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Following creative leads in research; join the bioinformatics society; and empowering PhD students
Dear <<First Name>>

It’s an unfortunate reality in research that many researchers can’t follow through on their creative ideas, passions or curiosity because of a lack of funding. But it’s those ‘seemingly crazy’ ideas that often have unexpectedly important results. That’s why we fund our EMBL Australia Group Leaders for up to nine years—so they can take risks and follow ideas.

One of our first EMBL Australia Group Leaders is gaining wider attention for his creative approaches to understanding the very early events in occurring in embryonic development. Nicolas (Nico) Plachta, has developed live imaging techniques that allow him to see exactly what’s happening inside single embryonic mammal cells in real-time.

I’m thrilled that other organisations are also recognising Nico’s creativity. This month he was awarded a prestigious Viertel Charitable Foundation Fellowship, and was also named as a finalist in this year’s Centenary Institute Lawrence Creative Prize. More below

Also on funding, my congratulations to:
  • Katharina Gaus, James Whisstock and their colleagues who secured ARC support to establish a single molecule imaging laboratory at UNSW and a new cryo-scanning electron microscope at Monash University. Together, Kat and James will be hosting four of the new EMBL Australia Group Leader positions we are establishing.
  • EMBL Australia’s Monash Node Head Peter Currie who was awarded NHMRC grants in the recent funding round, and EMBL collaborator and ARMI Group Leader James Bourne, who received an NHMRC grant and a Fellowship.
While we celebrate such successes, it’s also important to remember that the vast majority of research proposals in Australia go unfunded. And for early-career researchers, gaining funding can be particularly tough.

That’s why this December, we’re holding the first EMBL Australia PhD Symposium to empower young researchers, encourage them to take risks, and press them to be proactive and savvy in their research careers. More below

Best wishes,
Professor Nadia Rosenthal
Scientific Head, EMBL Australia
Please note that all replies to this newsletter go to If you wish to email me directly, my address is

In this month's newsletter:

We’re gradually understanding how you began

Dr Nicolas (Nico) Plachta from EMBL Australia and the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) at Monash University is working to understand how embryos form.

This month he was one of just three researchers in Australia to be awarded a Sylvia and Charles Viertel Charitable Foundation Senior Medical Research Fellowship. The Fellowship, which includes $1,225,000 in funding, will allow Dr Plachta to continue to use pioneering live-imaging technologies to discover how single cells activate different genetic programs and how they regulate their shape. See one of Nico’s live-imaging videos

“Each cell in our body must carefully choose its fate, shape, and the way it interacts with other cells, yet we don’t know how these decisions are controlled in real time in living mammals,” says Nico. “Understanding these dynamic processes will make it possible to screen IVF embryos for deformities and explain the mechanisms behind tissue formation.”

For Nico, the Fellowship funding presents the opportunity to follow creative ideas and curiosity in his research.

“It is crucial that young researchers are given support at the start of their careers and I am thrilled that the foundation has selected me. Their support will give me the freedom to conduct ambitious long-term research that would otherwise be very difficult to fund,” says Nico.

Read more

Stopping the immune system’s ‘friendly fire’

EMBL scientists have found a molecule that could potentially accelerate clinical trials to combat autoimmune diseases.

Autoimmune diseases occur when certain immune cells called ‘pro-inflammatory T-effector cells’ become sensitised to specific cells in the body, identifying them as foreign and attacking them as if they were invading bacteria. This ‘friendly fire’ goes unchecked due to the failing of another type of immune cell called the T-reg, which controls T-effector cells, shutting them down when they are not needed.

Lead investigator Nadia Rosenthal, Scientific Director of EMBL Australia and Director of the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) at Monash University along with her colleague, Daniel Bilbao from EMBL in Italy, have found that the molecule, called ‘insulin-like growth factor-1’ (IGF-1), could play a key role in speeding up the search for a cure for a range of autoimmune diseases.

In laboratory work the researchers created conditions that mimic two of the most common types of autoimmune disease: type-1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. They found that administering IGF-1 induced the production of T-reg cells, which in turn suppressed symptoms. Their research confirms that IGF-1 acts directly on T-reg cells—rather than indirectly by affecting some other factor that induces T-reg cells to multiply. And as a result, the survival rates of treated animals went up significantly.

Nadia says the findings, published last month in EMBO Molecular Medicine, have clinical significance.

“With these results it will be much easier to start clinical trials for IGF-1 in autoimmune and inflammatory diseases,” she says. “It’s not a new and untested drug, it’s already approved as a therapeutic and has been widely tested under a range of different conditions.”

