Our artist in residence, Erica featured in Monash Life

Placing microscopic life into people’s hands.

Dr Erica Tandori, a legally blind artist, is working with biomedical researchers to scale up microscopic life and place it, literally, into people’s hands.

Dr Erica Tandori may be legally blind, but as an artist she’s honed her skills to help people experience and touch the invisible world of molecular biology.

Her most recent work deals with the minutiae that form the focus of biomedical research in the realm of viruses and antibodies.

In her hands, science’s near-incomprehensible, two-dimensional images are transformed into marvellously detailed, three-dimensional sculptures or Braille-like glyphs that can be held, felt and explored.

The goal is to create access to the world of molecular biology for blind and vision-impaired people, says Tandori, who is artist-in-residence at the Rossjohn Laboratory within Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI). This position was created by Professor Jamie Rossjohn, former head of the BDI’s Infection and Immunity Program, to empower people with a disability to pursue careers in science.

“Viruses blow my mind. The way they break apart yet retain the ability to reassemble themselves – it’s cunning, it’s intelligent.”

Drawing on her awe and wonder of the subject matter, Tandori has created pieces that thrill the vision impaired youngsters she most wants to inspire. Reactions to her work shown at Rossjohn Lab’s 2018-19 Sensory Scientific Exhibition and Discovery Days are testament to that.

Image: Erica Tandori with her model of HIV. Photo: Stephen Blake.

Yet there’s something about how Tandori bridges the art-science divide that allows her to concurrently engage the public and inspire scientists.

“There is this amazing potential to open up dialogues by bringing other senses into the experience of understanding science,” she says. “That means we can explore whether art has a role achieving a deeper understanding of molecular structures. I find that a delicious challenge.”

Anchoring the production of these pieces was her visceral reaction to a central concept in molecular biology – the idea that the three-dimensional form attained by clusters of atoms dictates that molecule’s higher-order biological functions.

Art gone viral

As an alumna of Monash Art, Design and Architecture (MADA), Tandori sees in this ‘form-function’ relationship a sculptural principle familiar to her from art. It’s proven an expansive source of inspiration and wonder that leaks into her work, and is especially apparent in her latest pieces.

As the recipient of a Victorian Government Creators Fund grant, she’s using sculptural techniques to explore a subject that has brought the world to a standstill – viruses. The work is due to be exhibited at the UN AI for Good Global Summit. “Viruses blow my mind,” she says. “The way they break apart yet retain the ability to reassemble themselves – it’s cunning, it’s intelligent.”

With these pieces, the entities best-known for their smallness are transformed into enormous 3D sculptures that allow people to clamber inside and become, as she says, the virion’s RNA.

In classic Tandori style, there’s an Alice in Wonderland kind of intrigue to the size reversal in which it’s humans that infect and invade the body of the virus. Included is a sculpture of COVID-19.

“To be able to hold a mitochondrion and feel its inner working, or to step into a virus – it amounts to an immersion into tactile forms that are imbued with scientific meaning. That does something to blind people,” she says.

Life model

Underlying these achievements is Tandori’s experience of sight loss that began at age 22. The diagnosis – an incurable form of juvenile macular dystrophy called Stargardt’s disease – has, over several years, shattered all but the cells in her retina responsible for black and white peripheral vision.

There was terror at the diagnosis back in 1988, and exasperation at how little medicine knew or cared about the patient’s inner experience of going blind. It’s a subject she explored in her PhD thesis on art and ophthalmology.

But in hindsight, it was her encroaching blindness that pushed Tandori to embrace the artistic talent she had disdained as a fully sighted woman pursuing undergraduate studies in journalism, English literature and philosophy.

She got over the terror of being an artist who had lost her sight, and she leant on the ability of her brain to compensate and her mind to adapt.

“I’m blind, big whoop,” she says. “I can use it. Humans have more sensory awareness than just retinas, including something deeper and wonderful that feels like being hooked up to a larger life force. Even incapacitated, we are still part of this wonderful thing called life.”

Original article

Further information about her artwork and Monash Sensory Science can be found here.

Congratulations to Jamie on being on the Highly Cited Researcher 2020 List (third year running)

Congratulations to all of our researchers who have been recognised in the 2020 Highly Cited Researchers list.

The highly anticipated annual list identifies researchers who demonstrate significant influence in their chosen field or fields through the publication of multiple highly cited papers during the last decade. Their names are drawn from the publications that rank in the top 1% by citations for field and publication year in the Web of Science™ citation index.

