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    Premier & Trade
    The Honourable Peter Beattie

    Three Scientists Win $150,000 Each for Smart State Projects

    Premier & Trade
    The Honourable Peter Beattie

    Monday, June 20, 2005

    Three Scientists Win $150,000 Each for Smart State Projects

    BIO 2005, Philadelphia: Two scientists working on new ways of repairing human bodies and one who is working on turning sugar cane into biodegradable plastics will each receive $150,000 from the Queensland Government.

    "The 2005 Smart State Fellowships provide funding for three early career scientists to conduct research projects that will bring significant benefits to Queenslanders," said Premier Peter Beattie.

    Dr Benjamin Goss is developing material to replace bone lost through trauma, tumour and infection. The aim is to develop a synthetic bone graft substitute for use in load-bearing situations, to overcome the limitations of conventional grafting procedures.

    Dr Simone Rizzi is developing a controlled release system for growth-factor-based, biodegradable materials for generating new tissue. This project is directed towards the development of a cost-effective, advanced wound repair product/delivery system.

    Dr Annathurai Gnanasambandam has a project that involves using sugarcane to produce biodegradable plastics. The aim is to diversify the product base of the Australian Sugar Industry by metabolic engineering of sugarcane to produce biodegradable polymers called polyhydroxyalkanoate, a potential alternative for petrochemical-derived plastics.

    "The Smart State Fellowships are part of the Government's initiative to invest in research and development by supporting Queensland-based scientists to continue their ground-breaking work in Queensland rather than going interstate or offshore or attract new talent to this State," said Mr Beattie.

    "Successful recipients are selected from a pool of applicants on a merit basis according to their record of research excellence, novelty and innovation of the research project; benefits to Queensland; and strength of cosponsors' support

    "Research projects already being funded under the Fellowships include innovative computer chip manufacturing; study of the rivers of the Gulf of Carpenteria which is critical to the fishing, tourism and agricultural industries; plant-derived pharmaceuticals; obesity treatment; UV exposure and its relation to incidence of skin cancer; and innovations on computer systems

    Each Fellow receives $150,000 from the Queensland Government over three years, with research and industry/business co-sponsors collectively matching the grants.

    Dr Goss is an early career researcher whose research to date crosses three major areas: polymer degradation, tissue engineering and clinical research in spinal disorders.

    His current interests are in bone substitute materials (both natural and artificial); bone morphogenesis; bone morphogenic protein delivery systems, both clinical and fundamental aspects of intervertebral disc degeneration, regeneration, replacement and repair; and biodegradable polymers.

    Ultimately the project aims to reduce the $4.7 billion annual musculoskeletal health cost to Australia by developing a material suitable for bone grafting during orthopaedic surgery. Bone grafts are often required for spinal fusion and joint replacement however there is a very limited supply.

    This material will consist of a heterogeneous scaffold consisting of two phases, a slowly degrading polymer reinforcing phase and a more rapidly absorbed protein delivery phase.

    Economic Development - The potential financial benefit of this research can be described as both earnings and savings for the healthcare system. An effective scaffold would revolutionise many surgical procedures. The intellectual property for such a system is very valuable and would significantly contribute to the Australian economy. This material could easily be manufactured and marketed from existing infrastructure in Queensland.

    Knowledge and Research Capability Development - Queensland is in the process of developing a strong reputation in the field of tissue engineering. This fellowship will contribute to the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation and the Medical Engineering Research Facility as world renowned centres of excellence in tissue engineering.

    This project has identified a key issue limiting the effectiveness of tissue engineering strategies and the knowledge that is developed will be applicable to many problems.

    Academic, research, professional and industrial experience: - Currently a Research Fellow in Orthopaedics/Engineering systems/AO Spine Department, QUT - Honorary Research Fellow in Orthpaedics Spinal Injuries Unit in Princess Alexandra Hospital - Research Fellow, AO Spine Centre of Excellence - Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Graduate School of Materials Science, Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology

    Industry Co-Sponsor: Synthes Australia Pty Ltd - a leading global medical device company. The company develops, produces and markets instruments, implants and biomaterials for the surgical fixation, correction and regeneration of the human skeleton and its soft tissues. At present Synthes is in every continent of the world and employs approximately 6400 people. Dr Rizzi was trained as material scientist and his research experience has been mainly in the interdisciplinary field of Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine.

