Winner: Professor Dayong Jin, Professor Tanya Monro, and Professor Bradley Walsh; Macquarie University, Minomic International, University of Adelaide, University of South Australia and University of Technology Sydney.

World’s smallest, brightest nano-flashlights finding a diseased needle in a haystack

The world’s smallest flashlights may be able to light up diseased cells in our bodies. These infected or cancerous cells may be hiding among millions of healthy cells. The Super Dots team has created tiny crystals that can be implanted in the body to reveal the dangerous needle in a haystack.

The Super Dots team that developed the method for detecting these hidden, diseased cells has been awarded the University of New South Wales Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research.

The Super Dots team is led by Professor Dayong Jin from the University of Technology Sydney and Macquarie University; Professor Tanya Monro from the University of South Australia and University of Adelaide and Professor Bradley Walsh from Minomic International and Macquarie University. The work is being progressed by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics.

The Super Dots team has developed fluorescing nanocrystals that ‘switch on’ at different times, shining an intense, short burst of light – just tens of millionths of a second – that can reveal any diseased cells.

“By combining physics, chemistry and biology, this research should ultimately allow us to watch the interaction between drugs and cancerous cells at a molecular level within the patient’s body,” Kim McKay AO, Executive Director and CEO of the Australian Museum said.

As well as real-time diagnosis of disease, the technology has potential for creating invisible, lifetime-coded inks that could add ‘uncrackable’ security to banknotes and passports.

Established in 1827, the Australian Museum is the nation’s first museum and one of its foremost scientific research, educational and cultural institutions. The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are the most comprehensive national science awards, honouring excellence in Research and Innovation, Leadership, Science Communication and Journalism, and School Science.

The other finalists were:

  • The BioCode team of Associate Professor Sean O'Donoghue (CSIRO and Garvan Institute for Medical Research) and Professor David James and Associate Professor Jean Yang (University of Sydney), which has described and visualised an insulin mechanism causing obesity and disease.
  • The EVestigators team, comprising Dr Roger Edwards (Neural Diagnostics ) and Professor Paul Fitzgerald, Dr Caroline Gurvich, Professor Jayashri Kulkarni, Adjunct Professor Brian Lithgow and Associate Professor Jerome Maller (Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre). The EVestigators team have developed a diagnostic tool able to warn of potential mental health issues in real time.