emily Anglin goes boxing.
On one level it's hard to reconcile the brute force of punching a
bag with the exquisite precision of constructing miniaturised
devices capable of identifying genetic damage in individual
But perhaps that's the point; recreational activities may be most
beneficial when they contrast sharply with your day job.
Dr Anglin's day job is developing innovative new techniques to
study cell behaviour which could, in time, transform the diagnosis
and treatment of a range of diseases. In doing so, Dr Anglin brings
a physical scientist's perspective to medical science problems
having graduated with a Bachelor of Science in her home state
of Ohio in the United States before completing a Masters of
Science and then a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry at the University of
California, San Diego. She took up a research fellowship at Flinders
University in 2007 in Professor Nico Voelcker's laboratory in the
School of Chemical and Physical Sciences.
Starting with a blank silicon chip and a clean glass slide, Dr
Anglin has, with collaborators from Flinders, the CSIRO and
SA Pathology, delivered a research breakthrough that offers
the potential for more effective and economical diagnoses of
diseases and the targeting of therapies.
In a world first, her team has created 'smart' surfaces on
which human cells will separate into microarrays of cells that
allow the study of individual cell types and their role in the
development of disease.
This new insight into cell biology and behaviour will help unlock
the secrets of medical science at a speed and cost-effectiveness
not seen before, giving researchers a valuable new weapon with
which to tackle intractable conditions like cancer.
Having recently published the research results in an
international journal, Dr Anglin and her colleagues are
considering new directions in which their research might take
them. One exciting possibility is for the cell analysis technique
-- tagged a 'Biolab-on-a-Chip' -- to be used to study the impact
of chemotheraphy and radiation therapy on cancer cells and
"Essentially, we could take blood from a cancer patient, study
specific cells from that sample and see how those cells react to
different amounts of chemotherapy and radioation therapy,"
Dr Anglin told Encounter.
"We might be able to see what a patient's personal dose
should be. It would be personalised medicine and could allow
you to test the treatment before actually administering it
to the patient. Conceivably, we could be tailoring cancer
treatments for individual patients," she said.
While Dr Anglin cautions that the idea has not yet progressed
beyond very preliminary discussions with colleagues, such
possibilities underscore the potential benefits of this leading
But even as one explores the frontiers of science, Dr Anglin
acknowleges that you often end up down some research
"It's a bit of a joke with research scientists that you leave
the lab every day and don't feel you have done anything
productive because all your experiments that day produced
negative answers," she said.
"If you get a negative result, and you don't have an idea of
what to do after that, you have to go back and try and redirect
your efforts. Scientists learn to take rejection well and find
ways to deal with it."
So how does Dr Anglin deal with it? "I go boxing a lot. I have
some great purple gloves and I beat up on a bag -- and that
helps. As a scientist you can have one or two awesome days
a year when you really hit something good. So you hold on to
that feeling -- sometimes for a year! The big days don't happen
often but when they do they are really big."
To date, those big days have produced a breakthrough that
could have a major impact both here and overseas. The
enhanced effectiveness of the Biolab-on-a-Chip -- both in
terms of research results and cost effectiveness -- will be
particularly valuable in developing countries which do not
have the sophisticated (and expensive) equipment and
infrastructure required for current cell analysis.
However, in order to gain that benefit, the Biolab-on-a-
Chip needs to become a commercial product. And for
that to occur, the technology needs financial backing and
commercialisation in the private sector. When an astute
investor steps forward, Emily Anglin's punching bag might
finally get a rest.
Unlocking the secrets of cells
Being a grumpy lizard may be
an advantage when it comes
to the survival of the species,
according to Professor Mike Bull.
Professor Bull has studied a range of lizards, their behaviour and
habitat over the past 34 years but he particularly enjoys getting
to know their personalities. And this is not a case of whimsy -- the
individual personalities and the nature of lizard relationships can
provide invaluable insights into the nature of ecosystems and future
actions that may protect wildlife species more broadly, not just in the
Professor Bull says one of the biggest threats to wildlife populations
is the potential for exotic diseases and pathogens to come into
Australia through various transport systems and wreak havoc, as has
been the case with the facial tumours affecting the Tasmanian Devil.
Professor Bull says knowledge of the way in which natural parasites
move through wildlife populations will be integral to developing plans
to protect them against introduced diseases. And that's where it all
started for Professor Bull, with the study of tick movements on sleepy
lizards leading to a lifelong affinity with, and affection for, the reptiles.
"In our research we are finding what we have called social networks
within the lizard populations -- who meets up with whom. And to a
certain extent, the personality of the lizard influences how well it is
connected in a population," Professor Bull told Encounter.
"Grumpy lizards tend to make fewer friends and, as a consequence,
are less likely to become infected by a disease or pathogen," he said.
While Professor Bull maintains that the study of lizard populations is
a model for understanding the broader wildlife community, he does
reveal an affection for his charges.
"Lizards are such graceful animals and it's given me great pleasure to
study them over many years," Professor Bull said.
"I like the fact that I have been able to expose the really complex
social organisations that these lizards have, and raise their status in
the eyes of as many people as I can persuade," he said.
Those efforts, and the fact that Professor Bull is now an international
authority on the social behaviour of lizards, were recognised last
year when the Royal Society of South Australia bestowed on him its
highest honour, the Verco Medal.
With an eye to the future, Professor Bull said he would like "to leave a
legacy of a sustainable management process" for a reserve near Burra
that has been recently purchased by the Nature Foundation of South
Australia, specifically for lizard conservation.
Home to a population of the Pygmy Bluetongue Lizard, thought to
have been extinct from 1960 until rediscovered in 1992, the reserve
is intended to provide a safe haven in the face of threats, including
climate change. Professor Bull is encouraging the local community
to take 'ownership' of the conservation process by developing a
protective culture for the endangered species. He has certainly given
them a strong foundation on which to work.
Australian Research Council (ARC) grants are
the lifeblood of research in universities. The
grants are keenly sought and there is strong
competition across the country. Mike Bull has
an unsurpassed track record having secured
ARC Discovery Grant funding for every year
from 1977- 2013 -- except for 1984 when he
was on sabbatical leave. In total, Professor Bull
has been the first named chief investigator
on 19 separate grants which, given the grants
have a three-year duration, represents 57 years
of research support.
Professor Bull was again successful in 2010
-- an ARC round in which Flinders University
doubled its number of ARC Discovery grants
over the previous year and secured ARC
Linkage grants at a rate well above the national
average. Twelve Discovery projects received a
total of $2.95 million, and three Linkage Grants
totalling $385,000 were made to collaborative
projects with industry.
Flinders Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research)
Professor David Day, welcomed the high
incidence of first-time recipients among the
grants saying it "augurs very well for the future".
Professor Bull is playing his part in contributing
to future ARC successes by mentoring young
researchers and providing insights into the
drafting of effective applications.
A member of the ARC College of Experts,
Professor Bull reviews up to 150 applications in
a funding round.
So which applications succeed? "We are
looking for the stunning science, the
outcomes that will set the world alight. What
sets the great applications apart is that the
researcher has seen something beyond the
point we have reached -- they are taking
another step forward."
Over the past 34 years, Mike Bull has certainly
taken some big strides of his own.
Flinders doubles ARC
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