Health & Biotech

  • Democratising Health Assessment via Breath Analysis

    Breath Analysis

    A hand-held breath analysis device has the potential to revolutionise global health and improve accessibility to quality health services. By detecting diseases early through breath biomarkers and monitoring known diseases, it can offer quick, non-invasive screening for personalised treatment anywhere at any time.


    Dr Sarah Scholten, an IPAS Postdoctoral Researcher with the Precision Measurement Group, leads the Breath Analysis Research. Every breath we take holds the potential to reveal profound insights into our well-being. Dr Scholten is looking into a revolutionary approach using optical frequency comb technology, a Nobel Prize-winning innovation.


    Laser spectroscopy, the technique employed, delves into the composition of exhaled breath, detecting biomarker molecules associated with specific health conditions in real time. For example, elevated acetone levels may indicate diabetes, while increased levels of ammonia can be associated with liver disorders.


    The optical frequency comb, known as the world's most precise ruler, enables instant analysis of breath samples' spectral signatures. Advanced computational methods can detect molecular concentrations at extremely low levels, instantly revealing the unique molecular makeup of a breath.


    However, optical frequency combs are currently found in specialised labs because they are big, complex, and expensive. The ARC Centre of Excellence in Optical Microcombs for Breakthrough Science is focused on making this technology smaller and cheaper. More importantly, making it accessible to all. Sarah's breath analysis method and innovation, combined with COMBS's promised accessibility, could be made into a portable device allowing for wellness assessment in real-time in remote areas with vulnerable populations that do not have access to state-of-the-art facilities.

  • Plasma Activated Water for a Safer and Healthier World

    Plasma Activated Water for Food and Health Safety

    The looming threat of antibiotic-resistant superbugs poses a significant risk to human health, with projections of 10 million annual deaths by 2050. Dr. Katharina Richter and her team are at the forefront of the battle against superbugs, developing innovative treatments to address this global health crisis.

    Their weapon? Cold Plasma Technology. This cutting-edge technology is a groundbreaking antibacterial sanitiser with the potential to revolutionise the health and food industries.

    Plasma, the fourth state of matter, is achieved by infusing energy into a gas. The Richter lab, in partnership with Plasmatreat, has engineered a process that enriches water with ionised gas and reactive radicals, rendering it antibacterial.

    Utilising advanced microscopy techniques, the team can measure the efficacy of plasma-activated water in combatting bacterial biofilms. The innovative plasma water rapidly tackles bacteria, leaving behind pure water as radicals are consumed. This environmentally friendly solution generates no harmful waste, making a significant step toward a safer and more sustainable future.

    Plasma Activated Water serves a dual purpose:

    1- Enhancing infection control and wound care as a viable alternative to increasingly ineffective antibiotics

    2- Transforming the food industry with an eco-friendly sanitiser. 

    Simple Technology, Big Impact
    Unlike traditional disinfectants that leave harmful residues, plasma water breaks down into pure water after use. Plus, with proper equipment, plasma water could be generated, used, filtered and reused on-site, making this powerful technology accessible even in resource-limited regions. 
    This innovative plasma-activated water solution empowers a healthier world, combating superbugs and promoting food safety, all while safeguarding the environment.
    Learn more about Dr Katharina Richter's work

  • Novel Fluorescence Research for Asbestos detection

    Novel Fluorescence Research for Asbestos Detection

    Asbestos has been banned in Australia for more than 20 years, but is a continuing threat to health and wellbeing due to legacy use, presence in mining ores, and accidental imports. Asbestos is difficult to discern from other fibrous materials in the field, and currently identifying asbestos at building sites requires sending a sample to a specialised laboratory, costing time and money. This cost weighs into risk/benefit decision-making when an unidentified sample is found, particularly for home renovators who are not practiced at identifying asbestos-containing materials. Peak asbestos use in homes in Australia was in the 1960s and 1970s; as these houses age and require repair and replacement the risk grows of a second wave of asbestos-related disease.

    The Prescott Environmental Luminescence Laboratories is looking to solve this problem. The Asbestos Novel Fluorescence Team, headed by Dr Erik Shartner, have partnered with the Australian Institute for Machine Learning (AIML) to produce a fluorescence-based asbestos sensor. This device will be portable, affordable, and be able to produce instantaneous results in the field.

    Many building materials fluoresce (produce a different colour of light when exposed to light), including asbestos; however, each material reacts uniquely under different excitation conditions. The PELL group is providing a large training data set of asbestos, non-asbestos, and mixed media samples fluorescing under different conditions to train an asbestos-sensing machine learning model.

    “Does this contain asbestos” is a question that will save lives if answered more quickly and more cheaply. Luckily, PELL and AIML are on the case!

    More information on the PELL Group website and AIML's website. 

  • Smart needle for safer and more effective brain surgery

    Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham tests the smart needle

    Over 1,600 Australians are diagnosed with brain tumours each year, being the leading cause of cancer-related death in children and in adults over the age of 65. Brain tumours have a low survival rate, with less than half of the patients surviving one year of diagnosis, and only 22% of patients surviving 5 years.

    A common part of diagnosis is to perform a needle biopsy, which involves inserting a large needle into the patient’s brain to remove a sample of the tumour. If the needle damages a blood vessel, this can cause a stroke for the patient. 2%-3% of patients undergoing brain biopsy will suffer long-term disability, and 1% will die.

    IPAS member and ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics Senior Investigator Prof Robert McLaughlin and his team have developed a revolutionary new medical device that will make neurosurgery safer.

    A tiny imaging probe, encased within a brain biopsy needle, lets surgeons ‘see’ at-risk blood vessels as they insert the needle, allowing them to avoid causing bleeds that can potentially be fatal.

    The device contains a tiny fibre-optic camera, the size of a human hair, shining infrared light and allowing the needle to see where it is going. This is combined with smart image processing software to detect vessels and alert the surgeon before the vessels are damaged.

    The smart needle has been developed in collaboration with future end-users, clinicians from Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. In 2016, Professor Christopher Lind, Consultant Neurosurgeon, successfully demonstrated the smart needle in a pilot trial with 12 patients undergoing neurosurgery.

    This is the first demonstration in human neurosurgery of a smart needle that enables safer brain surgery. Beyond brain biopsies, this technology has direct applications in other forms of neurosurgery, such as deep brain stimulation where electrode needles are inserted into a patient’s brain to alleviate the symptoms of diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.

    The team is now exploring other applications for their ‘smart needle’ technology, both in the biotech and industrial space while working on the next generation of multi-function imaging probes.

    As highlighted in the Australian Research Council recent publication Making a difference, Understanding our world and translating fundamental research, “The ‘smart needle’ is an outstanding example of how ARC-funded research can translate into real world benefits—in this case, commercially for the medical technology industry and, ultimately, improved health services for Australians”.

  • Novel imaging technique to detect biomarkers of early-stage ovarian cancer

    Matthew Briggs in lab coat in front of microscope

    MALDI-MSI of N-glycans is a relatively new technique that has immense potential in several clinical applications including identification and validation of biomarkers in cancer tissues.

    IPAS PhD student Matthew Briggs recently published about using this novel technique to spacially map sugars on ovarian cancer tissue samples.