The methodology that determines the “who’s who” of influential researchers draws on the data and analysis performed by bibliometric experts and data scientists at the Institute for Scientific Information™ at Clarivate. It also uses the tallies to identify the countries and research institutions where these scientific elite are based.

Monash Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences have eight researchers in this list for 2020, which is the same number as 2019.

  • Professor Rinaldo Bellomo, Clinical Medicine from School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine
  • Professor Rachelle Buchbinder, Cross-Field from School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine
  • Professor Peter Gibson, Cross-Field from Central Clinical School
  • Professor Charles R. Mackay, Immunology from Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute
  • Professor Jamie Rossjohn, Immunology from Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute
  • Professor Alex Fornito, Neuroscience and Behavior from the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health
  • Professor Peter Fuller, Pharmacology and Toxicology from School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health
  • Professor Murat Yucel, Psychiatry and Psychology from the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health

In both 2019 and 2020, Professor Rachelle Buchbinder is the only female researcher on Monash’s list.

Senior Deputy Dean and Director of Research Professor Ross Coppel said that the recognition of our researchers is a great achievement.

“It is a testament to the quality of our research and our researcher’s dedication to continue to deliver impactful research, despite all of the challenges they may have faced this year.”

The full 2020 Highly Cited Researchers list and executive summary can be found online here .

Original article: Congratulations to the eight medical researchers on Highly Cited Researchers 2020 List


Congratulations Jerome and Martin on the award of the ARC Discovery grant

Monash University was the most successful institution in Australia in the 2020 Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Projects Scheme (DP21) with more than 22% of the Monash funding awarded to Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) researchers.

Monash BDI researchers have been awarded more than $8 million of the $35.6 million awarded to Monash – playing a key role in the University’s top position nationwide.

The successful applicants were announced on Friday 13 November by the Federal Minister for Education, The Hon. Dan Tehan MP.

With 14 projects receiving funding in the Monash BDI, our researchers continue to push the boundaries of biomedical research to pursue excellence in areas as varied as deciphering cross-talk between innate cytokine receptors, decoding neuronal populations for visually-guided decisions, investigating bacteriophage stability and biology, controlling cell fate transitions and more.

Professor John Carroll, Director of the Monash BDI, said this exceptional result shows the high calibre of researchers at the institute.

“The success in this funding round is yet another example of the excellence of our researchers, at a time when funding is becoming increasingly competitive. I extend my congratulations to all involved,” Professor Carroll said.

The Discovery Projects scheme aims to support excellent basic and applied research and research training by individuals and teams. It supports national and international research collaboration; and is designed to enhance the scale and focus of research in Australian Government priority areas.

Congratulations to all Monash BDI recipients who received funding in the 2020 ARC Discovery Projects Scheme, including:

Professor Marcello Rosa Neuroscience/Physiology
Building a visual world: how brain circuits create and use representations

Professor Trevor Lithgow Infection & Immunity/Microbiology
An investigation into flagellotropic bacteriophage stability and biology

Associate Professor Max Cryle Infection & Immunity/Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Understanding peptide bond formation in non-ribosomal peptide biosynthesis

Associate Professor Joseph Rosenbluh Cancer/Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Identification of biological pathways regulated by circular RNAs

Dr Nicholas Price Neuroscience/Physiology
How the brain generates robust behaviour in noisy sensory environments

Associate Professor Anna Roujeinikova Cancer/Infection & Immunity/Microbiology
Structural and functional studies of Helicobacter pylori flagellar motor

Dr Lan Nguyen Cancer/Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Defining the molecular switches that govern discrete cellular fates

Associate Professor Meredith O’Keeffe Infection & Immunity/Cancer/Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Deciphering novel cross-talk between innate cytokine receptors

Dr Jerome Le Nours Infection & Immunity/Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Investigating gamma/delta T cell receptor recognition determinants

Professor Dena Lyras Infection & Immunity/Microbiology
Mechanism of secretion of large clostridial toxins

Associate Professor Fasseli Coulibaly Infection & Immunity/Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Viral allies: shedding light on beneficial insect viruses

Associate Professor John Boyce Infection & Immunity/Microbiology
Role of Pasteurella surface polysaccharides in pathogenesis and immunity

Professor Marcello Rosa Neuroscience/Physiology
Decoding neuronal populations for visually-guided decision and action

Professor Jose Polo Development & Stem Cells/Anatomy & Developmental Biology, ARMI
How do transcription factors control cell fate transitions?

