Physics saving lives

Seeing the true nature of things a big business

Closeup of XCT machine

Closeup view of an XCT source and sample

Levi Beeching holding a 3D print of a scanned bone

Dr Levi Beeching holding a 3D print of scanned bone

When researchers in the Department of Applied Mathematics realised helical CT scans would be more efficient than conventional circular slices, it opened up a new generation of exquisite 3D images.

Since then the technique has unlocked extraordinary details of structures as diverse as bone implants, microfossils and the wood in cricket bats.

When the group added their advanced computational tools to the technique and modelled how fluids such oil, water and gas flow through rocks, oil companies from all over the world beat a path to their door.

The result was a consortium with 22 international companies, that grew into the successful spin-off company Lithicon. Lithicon was bought by a global electron microscope company Thermo-Fisher; 3D X-ray microscopes have now become a new line of products for them.

With the purchase of Lithicon, Thermo-Fisher did not take the products and develop them independently of ANU. Instead they moved a product engineer from head office in Czech Republic to Canberra to help turn new advances in technology generated by the Department of Applied Mathematics into products.

"It's a unique commercial partnership," says Professor Tim Senden.

"It allows us to stick to our strength, bespoke research tools; but also gives our students a clear path into an industry career. Or they can have a foot in both camps!"

Send in the Nanospheres

microspheres being released into a blood vessel

Sirtex microcatheter releasing microspheres

A radical new approach to radiation therapy for cancer is harnessing nanoparticles and microspheres to take cancer treatments right into the tumour.

Professor Ross Stephens from the Applied Mathematics department is developing the technique in collaboration with Sydney company Sirtex, in which tiny spheres are injected into the bloodstream so as to accumulate in the cancer and deliver beta radiation.

The key is engineering the surface properties of the spheres to make them biocompatible, and then embedding appropriate radioactive isotopes that irradiate the tumour.

New materials promise faster, safer MRI scans

It is an inexpensive add-on device that can be used with any existing MRI scanner

Putting ultrathin metallic resonators under the patient during an MRI can increases the efficiency and quality of the scanning process.

Professor Yuri Kivshar from the Nonlinear Physics Centre was part of an international team who found metamaterials could suppress the electric field, which can cause tissue heating in high-field scans.

The group are working with company Mediwise to integrate the technology into new MRI machines, but a simpler solution maybe a metamaterial mat for the patient to lie on or even clothes to wear.

"It is an inexpensive add-on device that can be used with any existing MRI scanner," said Professor Kivshar.

Mind reading laser

Neurophotonics is the new field of studying the brain’s processes with lasers, superceding current methods that use electrical probes.

"Only optics can handle the fast and large amount of data from mapping the activity of neurons in 3D and real time," says Professor Hans Bachor.

Professor Bachor is collaborating with researchers from Engineering and Medical fields to pioneer new imaging techniques.

"Physicists are the best instrument builders, and can understand patterns and correlations in large data sets," he says.

The initial goal is to understand the healthy brain, but Professor Bachor hopes one day that the research will lead to custom repairs for patients with acute localised problems, like an injured optic nerve.

Cutting the collateral damage from Radiation therapy

Thinking beyond the normal three types of radioactivity could lead to a new method to turn radiation therapy inside out and cut out its nasty side-effects.

Instead of X-rays beaming in from the outside and damaging healthy tissue, Associate Professor Maarten Vos from Electronic Materials Engineering and Dr Tibor Kibedi from Nuclear Physics are exploring using isotopes like iodine-179 that give off low-energy electrons called Auger electrons.

Auger electrons impart a lot of tissue damage in their local area without penetrating into other parts of the body, so the goal is to attach the isotopes to a chemical that gets absorbed into the tumour, thereby irradiating it from the inside out.

Find out more

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» ANU colaborates with SIRTeX on novel cancer treatments

Updated:  24 March 2017/ Responsible Officer:  Director, RSPE/ Page Contact:  Physics Webmaster