Who NanoMslide; La Trobe University, University of Melbourne, Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

What By applying a patented coating created with cutting-edge nanofabrication technology, the collaborators behind NanoMslide are turning the humble glass microscope slide into a diagnostic lab. Cancer cells interact with the coating and produce an instant colour variation, enabling fast, accurate, cost-effective diagnoses without the need for specialised equipment.

Winner of the 2022 ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology


ANSTO Eureka Prize finalist for Innovative Use of Technology, NanoMslide, La Trobe University; University of Melbourne; Garvan Institute of Medical Research; and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

By applying a patented coating created with cutting-edge nanofabrication technology, the collaborators behind NanoMslide are turning the humble glass microscope slide into a diagnostic lab.

Image: Supplied
© Supplied

Can you tell us a bit about the technology you’ve developed?

The NanoMslide is a patented nanofabricated coating for a regular glass microscope slide that allows you to ‘sense’ the chemical content of cancer cells and transform this information into striking colour under the optical microscope. These ‘smart’ microscope slides contain billions of nanostructures, which interact with light and the tissue section touching the slide to make abnormal cells light up with specific colours.


The key innovation behind the NanoMslide is that it completely removes the need for performing any chemistry or using staining, which has been the standard approach for imaging the microstructure of cells and tissues since the 1800’s. Whereas previously tissue pathology has required significant technical expertise and resources, the mass production and application of our nanotechnology to this field means that anyone with access to a basic optical microscope can now generate full-colour tissue images.



What medical applications will benefit from it?

La Trobe University in partnership with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Garvan Institute for Medical Research have spent the past six years developing our NanoMslide technology to detect early-stage breast cancer. These types of samples can be difficult to diagnose and the comparatively high discordance rates in early cancer diagnosis are major contributors to morbidity and health costs worldwide.


Our data show that NanoMslide has the potential for improved efficacy in the detection of very early-stage breast cancer compared to clinical biomarkers that are currently used in breast biopsies. This initial finding is now being substantiated through a larger, statistically significant patient study and we have plans to commercialise the technology so that it can be used in a clinical setting to detect cancer cells.


The direct conversion of cellular optical properties into characteristic colours opens an entirely new and exciting frontier in tissue and cellular imaging.

What areas of expertise have been involved in the development of this technology to date?

The NanoMslide is a truly interdisciplinary collaboration — the six members of the NanoMslide team include a physicist, a materials scientist, a cancer researcher and a cancer pathologist. Only by drawing on the expertise of all these disciplines working together were we able to translate our technology into something with real-world impact.


Coloured coating on glass microscope slide

Cancer cells interact with the coating and produce an instant colour variation, enabling fast, accurate, cost-effective diagnoses without the need for specialised equipment.

Image: La Trobe University
© La Trobe University

What are some of the larger impacts you hope to see from your work in the future?

The direct conversion of cellular optical properties into characteristic colours opens an entirely new and exciting frontier in tissue and cellular imaging. By investigating and documenting changes in the optical properties of several different types of cancer cells (for example lung, skin and prostate) versus healthy cells, we hope to expand the applications of NanoMslide well-beyond the detection of breast cancer.


We believe that this work will also have far-reaching and unforeseen impact across multiple areas of medical imaging, which may extend beyond cancer detection. Globally each year, more than 1 billion tissues are subject to staining on microscope slides. The fundamental concept behind the NanoMslide (‘nanotechnology vs. chemistry’) could one day impact every single one of these tests, forever changing the way in which we visualise cells and tissues.


It's been a real privilege to receive this award and it has already opened new doors and new opportunities for collaboration.

What have been some of the more challenging aspects of this project to date?

Interdisciplinary research can be challenging. It took time to develop a common understanding and to share knowledge effectively, as well as understand the key tasks that needed to be addressed. However, by working towards a clearly defined common goal we were able to overcome all barriers and work together effectively.


Composite photo of six individuals each holding a trophy

The NanoMslied team at the 2022 Eureka Prizes Award Sydney. Clockwise from top left: Professor Brian Abbey, Dr Eugeniu Balaur, Associate Professor Belinda Parker, Dr Alex Spurling, Professor Sandra O'Toole and Dr Kate Harvey.

Image: Supplied
© Brian Abbey

What does winning a Eureka Prize mean to you?

This Eureka Prize is a wonderful validation of the past six years of effort in developing the NanoMslide. It's been a real privilege to receive this award and it has already opened new doors and new opportunities for collaboration. We have a long journey ahead to make sure that this technology realises its full potential but winning a Eureka Prize feels like a hugely important milestone on that journey.


The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are the country’s leading science awards, honouring excellence across the areas of research & innovation, leadership, science engagement, and school science.