#WorldHealthDay: Imaging unlocking research to keep people healthy

#WorldHealthDay: As Australia’s advanced imaging network, we’re focused on addressing national science and research priorities to help keep people healthy. Our expertise, equipment and services are critical to Australia’s ability to translate health discoveries, undertake clinical trials and commercialise medical products.

The importance of protecting Australians from health threats is critical, as is Australia’s strong medical research capability and reputation for quality and standards.

The National Imaging Facility is unlocking solutions to the world’s biggest imaging challenges across commercial, clinical and research fields. We have helped Australians innovate in fields such as bioengineering, clinical science, biology, medical technology, pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical therapies.

Thousands of scientists, doctors, and professionals across hundreds of Australian institutions, companies and research organisations use our work to help answer their medical research questions. We also work with engaged volunteers and patients who make a valuable contribution to health and discovery by being part of research.

We’ve included some examples of the medical projects we’re proud to have partnered with to keep people healthy below:

Dr Ciara Duffy from Western Australia’s Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research imaging the investigation of honeybee venom to treat breast cancer cells at the University of Western Australia’s Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis in collaboration with Microscopy Australia

Associate Professor David Parsons and Dr Martin Donnelly performing preclinical testing of a ground-breaking and simple to use ‘field ventilator’ that can be locally produced at a low cost from easily acquired parts at SAHMRI, in collaboration with 4DMedical, and the University of Adelaide

Supporting Australian trials of Biogen’s Aducanumab (Aduhelm), the first disease modifying therapy for Alzheimer’s disease approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with the University of Melbourne, Herston Imaging Research Facility, the Hunter Medical Research Institute, Australian Imaging Biomarkers and Lifestyle Study of Ageing at The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and Austin Health

#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 

PET for Plants

Clinical PET/CT scanners deliver non-invasive, precise anatomical and functional imaging of the human body. Did you know the same systems have been used to investigate plants?

A team of cross-disciplinary researchers at the University of Melbourne, University of Adelaide, and the University of British Columbia have teamed up to demonstrate the utility of clinical PET/CT scanners to image plants.

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CT and 3D printing improving clinical PPE

Frontline medical workers put themselves at risk during a pandemic to deliver critical health care and save lives. Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, gowns, and face shields can reduce the risk of infection. To prevent contamination through airborne droplets, healthcare workers can employ an air-purifying respirator to push filtered air into their face shield or hood.

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National Preclinical PET QA

The NIF Molecular Imaging & Radiochemistry (MIR) Theme is a group of NIF Fellows, Directors, and users of NIF facilities that focus on state-of-the-art radiochemistry and molecular imaging applications using PET, SPECT, and MRI.

Integrating preclinical PET systems into a national resource requires the development of defined QA programs to monitor and integrate the data from individual systems. Hence, the MIR Theme initiated a national quality assurance (QA) program for the NIF preclinical PET instruments.

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Stent-electrode array for cortical neural activity

Minimally invasive endovascular stent-electrode array for high-fidelity, chronic recordings of cortical neural activity

This news has been contributed by Assoc. Prof. Bradford Moffat of the Melbourne Brain Centre Imaging Unit, Department of Radiology and Medicine, The University of Melbourne, Parkville.

National Imaging Facility Fellow, Assoc. Prof. Bradford Moffat collaborated with Dr. Tom Oxley’s group at the University of Melbourne for this high profile publication[1] that appeared in the journal “Nature Biotechnology”.

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3D printed devices to treat traumatic pelvic fractures

3D printing is increasingly being used in the healthcare industry to customise medical devices to meet patient-specific needs. Currently, device manufacture is lengthy, limiting the application of customised medical devices. The treatment of traumatic injuries requires intervention as quickly as possible, preferably within days post-injury.

This collaborative research project between the Dept. of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Melbourne and the Dept. of Orthopaedics at the Royal Melbourne Hospital aims to assess the feasibility of 3D printing fracture plates to treat traumatic fractures and speed up the production of devices at the point-of-care for a patient. By performing a proof-of-concept experiment on a set of cadaveric pelvis, Dr Dale Robinson and team are evaluating each phase of the 3D printing workflow. Once implanted, a series of computational models and biomechanical experiments will be used to assess whether the 3D printed fracture plate offers an improvement over a traditionally mass-manufactured plate. Paramount to designing customised implants, the anatomy of each pelvis is being characterised using the University of Melbourne’s NIF Node CT with input from PET/CT Facility Fellow Rob Williams and radiographer Rebecca Glarin. After implantation of the fracture plate, CT may assess the effectiveness of the device in terms of stabilising and reducing the fracture.


3D reconstruction of a fractured human pelvis with a custom 3D printed device simulated in blue to promote appropriate healing.

To date, the project has conducted some scans and used this data for preliminary printing of implants. Plates were designed and printed in collaboration of researchers at Johnson and Johnson and the University of Melbourne. The initial study used 3D printed medical-grade titanium and 3D rendering from the NIF facility CT. In developing this method, iterative reconstruction with maximal overlap to printing was used to be consistent with typical medical CT. This was done while still using radiation dosimetry within standard limits.

This project has the potential to improve patient outcomes by enhancing surgical intervention durability, reducing the duration and number of surgeries, and reducing the risk of life-threatening surgical complications (such as pulmonary embolism and infection) through reduced bedtime. Consequently, the effective implementation of customised 3D printed medical devices is expected to reduce healthcare costs through shorter hospital stays and reduced number of surgical interventions.

This story was contributed by the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Melbourne Brain Centre Imaging Unit at the University of Melbourne, and Johnson & Johnson. For further information, please contact Rob Williams.

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