    The focus of this project is two-fold. The first aim encompasses the development of delivery strategies for tissue regeneration by combining VitroGro® and novel carrier technologies. VitroGro® is a growth-factor complex technology developed and patented by QUT and is currently being commercialised by Tissue Therapies. The controlled release of growth factors, such as those encompassed by VitroGro®, through provisional carriers is crucial, and represents a key issue in therapeutic tissue regeneration. The second focus of the project is to simultaneously investigate and develop a concept to guide the commercialisation of the VitroGro® delivery system that is generated through Aim 1.

    Benefits to Queensland: Dr Rizzi will incorporate advanced growth factor delivery technologies developed in Switzerland with VitroGro®. Successful translation of the VitroGro® technology to long-term and larger markets, such as that represented by the wound care sector, will significantly contribute to Queensland's future economic and social development in a number of ways. The innovation in wound care is urgently required world-wide, hence this technology, if successful, will meet a global demand, and the Brisbane-based biotechnology company, Tissue Therapies, aims to deliver products such as the one described in the project in the wound care sector internationally.

    Academic, research, professional and industrial experience: - Postdoctoral Fellow, Bioengineering Department, University Hospital, University of Zurich Switzerland - Volunteer Delegate in a Swiss-funded primary school in Ladakh, India - Consultant in Biologics, Straumann Holding, Switzerland - Research Assistant, Institute for Biomedical Engineering, ETH and University of Zurich, Switzerland

    Industry Co-Sponsor: Tissue Therapies Limited - a Brisbane company "spun-off" to commercialise technology developed at QUT. Tissue Therapies has worldwide exclusive rights to commercialise VitroGro®. The company's key R&D priorities during 2005 include undertaking, in conjunction with the QUT Research Team: - research to develop VitroGro® as an application for paediatric burns and other acute wound dressing formulations - further development of VitroGro® applications for research cell culture products and expansion of cell lines for which the VitroGro® platform has been optimised - research to develop VitroGro® as an advanced chronic wound dressing for possible treatment for diabetic and venous ulcers and scar remediation - develop a live skin model for testing cosmetics and cosmeceuticals.

    Dr Annathurai Gnanasambandam's research field is plant molecular biology.

    This project will develop strong international collaboration between commercial, university and industrial partners resulting in: - Australian ownership of key intellectual property in plant biotechnology - Diversification of Australian Sugar Industry by creating new high value products - Development of environmentally beneficial bio-plastics industry in Queensland.

    Economic Development - Sugarcane is one of Australia's most important export crops. However, the Australian Sugar Industry has recently suffered one of the worst downturns in its history. Diversification of the product base is essential to protect the Australian Sugar Industry. The PHA biopolymers that the project plan to produce in sugarcane is expected to capture 2.83 billion pounds per year of the current plastics market with Proctor and Gamble using up to 1 billion pounds per year for their own internal consumption. The inherent biocompatibility of PHA biopolymers also has several applications in the high value medical plastics filed such as: controlled drug release, surgical sutures, bone pins, screws and plates, wound dressing and even heart valves.

    Environmental Development - To be able to replace non-degradable polymers by degradable plastics (which is the aim of this project proposal), particularly for single-use disposables and packaging applications, is of major interest both to decision-makers and the plastic industry to achieve a solution to Australia's current ecological problems resulting from the over-use of petroleum-based plastic bags.

    Social Development - By combining cutting edge technologies with over 100 years of knowledge of growing sugarcane, our sugarcane biofactory team could contribute to the social development of Queensland

    Academic, research, professional and industrial experience include: - Currently Research Scientist, David North Plant Research Centres, BSES Ltd - Visiting Scientist, Medicinal Chemistry, The University of Michigan, USA - Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Botany & Queensland Agricultural Biotechnology Centre, The University of Queensland - Tutor, Botany, The University of Queensland - MPhil, the University of Birmingham, UK - MSc Agriculture (Plant Breeding & Genetics), Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, India - MSc Agriculture, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, India - UQ Postgraduate Research Scholar, Botany (PhD Scholarships), The University of Queensland

    Industry Co-Sponsor: BSES Ltd - (formerly the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations), BSES is based in Brisbane and is the principal research and extension organisation serving both the agricultural and milling sections of the Australian sugar industry. Its purpose is to apply leading-edge research and development to advance the international competitiveness of Australian sugarcane production.

    Biotechnology research at BSES includes: development and application of molecular diagnostics for sugarcane pathogens - identification and application of molecular markers for agronomically important selectable characters and variety identification - transgenic sugarcane for pest and disease resistance, and for the production of biopolymers and alternative sugars - understanding the genomes of sugarcane and its pathogens via functional analyses of genes and their expression - developing new tools and Intellectual Property to advance sugarcane biotechnology research.

    Contact: +61 7 3224 4500