Projects

With our group of 35+ postgraduate students and post-doctoral staff, we are directing our resources and abilities to some of Australian society's most pressing problems.

Our key research themes are:

  • Acoustically-driven microfluidics for biotechnological applications, such as point-of-care diagnostics and biosensing
  • Phononic and photonic nanostructures for enhanced biomolecular detection
  • Inhaled gene and nanomedicine therapeutics

Our current projects demonstrate a cross section of our work.

We have partnered with the World Health Organisation (WHO) Influenza Centre to develop a low-cost, portable device for needle-free inhaled vaccinations against influenza.

Problem

Although vaccinations can be delivered effectively with a needle, injections have their drawbacks. The anticipation of pain leads many to avoid vaccinations entirely. Costly personnel must be trained to administer the injection and dispose properly of the needle. Used needles can cause needle stick injuries and have the potential to transmit infectious diseases. Needles are expensive to produce, transport and destroy.

The combination of these problems represents a significant challenge to world health. This is especially evident in developing countries lacking in medical infrastructure. A cheaper, less intimidating and less dangerous method of delivering vaccinations could change the face of global health.

Project

DNA influenza vaccines are an alternative form of vaccine that offers certain advantages and disadvantages when compared with the traditional variety. DNA vaccines don't need to be refrigerated, which makes them cheaper to transport. They are easier to produce than the vaccinations in use today, and they produce fewer side effects. The downside to DNA vaccines is their reduced immune response in clinical trials.

We recognised that technology capable of delivering DNA influenza vaccine directly to the site of infection could be the breakthrough required.

Outcome

We have developed a cheap, portable nebulisation machine that uses micro fluids to carry the DNA influenza vaccine directly to the lungs where the disease occurs. Early trials have been encouraging.

We have developed a reliable, portable and low-cost device for the detection of illicit drugs.

Problem

Around 8% of working age Australians have suffered a drug-use disorder in their lifetimes. Criminal behaviour, domestic violence and mortality all surround those affected. It is estimated that substance abuse costs the Australian economy more than $50 billion per year.

Project

On-site testing is one of the most effective methods of discouraging drug abuse. Despite this, few fast, accurate and low cost testing methods have been available until now. Our new device uses acoustically-driven microfluid technology that enhances the chemi-luminescent detection of drugs in physiological fluids. It is faster, more accurate and smaller than any other device available.

Outcome

We have demonstrated that police can use the device to detect illicit drugs in drivers as easily as they test for alcohol with a breathalyser. Other applications for the platform include workplace drug tests, patient monitoring in a hospital setting and point-of-care diagnostics.

In collaboration with the Australian Centre for Blood Diseases, Monash University and the Baker IDI, we are creating a suite of microfluidic tools that mimic biological environments.

These will allow biomedical researchers to study the behaviour of blood at the micro and even the nanoscale.

The new tools include a device that can mimic the mechanical environment of damaged blood vessels, and micro-systems that emulate the blood-brain barrier. These incorporate membranes co-cultured with endothelial cells on one side and astrocytes on the other, which can be exposed to continuous blood flow and monitored in real time to determine the impact of clot-busting drugs.

The next generation of drugs for treating lung disease can only be effective if they are properly administered.

Problem

Conventional inhalers and nebulisers are not up to the task, meaning the new drugs could only be administered in a hospital or medical practitioner's office.  Traditional inhalers require hand-breath coordination to use. The patient needs to be trained and this often results in misuse, especially in the very young or elderly. Nebulisers are more reliable, but the models currently available are unable to deliver the heavy molecules that feature in all next generation treatments.

Project

Our researchers have developed a new kind of nebuliser that will be cheaper and more effective than any currently available. The new nebuliser uses sound waves to excite the surface of the fluid. This method generates a fine mist capable of delivering much larger molecules directly to the lungs. The low power requirement means the nebulisers will be as cheap and portable as they are effective.

Outcome

The device is currently being tested to measure its performance against a range of lung conditions.

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Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business. - Artwork created by Louisa Bloomer