New human systems biology centre for Sydney

16 October 2013

(L-R) Nicholas King, Barbara Fazekas de St Groth and Adrian Smith.
(L-R) Nicholas King, Barbara Fazekas de St Groth and Adrian Smith.

Ramaciotti invests $1 million in a new approach to understanding human disease

The University of Sydney and affiliate, The Centenary Institute will establish the Ramaciotti Centre for Systems Biology in 2014 following the announcement last night of the $1 million Ramaciotti Biomedical Research Award.

The award was made to the joint University of Sydney/Centenary Institute team of Professor Barbara Fazekas de St Groth, Professor Nicholas King and Dr Adrian Smith. Professor King (University of Sydney) and Dr Smith (Centenary Institute) are already well known as the Academic and Technical Directors of the Advanced Cytometry Facility, a joint facility that has been providing access to state-of-the-art cytometry equipment and expertise to a wide range of users since 2006.

This collaborative approach has been pivotal in establishing a series of new core facilities in the University's flagship initiative, the Charles Perkins Centre.

Professor Fazekas said the new Ramaciotti Centre will be modelled on the success of the existing Advanced Cytometry Facility, which is a key example of the synergies possible between research institutions.

"At the heart of the new Ramaciotti Centre for Human Systems Biology will be a unique technology that will allow us to study millions of individual white blood cells and reveal where they've been and who they've been talking to," she said.

Professor Fazekas and her colleagues have been investigating how regulatory T-cells regulate our immune system and prevent autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease. These regulatory T-cells form complex networks whose functions within the body can be understood by the molecules they express. Existing technology can track up to 15-20 molecules simultaneously.

The Centre will buy Australia's first CyTOF (cytometry by time of flight) mass spectrometer which can track up to 100 different cellular processes simultaneously and interrogate a thousand cells a second. It uses rare earth metals (lanthanides) to label biological molecules, overcoming the bandwidth limitations of the current fluorescence-based technology.

Most importantly, the Centre will also support a staff of technical experts to develop the data analysis techniques that are vital to ensuring quality data and to maximise outcomes through the integration of cytometry data with clinical, genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic, kinomic and medical imaging data.

Ramaciotti Centres covering many of these older technologies have already been established in NSW with the support of previous Biomedical Research Awards.
The Ramaciotti Centre will be housed in the new Charles Perkins Centre and is expected to open in mid-2014.

Professor Fazekas and her colleagues are determined to ensure that the equipment and expertise of the new Centre are available to the wider NSW research community.

They already have the support of many NSW research organisations including the University of New South Wales, Anzac Institute, Garvan Institute, Westmead Millennium Institute, Royal Prince Alfred, Concord and Westmead Hospitals.

The Centre will also collaborate with an engineering group at Macquarie University to develop reagents for the CyTOF.

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Media contact: Rachel Gleeson 02 9351 4630, 0481 004 782,