#IWD | PODCAST: In conversation with Professor Leigh Johnston

The United Nations International Women’s Day (IWD) is an opportunity to reflect on progress made, call for change and celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in their communities. 

The National Imaging Facility’s (NIF) mission is to make cutting-edge imaging capabilities accessible to Australian researchers, and we envision a society that provides equal opportunity for people of all genders to learn, work and engage in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). 

Today we highlight the exceptional work of women leading the way in these fields and thank them for the impacts of their life-changing research. 

Professor Leigh Johnston is the NIF Node Director at the Melbourne Brain Centre Imaging Unit within the Department of Medicine and Radiology, and is also the Head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, at the University of Melbourne.  

Professor Johnston started out as an Engineer, but a unique skill set, passion for collaboration, and drive to pursue challenges have led her to have a great impact on the imaging community. 

Listen to our podcast here.

Professor Johnston talks us through some standout imaging projects: 

The baby mummy 

#JoinNIF: Three National Capability Managers to facilitate enhanced accessibility to cutting-edge imaging capabilities

Today the National Imaging Facility (NIF) launched an Australia-wide recruitment campaign seeking three Senior Managers to lead the implementation of a national coordination strategy across Australia’s advanced imaging network.

NIF provides capabilities that underpin nationally significant and impactful research, which translates to products and benefits for Australians in health, agriculture and new materials.

Appointees will enhance the accessibility of NIF’s network of state-of-the-art imaging capabilities Australia-wide for researchers, health professionals and industry to utilise imaging to unlock solutions to major challenges.

The enhanced accessibility will enable increased engagement with multi-site, large scale projects which will translate to collaborative improved outcomes for major health challenges such as brain injuries, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and neurological disorders including epilepsy and dementia.

It will also allow the refinement of and accessibility to critical data, including large scale national repositories and digitised libraries.

NIF is at the forefront of imaging technology, enabling access to more than 80 imaging instruments, with multiple large-scale projects planned across capabilities.

The Senior Managers will be responsible for leading the coordination, harmonisation and project management of three different areas of NIF’s capabilities:

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Molecular Imaging and Radiochemistry
  • Data

The ideal candidates will possess qualifications and experience in relevant imaging, science, engineering, physics, data or health related fields. They will also be skilled in managing large and complex projects, and excellent influential, interpersonal and communication skills.

For more information and to apply visit the relevant job ad:

To discuss this role please contact NIF Chief Operating Officer, Ms Saba Salehi.

Imaging enabling nanomedicine to treat aggressive brain cancer

Image: Gadolinium enhanced MRI showing the bright brain tumour (red circle) compared to the normal brain tissue (yellow circle).

‘Nanomedicine’ sounds like a term you’d hear in a futuristic novel or an episode of Doctor Who, but cutting-edge scientists from the National Imaging Facility’s Node at the University of Queensland’s Centre for Advanced Imaging are already applying it to solve complex health challenges in collaboration with the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, and the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence in Convergent BioNano Science and Technology and Training Centre in Biomedical Imaging Technology.

Nanomedicine applies nanoscale materials, such as nanoparticles and nanorobots (wow!) to the prevention and treatment of disease. Nanomedicine is a promising strategy to target tumours with chemotherapy in a safe and controlled manner.

This all sounds great, but within the context of the brain things get a little more complicated. For brain tumours, the integrity of the blood brain barrier (BBB) is central to its effective use as treatment.

The BBB is a protective barrier between the blood vessels and brain tissue, providing a defence against pathogens and toxins that may be present within the blood, while at the same time allowing vital nutrients to reach the brain.

While the BBB protects the brain against pathogens and toxins that could cause infection, it also blocks medicine from crossing the barrier in many cases, which can hamper the (often urgent) treatment of tumours, among other neurological disorders.

This is where imaging comes in…

UQ researchers have undertaken studies utilising NIF’s flagship preclinical magnetic resonance –positron emission tomography (MR-PET) system to develop hybrid imaging, combining the imaging of MRI with the information of PET.

Simultaneous MR-PET imaging enables experts to measure opening of the BBB using Gadolinium (Gd) contrast agents at the same time as delivering novel PET tracers and new theranostic candidates including nanomedicine.

These tools assist in investigating the link between BBB integrity and tumour diagnosis and treatment, and ensure the development of promising new treatments such as nanomedicine that can permeate the BBB.

BBB integrity: Tumour diagnosis and treatment

The rapid growth of brain tumours requires the formation of new vessels to supply increased demands for nutrients. The new vessels are leaky compared to normal brain vessels, where the BBB tightly regulates the transfer between blood and tissue.

The team have used Gd MRI to estimate how leaky the tumour vessels are. This information is vital for understanding how tumours are developing, and when and how diagnostic or therapeutic drugs can enter the tumour tissue.

In combination with new nanomedicines, there are also exciting new techniques that allow opening of the brain for treatment without surgery, which can increase risk for patients. These new imaging methods allow the opening of the brain to be accurately monitored to ensure entry of the treatment without any unrelated damage to the brain. 

So – our takeaway message? While advances in nanomedicine alone are exciting and important, the integration of nanomedicine and advanced imaging brings opportunity for exponential synergistic innovation in healthcare, that can improve outcomes for patients and ultimately has the potential to save lives.

For more information, contact Dr Gary Cowin, Queensland Facility Fellow, UQ Centre for Advanced Imaging.

Expressions of Interest: Appointments to the National Imaging Facility Governance Board

Expressions of Interest: Appointments to the National Imaging Facility Governance Board
APPLY HERE: Provide strategic direction and aid the development of Australia’s advanced imaging network

Today the National Imaging Facility (NIF) Governance Board launched an Australia-wide campaign to appoint two new members, commencing from 1 July 2022.

NIF is Australia’s advanced imaging network. NIF provides open access to flagship imaging equipment, expertise, tools, data and analysis. 

NIF’s mission is to make unparalleled imaging capabilities accessible to Australian clinical researchers, materials and agriculture scientists, and for Australian industry sectors in these fields. 

The independent NIF Governance Board (the Board) provides oversight and strategic guidance for all NIF activities and investments.

Expressions of interest from qualified and experienced directors are being sought to add a diverse range of skills and interests to support the Board’s development. 

Specific areas of interest include, but are not restricted to: 

  • Strong financial, audit and risk qualifications 
  • Clinicians understanding new areas of disease development that require imaging 
  • Commercial expertise, especially within the med tech environment 
  • Industry engagement in areas requiring imaging expertise 

Applications are particularly encouraged from candidates based in Western Australia and South Australia to increase the geographical representation of the Board, and those who bring relevant experience to the challenges and opportunities in rural and remote Australia 

Board members are appointed to the remunerated positions for a term of up to three years. Four Board meetings are held each year, and members are expected to join Board Committees supporting the work of the Board and contribute their time and enthusiasm to the work of the Board and promoting and supporting NIF. 

Read the full position description here.

For more information about the positions and to apply, visit Seek.

Applications are due by COB 1 April 2022. Enquiries may also be sent to Bec Dickson, Senior Administration Officer. 

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