This year was a big one for the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS). Here are seven of the most significant achievements that came out of LIMS in 2015.

  1. Identifying the cause of ‘wasting syndrome’

An international research team led by the Department of Biochemistry and Genetics at LIMS identified a cause of the wasting condition cachexia, which kills one third of all cancer victims around the world. These findings could result in a greatly improved quality of life for cancer sufferers.

  1. Capturing the stages of cell death for the first time

LIMS scientists, led by Dr Ivan Poon and Georgia Atkin-Smith, captured the never-before-seen process of cell death using time-lapse microscopy. In doing so, they discovered that molecules that are central to the immune system are ejected from inside the decomposing cell to form long-beaded strings, which can then break off and be distributed around the body. Further work will focus on better understanding the reasons behind this process, and the implications of cell fragmentation.

  1. Being included in the Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researcher list

LIMS researcher Professor Richard Simpson was among fewer than 100 Australian-based researchers recognised as ‘Highly Cited’ by Thomson Reuters. The Highly Cited Researchers list represents some of the world’s most influential minds in their fields. The list is established based on highly cited papers from the Essential Science Indicators (ESI) and each paper is ranked in the top 1% by total citations in their field and publication year.

  1. Discovering how cancer cells stay hidden

La Trobe scientist Dr Belinda Parker and her team at the Cancer Microenvironment Laboratory discovered that aggressive cancer cells stay hidden and spread quickly through the body by switching off immune signals. By looking at the immune signals the researchers can predict who is likely to get spread throughout down the track. The team is working towards translating their research into a clinical setting.

  1. Creating an online source of environmental DNA samples from the Murray Darling Basin

LIMS lecturers Dr Julian Pakay and Dr Fiona Carroll are working with Gavin Rees from the Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre to create an online database of metagenomics data (environmental DNA samples) from the Murray Darling system. A better understanding of metagenomics data will lead to improved monitoring and management of this sensitive system.

  1. Developing anti-cancer drugs that don’t cause further tumours

Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy work by damaging DNA, causing a cellular response called apoptosis. Apoptosis, as well as eliminating cancer, can also damage non-cancerous cells and cause new malignancies. Researchers from LIMS, including Dr Christine Hawkins, are developing drugs that directly induce apoptosis without damaging DNA and are therefore less likely to cause subsequent cancers.

  1. Being ranked ‘well above world standard’ in the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) report

La Trobe maintained its ‘well above world standard’ ranking for research excellence in Analytical Chemistry, Biochemistry and Cell biology in the latest Government ERA report. A total of 82 per cent of La Trobe’s research areas were assessed at above or well above world class.

To find out more about the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science, visit the LIMS website or get in touch.