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

Congratulations Erica – Finalist of the Falling Walls Science Breakthroughs of the Year – Science in the Arts

The Falling Walls Science Breakthroughs of the Year ( 1-10 November) will highlight breakthrough thinking from around the world. Over the past months, they have received over 900 nominations from 111 countries.

They are delighted to introduce the finalists and present their science breakthroughs of the year in these ten categories: Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Engineering & Technology, Social Sciences and Humanities, Science in the Arts, Digital Education, Science and Innovation Management, Emerging Talents, Science Start-Ups, Science Engagement Initiatives.

Breaking the Wall of Disabled Access to Science – Erica Tandori (Artist in residence, Rossjohn lab, Monash university)

Lying at the intersection between art, science and blindness, Tandori’s exhibitions use interactive sculptures to engage and inspire audiences of all ages and abilities. Her breakthrough is making art and science exhibitions inclusive, accessible and available to everyone globally.

Tags: Artificial Intelligence, Discrimination, Diversity, Education, Science Communication

Watch Erica’s presentation of her breakthrough below:

Erica Tandori is a legally blind artist, researcher and academic. She explores the intersections of art, vision loss and science. Tandori’s PhD focused on capturing the entoptic effects of her retinal disease through art, conveying an ‘eye-witness’ account of blindness. As resident artist at the Rossjohn Lab, Monash University, Erica creates multi-sensory, multi-modal artworks communicating biomedical research to blind and low-vision audiences. This inspires people of all ages and abilities to learn, understand and appreciate the wonders of science.


Other Science in the arts finalists

Further information:


Falling Walls and Berlin Science Week invite you to this year’s World Science Summit, held remotely from 1 – 10 November 2020. This year we shift from physical events to a global virtual showcase, with free digital access for everyone. We acknowledge the combined effort of scientists worldwide to overcome the pandemic, and its many effects. Make sure to attend this event, where some of the world’s best researchers gather to discuss and celebrate the most recent breakthroughs in science and society from all over the world.


1 – 10 November 2020, with a daily science highlight programme at Noon GMT (13.00 Berlin Time) and the Grand Finale on 9 November


500+ speakers, 200+ sessions, 1 digital platform with live-streamed breakthroughs, expert panels, workshops and lectures


Completely remote – Free digital access from wherever you are plus selected physical events in Berlin

Congratulations Rachel – Winner of the BDI Student Symposium 5 minute talk category

The annual BDI student symposium looked a bit different this year, with face-to-face being replaced with face-to-screen. Despite these changes, we were so happy to see such a huge turnout of students from across the BDI showcasing their research through talks and poster presentations.

Thank you to all the students and assessors who made the day run smoothly and congratulations again to our winners!

Student talks: Hot off the plate reader – be the first to hear about the exciting results our students are generating.

WinnerNicholas Choo 

Runner up: Bob Leung 

5-minute talks: With just five minutes, students will give you the highlights of what their research can achieve.

WinnerRachel Farquhar

Runner-upYusun Jeon 

Image: Rachel delivering her talk via zoom.

Posters: A chance to have a chat with our students about their exciting new data.

WinnerMariam Bafit

Runner-up: Kerry Mullan

The BDI Student Symposium was held on Friday, September 25th and showcased the work of BDI Graduate Students.

Adapted from Monash BDI Notices.

Unlocking Your Inner Eye. Artistic Intelligence with Erica Tandori, a Legally Blind Artist

Artist in residence, Dr Erica Tandori is expanding the frontiers of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Art. Her work at Monash University in the Rossjohn lab focuses on communicating science through art for the visually impaired. She is now expanding this work and utilising robotics in her artistic creations to create a multi-sensory experience. AI and robotics have the potential to transform lives and promote social good. Harnessing these technologies to create art exhibitions exploring science and biomedicine is enabling greater inclusion, accessibility and education for low vision, blind and diverse audiences. Erica’s work and her personal story provide an impressive example of AI for social good, promoting diversity and inclusion in science and technology.

Art is not in the retina. It’s in the imagination. Hear the story of Erica Tandori, a visually impaired artist, who is using AI to create multi-sensory art experiences showcasing the wonders of biological life.

– Art is not in the retina, it’s in the imagination
– Natural intelligence
– Tapping into the soul to power AI and art
– Art for good
– Fostering wonderment to think differently

Panelists include Neil Sahota, World Wide Business Development Leader, IBM Watson and Michael Ashley, Screenwriting Professor at Chapman university

Original article

Novel immune-oncology approach for potential cancer treatment

A research collaboration between Monash University and Lava Therapeutics details a novel immune-oncology approach for the potential treatment of cancer. Instrumental to the study was co-first author Dr Roeland Lameris from Amsterdam UMC and colleagues from the University of Melbourne.

Published in Nature Cancer, the study, co-led by Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute’s ARC Laureate Fellow Professor Jamie Rossjohn and Dr Adam Shahine,  highlights the synergy between an antibody fragment, known as a nanobody, that not only acts as a bridge helping to link together two key immune cell receptors but also takes advantage of their interaction, enabling the body to enhance its immune response to cancer.

These antibody fragments, denoted as nanobodies, act by targeting the interaction between a molecule known as CD1d and Natural Killer T cells (NKT) in a stable and long-lasting manner, against tumour samples of patients with multiple myeloma and acute myeloid leukemia.

The new findings will serve as a model for the potential generation of new and effective therapies against a broad range of cancers.

Using the Australian Synchrotron, the team at Monash University provided detailed atomic insight into how the nanobodies exerted their effect on immune cells in a cancer model. “We were able to precisely visualize how the nanobody simultaneously recognized CD1d and the NKT TCR, thereby providing a molecular basis for their anti-tumour properties” Professor Rossjohn stated.

Hans van der Vliet, professor in medical oncology at Amsterdam UMC and chief scientific officer of Lava Therapeutics says “By targeting and boosting natural immune cells that are inherent in all humans, such as NKT cells and gamma-delta T cells, for an enhanced therapeutic effect, we believe our approach could ultimately translate into a broadly applicable immunotherapeutic approach for a range of cancer indications.”

“This collaborative work paves the way for rationally developing improved therapeutics to treat a range of cancers” said co-first author Dr. Shahine.

Read the full paper in Nature Cancer titled: “A single domain bispecific antibody targeting CD1d and the NKT T cell receptor induces a potent anti-tumour response
DOI: 10.1038/s43018-020-00111-6

Original paper

Front cover image

Image: Nanobodies targeting of a tumour cell.

Image Credit: Erica Tandori