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Monash unlocks its “research vault” to the broader community

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12 September 2017

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Event attendees in the Biomedicine Discovery Institute exhibition foyer

Engaging with the wider community, the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) opened its doors to more than 100 members of the general public in an “Opening the Vault” event in collaboration with the Convergence Science Network (CSN).

Visitors had the opportunity to meet biomedical researchers, experience first-hand the work done in labs and hear about the impact the research has on the health of Australians.

Luan Ismahil, CSN Director, and Professor John Carroll, Director of the BDI, kicked off the event with a welcome note highlighting the importance of collaborative research and convergence science to achieve technological advances and address the most pressing global health issues.

Visitors were then guided through tours of the institute in two different themes: “mini-guts” and “the molecules of our immune system.” Visiting active biomedical research labs, they donned lab coats and looked through the microscope at research samples, such as protein crystals and various types of cancer tissues.

In the “mini-guts” tours, they visited the laboratory of Associate Professor Helen Abud, a group leader in the Development and Stem Cells Program. Here they learned about an innovative technique, developed in collaboration with the Cabrini Hospital, to grow three-dimensional tumours outside the patient’s body. Dr Genevieve Kerr, a research fellow in Associate Professor Abud’s lab, explained how this technique is being used to find personalised cancer treatments.

“We thoroughly enjoyed sharing some of the research we do using miniature tumours in culture to personalise medicine for bowel cancer patients,” Dr Kerr said.

“We received some excellent questions from the attendees at the event who were very interested in understanding how the research done in our laboratory may help to improve patient treatment in the future.”

The “molecules of our immune system” tour visited the laboratory of Professor Jamie Rossjohn, Head of the Infection and Immunity Program, and explored the science of crystallography. Dr Gabrielle Watson, a research fellow in Professor Rossjohn’s lab, described how researchers apply crystallography to unlock the secrets of the immune system and design better medicines.

"It was very rewarding to showcase the outstanding research that we do here at the Monash BDI,” Dr Watson said.

“The public were enthusiastic and full of questions about how using crystals helps to develop our understanding of important immunological processes, and they were excited to learn about how this knowledge could help to fight and prevent disease.”

As part of the tours, guests also visited the facilities housing the latest generation of microscopes, including the $10 million Titan Krios and the Light Lattice Sheet Microscope, and were amazed by how these technologies allow scientists to see life inside the cell with an unprecedented level of detail.

The event hosted a very interested and engaged public, ranging from science enthusiasts to families, and included both current and retired scientists. After the tours, the feedback received included the comments: “Monash BDI scientists have big smiles, showing that they enjoy what they do,” “We feel relieved that progress is being made towards better medicines,” and “This was a great event to attend with the family - very useful to visit the labs and see the work in action.”

The event was hugely successful, with an inspired public going home confident that the Monash BDI is working hard to improve the health and wellbeing of Australians.