Students gain international research experience

L-R: Imaging CoE PhD students Holly Ung and Blake Mazzitelli.
L-R: Imaging CoE PhD students Holly Ung and Blake Mazzitelli.

Article written by Blake Mazzitelli and Juliana Villa-Ortiz and originally published on the ARC Centre for Advanced Molecular Imaging website.

Blake Mazzitelli, a PhD student from the Whisstock lab at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI), has recently returned home after a three-month research placement at Fraunhofer IZI-BB in Potsdam, Germany. Along with fellow Centre for Advanced Molecular Imaging (Imaging CoE) student, Holly Ung, Mr Mazzitelli studied and implemented Fraunhofer IZI-BB’s optimised system for Cell-Free Protein Synthesis (CFPS).

This research placement mark a significant milestone in the partnership between Monash University and the Imaging CoE with Fraunhofer IZI-BB in which a previously untapped pipeline of protein-synthesis to molecular imaging analysis can be achieved with enhanced efficiency.

The research placements offered the students an opportunity for international exposure and allowed them to gain invaluable insights into the German approach to applied research. Mr Mazzitelli and Ms Ung are the first students to participate in the program.

“We honed existing and learnt many new skills. We came away with connections that we would not have built outside of this program. This placement was hugely beneficial to our careers in biomedical science,” Mr Mazzitelli said.

While the CFPS technology has existed previously in various forms, the Department of Cell-free and Cell-based Bioproduction at Fraunhofer IZI-BB has spent many years optimising the system for the generation of disease-related human proteins. Many of these proteins are typically unable to be generated in cell-based systems and, indeed, many commercial CFPS systems.

“As scientists, our goal is to obtain a detailed understanding of the mechanisms by which various proteins function, as well as the molecular events that allow these proteins to cause diseases such as autoimmune disease and cancer,” Mr Mazzitelli said.

“A significant bottleneck to our research is the difficulty in expressing many of these disease-related proteins for further studies. CFPS, therefore, presents as a promising technique to overcome these difficulties,” he said.

Blake Mazzitelli and Holly Ung in the lab at Fraunhofer IZI-BB, Germany.The goal of this research placement was to test some of the students’ most difficult-to-express proteins in the Fraunhofer IZI-BB CFPS system. Throughout this placement, Mr Mazzitelli and Ms Ung were given a first-hand look at the powerful capabilities of CFPS. They were able to synthesize various proteins otherwise unable to be generated in traditional systems, as well as confirm the functionality of these proteins by harnessing the impressive infrastructure and machinery housed at Fraunhofer IZI-BB. This work will allow various Imaging CoE projects to push forward to the molecular imaging stage.

In addition to breaking down scientific barriers, this experience was incredibly beneficial to the students’ professional development. To be able to integrate into a new research group with novel techniques provided tremendous perspective into biomedical science outside of their own laboratories.

The Imaging CoE would like to thank Dr Stefan Kubick, Head of the Department of Cell-free and Cell-based Bioproduction at Fraunhofer IZI-BB, and his team for hosting  Mr Mazzitelli and Ms Ung for their three month placement.

About the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute

Committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of disease, the newly established Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University brings together more than 120 internationally-renowned research teams. Our researchers are supported by world-class technology and infrastructure, and partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to enhance lives through discovery.