In a separate study published earlier this year, Rosenthal and Daniel Bilbao found that IGF-1 also suppresses allergic contact dermatitis, an inflammatory skin disease.

The next phase of the research will see the researchers further explore the role of IGF-1 in inflammation and regeneration, and its potential for treating conditions such as muscular atrophy, fibrosis and heart disease.

Read more

In other news

The data is in on bioinformatics conference

Almost 200 bioinformaticians, computational biologists and other flavours of quantitative bioscientists gathered at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne this October for the 2014 Australian Bioinformatics Conference (ABiC 2014).

According to David Lovell, Director of the Australian Bioinformatics Network, ABiC 2014 was enthusiastically received by attendees. But don’t just take his work for it—he’s collected the data: hear what other attendees thought of the conference.

“This was a fantastic way to apply funds from this year’s Australian Bioinformatics Network Connection Grant Scheme,” said David. “Best of all for me was to see the strong, positive spirit of the Australian bioinformatics community out in force—Australian bioscience needs that!”

Highlights of this year’s meeting included:
  • an eye-opening account of the early years of bioinformatics in Australia from Professor Terry Speed
  • Dr Belinda Phipson’s talk illustrating how to hunt down unusual methylation patterns
  • international guest C Titus Brown’s keynote speech on phenotyping different players in bioinformatics (and their pathologies).
For more information on the conference visit the Australian Bioinformatics Network’s website

Are you a member of the Australian Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Society yet?

Another highlight from ABiC 2014 was the formation of the Australian Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Society—ABACBS (pronounced “abəkəs”).

Focused on bioinformatics and computational biology in Australia, ABACBS aims to:
  • strengthen the science and profession
  • encourage and support students
  • provide representation and advocacy, and
  • promote interaction and awareness.
The fledgling society held its first meeting, coinciding with ABiC2014 last month, to get incorporation underway. Interest is already high, with well over 100 members signing up.

The Committee Members are:
  • President—Tony Papenfuss
  • Vice-President—Ashley Waardenberg
  • Secretary—David Lovell
  • Treasurer—Melissa Davis
  • Student Representative —Andrew Lonsdale.
Become a member of the society while membership is still free.

Join BioInfoSummer at Monash in December

This year’s BioInfoSummer series will be held at Monash University from 1-5 December. The popular conference will again feature a range of topics spanning bioinformatics and the analysis of biomolecular data, including:
  • Introduction to molecular biosciences and bioinformatics
  • Next-generation DNA sequencing and sequence evolution
  • High-throughput technology and ‘-omics’ data analysis
  • Methods in bioinformatics
  • Systems biology
  • 15 national and international speakers

Registration is open until 1 December. Visit the website for more details and to register .

PhD students – register now for the first EMBL Australia PhD Symposium

EMBL Australia’s first PhD student symposium is less than a month away.

The conference, organised by the students who attended EMBL Australia’s first PhD Course in 2013, was inspired by the annual student-led symposium organised by first-year PhD candidates and held at EMBL’s Heidelberg campus.

With the theme “Research in life sciences: from in vitro to in vivo,” the inaugural symposium will focus on the use of new technologies and techniques to conceptually and practically model disease.

Speakers include Canadian stem cell researcher Andreas Nagy as well as local luminaries Ian Frazer, Nikola Bowden, Jose Polo, Marc Wilkins, James Chong and Jenny Stow.

The conference runs from 3-5 December at the University of New South Wales.

For more information and registration, visit the symposium website

Events coming up

If you have events to add to the EMBL Australia events calendar, drop us a note at with the details and a link for more information.

BioInfoSummer 2014
1 December 2014, Monash University
This annual event brings together over 150 biologists, statisticians and bioinformatics professionals to uncover the potential of bioinformatics. 

Australia Biotech Invest 2014
3 December 2014, Crown Conference Centre, Melbourne, Victoria
With over 300 senior level life science professionals in attendance, the inaugural Australia Biotech Invest conference was a major success. Building on this successful first edition, Australia Biotech Invest will return to Melbourne on 3-4 December 2014.

EMBL Australia PhD Symposium: Research in life sciences: in vitro to in vivo
3 December 2014, University of NSW, Sydney

For a full list of upcoming events, head to the EMBL Australia events page.

About EMBL Australia

EMBL - the European Molecular Biology Laboratory - is Europe's flagship for the life sciences. The Australian government joined EMBL as an Associate Member in 2008.

EMBL Australia is an unincorporated joint venture between members of the Group of Eight universities and the CSIRO, supported by the Australian government.

Read more about EMBL Australia
Copyright © 2014 EMBL Australia, All rights reserved.

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