Monash University Faculties received funding, amounting to more than $35.6 million. Read a short overview here.

Amounting to more than $12 million, read about the 23 Discovery Projects funded across Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences here.

See the full list of ARC funded projects, and the details of funded Discovery Projects 2021 round 1 here.

Original article: BDI’s research funding success contributes to university’s top position


Congratulations Adam on the award of the ARC DECRA fellowship

Monash University’s Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences has been awarded $1,767,744 under the ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) scheme with all awards going to Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) researchers.

The Federal Minister for Education Dan Tehan announced $84 million for 200 new research projects to be funded under the DECRA scheme.

Researchers at the Monash BDI received four awards from 15 applications, representing a 27% success rate. The awards cover a diverse range of fundamental discovery research topics aimed at unlocking challenging biological problems.

“This is wonderful news in what has been a challenging year for early career researchers, and I congratulate all of our talented and committed young scientists on their success,” said Professor John Carroll, Director of the Biomedicine Discovery Institute and Dean of Biomedical Sciences.

The DECRA scheme supports early-career researchers by providing resources to focus on advancing their research and the opportunities to build important connections and knowledge.  Monash University received $7,076,818 for 17 awards for 2021.

Each DECRA recipient will receive salary support for three years and up to $50,000 in additional funding per year for other costs essential to their project.

A full list of the 2021 ARC DECRA recipients and their projects is available on the ARC website at: Discovery Early Career Research Award 2021.

The grants awarded in the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences include:

Dr Adam Shahine (Rossjohn Lab)
Biochemistry & Molecular BiologyInfection & Immunity Program , Monash BDI $458,120

This award will allow Dr Shahine to undertake discovery research to investigate the molecular mechanisms underpinning the role of lipids in T cell immunity: an emerging area of immense biological significance. The anticipated goal is to generate new knowledge in the areas of the life sciences, by using a multidisciplinary approach that includes structural biology, mass spectrometry, biophysics, and cellular immunology, to gain fundamental insight into molecular determinants that govern lipid mediated immunity. Expected outcomes and benefits of this project include building international and interdisciplinary collaborations to enhance national research capacity, and provide marked advancement of core knowledge in the biological sciences.

Dr Emma Grant (Gras Lab)
Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Infection & Immunity Program,Monash BDI $450,948

This project aims to characterise a unique and understudied surface molecule (HLA-E). The immune system is activated and regulated by a complex set of molecules including HLA molecules present on the cell surface that inform the immune system of infection. Therefore, this project expects to generate new knowledge in the areas of cellular biology and immunology by utilising a cutting-edge and multi-disciplinary approach. Expected outcomes of this project include the generation of new knowledge of this unconventional molecule and its interaction with immune cells. This should provide significant impacts by defining the non-conventional role of HLA-E within the immune system, which may advise future research into vaccines or therapeutics.

Dr Michael Uckelmann (Davidovich Lab)
Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Cancer Program , Monash BDI $430,485

To explore the fundamental question of how genes are switched off, this project will study a group of molecular off-switches, the polycomb group proteins. The project is expected to generate new knowledge in the area of gene regulation and epigenetics by combining innovative methods of structural biology and cell biology in an interdisciplinary way. The expected outcomes include a more complete picture of the molecular mechanisms that regulate gene expression and the development of novel methods to image the genome. This should provide significant benefits, such as facilitated development of gene editing tools and regulatory circuits for synthetic biology, as well as novel capabilities to image the genome at high resolution.

Dr Amy Winship (Hutt Lab)
Anatomy & Developmental Biology, Development & Stem Cells Program , Monash BDI $428,191

The project aims to investigate fundamental biological mechanisms required for the production of high-quality oocytes, which fortify female fertility and the propagation of all sexually reproducing species. Exploiting unique mouse models, this study will define the importance of single strand DNA break repair capacity in oocytes for the first time, by outlining the role of single strand DNA repair proteins in maintaining genetic integrity of gametes throughout their lifespan. In doing so, the intended outcome of this project is to dramatically improve our understanding of quality control in the female germ line. This should provide significant benefits to Australia by positioning it as a world leader in the field of Reproductive Science.

Read the full story about all 17 Monash University DECRA recipients.

Original article: BDI researchers awarded ARC DECRA funding