UQ researchers win AIBN grant to boost healthcare, advanced manufacturing projects

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Dr Verónica Martínez will be using a $360,000 grant over the next three years to develop a novel platform to guide the design of cell factories for complex therapeutic proteins. Image credit: University of Queensland

Researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) have been awarded more than $1.2 million through the latest Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowships (AQIRF) round to accelerate their crucial work on healthcare, nanomaterials, bioeconomy, and advanced manufacturing. 

The four successful researchers – Dr Ping Chen, Dr Md Masud Rana, Dr Veronica Martinez, and Dr Denys Villa Gomes – are working with at least one Queensland-based industry or end-user organisation, with the aim of continuing the transformation of the state’s economy.

The director of AIBN, Alan Rowan, praised the potential of each project and noted that the AQIRF program fits in well with the institute’s overarching mission to foster collaboration between science and industry for the benefit of society.

In particular, Dr Ping Chen said she will be using her $160,000 AQIRF grant to work with Brisbane-based QHeart Medical to help improve their low-cost medical balloon device.

“This project is a combination of the strength of the University of Queensland in nanomaterials and QHeart’s “pumpless” aortic balloon device therapy,” said Dr Chen.

Dr Md Masud Rana said he sees energy-storage capabilities as a crucial component that needs additional research and development

As a result, he said he will use his $240,000 grant along with his business partner Elemental Laboratories to develop an iron flow battery that is safe, effective, and economical for use in large-scale energy storage applications. 

The battery will also be recyclable and have a minimal negative impact on the environment, Dr Rana said. 

“The large-scale commercial testing and manufacturing of these batteries will be done in partnership with the National Battery Testing Centre in Brisbane and Energy Storage Industry-Asia Pacific in Maryborough, respectively to bring Australia’s first large-scale iron-flow batteries to market,” Dr Rana explained.

He added that this initiative could enable Queensland to fulfil its target of having 80 per cent renewables by 2035.

In the biopharmaceutical manufacturing segment, Dr Verónica Martinez, a mid-career researcher at the AIBN, will use a $360,000 grant from Patheon Biologics over the next three years to capitalise on the development of a novel platform to guide the design of cell factories for complex therapeutic proteins.

“Providing innovative tools to increase production yield will reduce the manufacturing costs of tomorrow’s lifesaving advanced therapies and enhance the advanced manufacturing capabilities of Queensland,” Dr Martinez stated. 

She added that Patheon Biologics Australia, based in Brisbane, has extensive experience in biopharmaceutical manufacturing and is confident in its ability to reduce production costs to meet the requirements of the available manufacturing footprint.

In the mining sector, Dr Denys Villa Gomes is working with Rio Tinto and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology to design, develop, and optimise new sustainable processes for extracting rare earth elements and gallium from red mud.

“By using omics and synthetic biology tools, we will identify key biological components such as genes, gen-systems, enzymes, proteins and mechanisms, that facilitate the recovery of these critical elements,” Dr Gomes said.

Dr Gomes has been awarded $360,000 over three years for this research.