A first-of-its-kind exploration of dopamine receptors to better understand development across the lifespan and creating nano-needles to deliver genetic materials into cell interiors – meet the next-gen researchers working to find solutions for some of science’s biggest challenges.
Deakin University has received more than $3.6m in funding for 5 projects in the recent ARC Future Fellowships scheme. This competitive grants process had a success rate of 16 per cent with funding provided to 100 mid-career researchers each year to focus on finding solutions for key industry challenges and for training the next generation of researchers.
Deakin’s Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Pro Vice-Chancellor Research Strategy and Performance, Professor Chris McConville said the grants recognised Deakin’s researchers as future leaders in their fields.
“Our new ARC Future Fellows are addressing important issues in our society and their work demonstrates Deakin’s continuing commitment to translating high-quality research into powerful solutions and policies.”
– Professor Chris McConville
Both, Associate Professor Jee Hyun Kim and Dr Roey Elnathan from IMPACT were among the best and brightest mid-career researchers having received a combined total of over $1.94m for their projects. Learn more about their exciting research below.
Prefrontal dopamine in the dynamic processes of learning across lifetime
Associate Professor Jee Hyun Kim
Associate Professor Jee Hyun Kim is an expert scientist in age-specific learning and memory. Head of Molecular Psychiatry Laboratory in the School of Medicine at Deakin, A/Prof. Kim has had an extensive career as a behavioural neuroscientist exploring our emotional memory across the lifespan.
She has received $1,048,536 to explore her Future Fellowship program of research which aims to examine the contribution of dopamine and its receptors in associative learning and memory.
The research will focus on dopamine receptors D1 and D2 at nine distinct ages to gain insight from early development through to ageing in both male and female rats.
‘The ability to learn is a fundamental feature of human behaviour. Learning is a highly dynamic lifelong process – how we learn changes not only as we grow, but also as we age,’
‘These changes facilitate age-specific adaptive action in an ever-changing environment. Understanding these mechanisms can promote healthy development and ageing.’ says A/Prof Kim.
Given her previous research showing the importance of the prefrontal cortex in age-specific learning, the focus will be on measuring the changes in dopamine receptor expression and tonic dopamine levels in the prefrontal cortex, which has never been done across development and ageing.
A/Prof Kim says the results will be used to manipulate dopamine signalling.
‘This allows us to understand the causality of the dopaminergic system changes in dynamic learning and memory processes across the lifetime.’
Dopamine receptor mapping will also be curated as an open data resource, which will be highly useful for scientists interested in any dopamine-related health and disease mechanisms other than learning and memory, including attention, motivation and movement.
The outcomes will provide a new neuroscientific framework to understand learning and memory throughout life, fostering new research opportunities and informing our education and health.
Engineering nanoscale tools for cellular interrogation
Dr Roey Elnathan
Dr Roey Elnathan recently joined Deakin as a Senior Lecturer at Deakin’s School of Medicine. Dr Elnathan has been conducting research across nanotechnology and cell biology, previously working as a Senior Research Fellow at Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences. The impact of his innovative research can be seen in recent publications in Nature Protocol (2021), Nature Reviews Materials (2022), and Nature Nanotechnology (2022). Dr Elnathan is also the 2022 Tech Ambassador Fellow for the Australian National Fabrication Facility’s Victorian node at Deakin University.
His Future Fellowship project received $894,000 to develop a breakthrough technology to solve a long-standing challenge in biomedicine: how do we inject genetic materials into cell interiors with much greater precision, but without damaging the cells’ intricate structure?
To achieve this Dr Elnathan’s team will create tiny (nano) needles of specific dimensions to deliver genetic materials such as DNA into cells, giving them powerful new properties – including such functions as attacking specific cancer cells.
It addresses fundamental hurdles to engineering seamless nano-biointerfaces between electroactive nanoscale tools and living cells.
‘These bespoke nanoneedles will also enable diagnosis of the health of cells by drawing out tiny volumes of their existing genetic material,’
‘These advances will have major potential as a platform for novel cell-based therapies for conditions that until now have eluded medical science, or for which current therapies are too slow and costly to be viable.’ says Dr Elnathan.
This enormous scientific advance could also open new ways of manipulating cells outside the body, potentially leading to intellectual property that would be highly attractive to Australian and international companies.
Dr Elnathan will continue his work at Deakin within the Drug Discovery, Repurposing Therapeutics and Biomarkers theme at IMPACT and a guest-affiliation with Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials.