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Murdoch University researchers working at the cutting edge of food, soil and health sciences are among the world’s most influential, according to the Clarivate Highly Cited Researchers 2022 list published yesterday.

Two researchers from the University’s Health Futures Institute, who have dedicated their careers to understanding and treating numerous global diseases through precision medicine and personalised therapies, were listed.

And two innovators from the Food Futures Institute rounded off the honours: an agricultural scientist specialising in food genetics and security, and a soil researcher who is renowned for his work on plant-soil-microbe interactions.The annual list identifies the top 1% most influential researchers in the world based on citations, with more than 6,938 scientists from 69 countries and regions issued 7,225 awards this year. Citations - the number of times research is cited by academic peers - are an indicator of research quality.

Australia had the fifth-largest number of highly cited researchers with 337 scientists, or 4.7%, making the cut.

This year’s highly cited list recognised the following Murdoch University Professors:

  • Director of the Centre for Crop and Food InnovationProfessor Rajeev Varshney, for his significant contributions, to genomics research and crop and food innovations in Australia and in international agriculture.
  • Director of Health Futures Institute’s Centre for Computational and Systems Medicine, Professor Elaine Holmes, for her pivotal role in gaining a deeper understanding of age-associated changes in gut bacteria composition which could lead the way to preventative therapies and individualised treatments. 
  • Pro Vice Chancellor of the Health Futures InstituteProfessor Jeremy Nicholson, for his cutting-edge work in phenomics to transform how long and how well people live.
  • Professor of Soil and Environmental Science, Professor Davey Jones, for research into nutrients and human pathogen behaviour in water-food-soil-plant-microbial systems.

All four Murdoch researchers have made the Clarivate list over multiple years, demonstrating the depth, breadth and consistency of their influence in their fields of research.Professor Varshney was also recognised as Australia’s top agronomy and crop scientist in The Australian newspaper’s 2023 Research Magazine, whilst Professor Navid Moheimani and Professor Una Ryan were named the best in Australia in their respective fields of marine sciences and fisheries, and tropical medicine and parasitology.

The yearly publication selects the top 10 global challenges and analyses the top researchers or institutes who are best placed to make a difference in their research field.

Professor Nicholson and Professor Varshney were also named by global science research portal Research.com as one of the world’s top scientists in 2022. 

Vice Chancellor Andrew Deeks said all four Murdoch scientists were working at the very top of their fields of expertise.

“Murdoch’s translational research is focused on finding solutions to some of our biggest global challenges – especially those that threaten our food, health and environmental systems,” he said.

To have some of the world’s leading scientists working on life-changing discoveries for these challenges right here in Western Australia, and now named in the top 1%, is an outstanding achievement.” 

Professor Deeks said the recognition was another reminder of the invaluable work happening at Murdoch’s four research institutes, making a tangible difference in the fields of food, health, the environment, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing.

“From the new WA food precinctCOVID-19 researchthe development of sustainable concrete and the co-designing of a culturally appropriate health system, this valuable and rewarding work is helping to solve issues that transcend borders,” he said.

Interim Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research and Innovation, Professor Peter Davies, congratulated the researchers for their hard work and innovations, and for inspiring the next generation of scientists.

“Not only do esteemed listings like this highlight the significant impact our scientists have on our society, but it also encourages the community to get involved and learn more about how our scientists are finding solutions to global issues,” he said.

This year, Clarivate partnered with Retraction Watch to extend the qualitative analysis to address increasing concerns over potential misconduct, including plagiarism, image manipulation, and fake peer review.  

Murdoch University and Imperial College London researchers have come together to uncover one of the root molecular mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease.

“We have long known that there are multiple genetic influences on Alzheimer’s risk, but remarkably little is known about how those gene variations actually physically cause the disease,” said Professor Elaine Holmes, ARC Laureate Fellow and Director of the Centre for Computational and Systems Medicine.

“This new research links the abnormal genes to blood plasma metabolites – the substances made when the body breaks down food, drugs or chemicals - to detect the most important metabolites impacted by the genetic abnormality.”

Professor Holmes says the discovery lays crucial groundwork for the development of future therapies.

“Once specific biomarker pathways are detected as being abnormal in any disease then we can start to think on which drugs we might use to block or modify for those diseases,” said Professor Holmes.

In this case, we have some new molecular targets for Alzheimer’s that might be useful in halting or slowing down the disease progression.”

Professor Elaine Holmes

It’s important research on a global scale, given that every three seconds someone in the world develops dementia. This poorly understood disease is now the second leading cause of death of Australians. Among women, it’s the leading cause, responsible for 11% of deaths each year. 

The discovery was made by applying a new analytical technique, Metabolome Wide Association Studies (MWAS), which was originally developed by Professor Holmes and longtime collaborator Professor Jeremy Nicholson, to help understand the metabolites that underpin a person’s risk of disease.

Specifically, Professor Holmes and fellow author Dr Luke Whiley analysed the most significant gene variants detected in Alzheimer’s patients and then used statistical analysis to find out how these connected to a large array of blood lipids, or fats, in the body.Some of these connections turned out to be highly significant, pointing to a new class of metabolites (Lactoceramides) that were genetically-driven.

“The blood levels of Lactoceramides were found to be directly related to patient cognitive performance and longer-term Alzheimer’s risk,” said Dr Whiley. “This tell is that they are of direct diagnostic and prognostic relevance.”

Dementia occurs when there is a build-up of protein on the brain which causes a slow decline in brain function over the years.  

However, while a pathologist knows what to look for, we still don’t have a single confirmed theory as to why those proteins build up and why they cause cognitive decline. Dr Whiley says this gap in our understanding of the disease’s progression means the development of therapeutics is crucial for patents,

“For diseases of old age, it’s not necessarily about curing or preventing the disease, but if you can delay it by ten or twenty years then you can potentially shift the symptoms beyond a person’s lifetime to improve their quality of life as they get older.”United Kingdom-born Professor Holmes was this week ranked as the 16th top female scientist in her native country and within the top 300 in the world.

Professor Nicholson, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences at Murdoch said the research exemplifies the type of breakthroughs possible when powerful technologies and effective collaboration come together.

“Western Australia is in a uniquely positioned to help solve some of the world’s most challenging biomedical problems.  It is home to the Australian National Phenome Centre, the most powerful metabolic phenotyping laboratory of its type in the world,” said Professor Nicholson.

“Through our international collaborations such as these with Imperial College London we are in a superb position to have an impact on the world stage in critical areas of unmet medical need such as Alzheimer’s disease.”

The Centre for Computational and Systems Medicine and the ANPC are part of Murdoch University’s Health Futures Institute, bringing together a multidisciplinary team of scientists and our local WA community to transform how long and how well people live, not just in Australia, but around the world. 

Read the full paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This research supports United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 17.

The Australian National Phenome Centre (ANPC) and Centre for Computational and Systems Medicine (CCSM) organized a successful inaugural research symposium entitled Precision Nutrition on the 14th of October 2022 at Murdoch University. 

Dr. Ruey Leng Loo, Western Australia (WA) Premier’s Mid-Career Fellow, who chaired the symposium said “we achieved the aims of the symposium, which were to promote networking opportunities between industry and academia communities in WA, and to give Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students and early career researchers (ECR) a platform to present their work to experts within the field.” The symposium was well attended and had representatives from various WA universities and industries. 

Professor Gary Frost, Imperial College London, United Kingdom, as a keynote speaker emphasized the importance of addressing the complexity of different people in responses to different foods and gave a detailed presentation of new methods for progressing science in this area.  Associate Professor Claus Christophersen, Edith Cowan University, gave an eloquent presentation on methods for assessing the impact of food on microbiome, which was echoed by Professor Elaine Holmes, ARC Laureate Fellow, who talked about the integration of metabolic and microbial data in dietary studies. 

Mr. David Doepel, Melville Park Farm, highlighted the importance of flavors irrespective of the nutritional value of food whereby researchers must bear in mind that consumers would not eat something that does not taste good despite the nutritional value of the food.  Mr. Doepel also further emphasized the connection between an individual’s memory with their choices of food selections.  This underpins an important factor for consideration in precision nutrition. 

Other industry speakers included Dr. Carlotta Petti (myDNA) in addition to academic, Dr. Rachelle Pretorius (Telethon Kids Institute).

HDR and ECR presented their work either as a poster or a 5-minute flash talk.  These flash talks spanned a diverse range of topics including the use of state-of-the-art analytical instruments to precisely characterize foods and biological specimens.  Mr. Yimin Wang's presentation on the analysis of high-value Bravo™ apples using nuclear magnetic resonance was awarded as the winner of the Judges Award whilst Miss Charlotte Rowley presented her work on dietary intake and maternal metabolic profile during pregnancy and was awarded the People’s Choice Award. 

Both Yimin and Charlotte’s works are part of the Future Food Systems Cooperative Research Centre (FFS-CRC) project led by Dr. Ruey Leng Loo, in collaboration with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and Bruker Biospin, an international analytical manufacturer.  Dr. Loo said “The FFS-CRC project aims to connect nutritional quality and composition with positive healthcare outcomes through nutritional health claims. Both Charlotte and Yimin presented some of the preliminary results at the symposium.”

Professor Jeremy Nicholson, Director of the Australian National Phenome Centre (ANPC) said “This symposium represents a snapshot of the world leading personalized nutrition research currently going on in WA -and the critical role of molecular Phenomics in unscrambling the complex multi-system interactions that underpin health.  Nutritional control is an essential component of global preventive medicine strategies and one element of our lives that we can manipulate to effect health improvements at both the personal and population level. We hope that this will be the first of many ANPC catalysed network events that will enable future precision medicine and population healthcare initiatives. 

Dr. Ruey Leng Loo said,” we want to capitalize on the successes of this symposium and are planning for a Precision Medicine Symposium in 2023.  So watch this space”. 

Murdoch University’s Australian National Phenome Centre (ANPC) has made a vital technological breakthrough that could assist general practitioners diagnose the long-term effects of COVID-19 and long COVID-19.

With no current framework or diagnostic tools, patients suffering from the effects of COVID-19 and long COVID-19 present general practitioners with a major health challenge. 

But the latest discovery from the ANPC will aid the diagnosis of debilitating symptoms that can include severe headaches, extreme exhaustion, heart palpitations and brain fog. 

It comes in the form of a new diagnostic tool that could be easily deployed in medical practices across the world, at low cost. 

Eighteen months ago, the researchers used multi-million-dollar nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technology to identify new diagnostic molecular biomarkers that tell if someone has the disease, without the need to detect the disease itself.  

They then used this work to develop an inexpensive clinical NRM, that general practitioners can use to detect vital blood markers to predict the long-term effects of the conditions.  

The technology uses a specially designed set of radio pulses to extract signals from highly specific biomarker signals (from inflammatory glycoprotein markers and fats bound to lipoproteins) that gives a rapid diagnosis in approximately a minute. 

The findings were recently published in leading analytical chemistry journal, The Analyst. 

Professor Jeremy Nicholson, Director of the ANPC and Pro Vice Chancellor for the Health Futures Institute, said they represent a translational triumph that will ultimately benefit COVID-19 patients in clinics throughout the world, as well as have the possibility for application across many other diagnostic areas including cardiovascular disease.  

“We only discovered these signals about 18 months ago using a more expensive NRM instrument, but with some pulse sequence modifications, we are now able to get identical results on small machines that costs one tenth of the price,” Professor Nicholson said. 

“We think this technology (low field NMR spectroscopy) will probably have many other clinical applications in the future and may be of particular value in monitoring some of the residual effects of long COVID in individual patients,” he added.  

The clinically deployable technology was developed in conjunction with the ANPC’s strategic partner, Bruker BioSpin GmbH who manufacture the NMR instruments.  

Professor Julien Wist from the ANPC said this technological advancement has many benefits, including cutting costs. 

“It ticks all the boxes for a successful translational technology: low costs, low maintenance, no specialist required and no need for complex algorithms to understand the data,” Professor Wist said. 

The ANPC has a major long COVID research program, completed by a recently awarded $3.4M grant from the federally fundedMedical Research Future Fund (MRFF), and initiated with the support from other funders including Spinnaker Health Research Foundation and the West Australian state government.  

“Spinnaker funded one of the first long COVID research projects in the world back in mid-2020,” Professor Nicholson said. 

We are glad now that we have been able to develop a translational technology that might be useful in monitoring COVID recovery, and we think the possible cardiovascular problems that can be caused by the disease.” 

Spinnaker Chief Executive, Dana Henderson, said the research into long COVID was one of the most important projects the Foundation had funded in its 25-year history. 

“The purpose of our Foundation is to pioneer new ways of doing medicine for the benefit of the entire community,” Ms Henderson said. 

We knew very early on that we needed to respond to this health crisis and to see the research at ANPC translate into a diagnostic tool that could be easily deployed in clinical settings through the world, at low cost, and for immediate benefit to patients, is tremendously rewarding.” 

Murdoch University’s Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research and Innovation Professor Peter Davies emphasised the importance of the research at ANPC.

“This is a key role of the Centre to develop innovative new technologies that are able to translate to immediate benefits to human health, whilst laying a platform for future discoveries.”

This research supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3 to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.