Australia’s first laser scanner cytometer is tipped to cut years off drug development and reduce the need for animal trials.
Stem cell researcher Associate Prof Louise Purton said the $700,000 machine, at St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research, would allow researchers to study cells in the body. “Anything we want to know about a cell, this should be able to answer it,” she said.
“This is the way the cancer field is moving forward into finding a cure, by understanding why that cancer is forming and specifically targeting those cancer cells as opposed to the other cells around it.”
Deputy director of the institute, Prof Michael Parker, said the scanner would give Victorian researchers a “huge advantage”.
“We could have 100 molecules that bind pretty well to the protein we’re targeting, but once you put them in the animal or human we don’t know if they’re actually going to get to where the disease is,” he said. “The scanner will tell us of the 100 molecules what are the ones we should be focusing on.”
Once a potential cancer-killing molecule has been developed by Prof Parker’s drug discovery laboratory, associate Prof Purton’s team can fluorescently tag the compound to see if the drugs are getting inside the cancer cells.
“It allows you to see the effect on the cell, but also on the cells around it,” Associate Prof Purton said. “Usually you just have to monitor the visual appearance of the animal to see if they’re showing any signs of any illness.
“The scanner will allow us to see what’s happening inside the organs, and monitor more specifically what’s happening with the drug.
“We can look at what’s happening with patients pre and post-chemotherapy; see if the cells are changing, if the disease is being eradicated properly and if they’re changing the cells they’re interacting with.”
The scanner was funded by an Australian Cancer Research Foundation grant. It will also be used by the institute for research into heart disease, Type 1 diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Similar surgeries may follow in other cases where sections of the skull are removed because the brain has swollen during a surgery or after an accident, says Scott DeFelice, president of Connecticut-based Oxford Performance Materials, the company that created the prosthetic.
Technicians used CT scans to get images of the part of the skull that needed replacing. Then, with computer software and input from surgeons, engineers designed the replacement part. A machine that uses lasers to fuse granules of material built the prosthetic layer by layer out of a special plastic called PEKK. While inert like titanium, PEKK is riddled on its surface with pocks and ridges that promote bone cell growth, DeFelice says.
Such implants have value as a brain-protecting material, says Jeremy Mao, a biomedical engineer and codirector of Columbia University’s center for craniofacial regeneration. But doctors will need to keep an eye out for long-term problems; The skull isn’t just a box for the brain but a complicated piece of anatomy linked to connective and soft tissues.