27 October 2009

Next-generation approaches in disease detection and prevention are being developed by biotechnologists at The University of Queensland (UQ) in a bid to curb the influence of a changing climate and sprawling population.

Leading UQ biotechnology expert, Professor Ross Barnard, will discuss these developments including biofuel production from non-food crops, dengue diagnostics, dengue fever prevention and the world’s first cervical cancer vaccination at a free public lecture in Chennai on Monday, November 16.

Professor Barnard, an expert in infectious diseases, said UQ was investigating exotic diseases due to global change.

“We are getting more exotic diseases, because as our population increases it is expanding into new environments,” he said.

“This means we are becoming exposed to new insects and new viruses, so we need to look at novel approaches in diagnosis and vaccine production to help detect and prevent diseases.”

Along with the vaccine for cervical cancer, co-developed by the director of
UQ's Diamantina Institute for Cancer, Immunology and Metabolic Medicine, Professor Ian Frazer, UQ researchers are developing vaccines targeted at viruses such as dengue, avian influenza and swine flu.

“Some of our researchers are looking to our ocean’s flora and fauna for new compounds and antibodies that could be used in new drugs to combat emerging diseases,” he said.

“Other UQ researchers are working on novel ways to change the mosquito life cycle so it cannot transmit disease.”

The University’s biotechnologists are not stopping at diseases.

“We are also looking at how we can genetically engineer plants for use as an alternative fuel, to absorb nitrogen, a ‘greenhouse’ gas from the atmosphere, or to improve plant productivity,” Professor Barnard said.

Such research has helped UQ establish itself as a leading research university in the field of life science and biomedicine, now ranked between American universities Princeton (ranked 27) and Columbia (ranked 29) in Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings 2009.

“Biotechnology at UQ has the facilities and support to offer an advanced program with a diversity of labs allowing students to complement their coursework with a major research project in order to help them get a job,” he said.

Professor Barnard will present the free public lecture “Advances in Biotechnology at UQ” at the Taj Coromandel in Chennai on Monday, November 16 this year.

Seating is limited and registration is essential. To register, visit the website http://www.science.uq.edu.au/biotech-advances

Media: Professor Ross Barnard (0061 7 3365 4612 or rossbarnard@uq.edu.au) or Robbie Mitchell (0061 7 3365 8598 or robbie.mitchell@uq.edu.au).