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Your smartphone transformed into a mobile lab

Professor Emily Hilder believes big strides can be made by working closely with Trajan

A new University of Tasmania collaboration is aiming to bring the complexities of in-house laboratory testing to the fingertips of those in the field.

A new University of Tasmania collaboration is aiming to bring the complexities of in-house laboratory testing to the fingertips of those in the field.

In a move promised to revolutionise the way complex samples are carried out, a $5.2 million Australian Research Council Training Centre for Portable Analytical Separation Technologies (ASTech) was established late last year.

The University has partnered with Australian company Trajan Scientific and Medical and the Federal Government to explore new technologies which ultimately bring the laboratory to the sample.

These new systems are set to help save time, money and logistics for businesses, both here and overseas.

"At the moment, analytical separations are typically done in large labs due to the size and complexity of the technology," ASTech Training Centre Director Professor Emily Hilder said.

"The exciting work in this field is in miniaturisation. How can we shrink things so we can use smaller technology and smaller samples?

"What if you could carry out a full suite of tests on a pin-prick droplet of blood rather than a full vial and what if those tests could be done on equipment at the GP's office rather than sent off to a central lab?"

Analytical separation science is a fundamental technology that allows samples to be separated into their component parts and measured.

It has a range of applications in forensics, medical and clinical analysis, environmental testing and food safety.

The Centre will develop new portable analytical separation systems that will enable point-of-sample analysis for complex samples across the applications.

"What if you could carry out tests on your smartphone?" Professor Hilder said.

What if you could carry out a full suite of tests on a pin-prick droplet of blood … What if you could carry out tests on your smartphone?

New technology development for point-of-sample analysis is not the only aspect to be revolutionised, according to Professor Hilder.

The Centre is set to pioneer how industry and academia can work together to put research into action.

"What we are hoping to do is take academic research and connect with product development," Professor Hilder said. "The challenge Australia faces is the gap between research and product development.

If you can't close the gap you can't be useful, the applications developed through research won't have impact."

Trajan Chief Executive Officer Stephen Tomisich said the company formed a link between academia and industry, collaborating with both research and commercial organisations to bring the latest innovative technologies to market.

"Continuing our strong relationship with the University of Tasmania, we are pleased to make up half of the ASTech Steering Committee to provide industry direction on research that will introduce new technologies that will be usable in the scientific community, clinical settings or in the home," he said.

The Melbourne-based company has a global footprint with about 350 staff worldwide.

Its focus is on developing and commercialising technologies that enable analytical systems to be more selective, sensitive and specific for biological, environmental or food-related measurements, especially those that can lead to portability, miniaturisation and affordability.

To underpin the Centre's research prowess, 10 PhD scholarships and three postdoctoral research fellowships are being awarded.
The researchers will work directly with Trajan, delivering practical and portable solutions.

"What's different about the Centre is every researcher has to spend a year in industry placement, so from the start of their research careers they are thinking in a different way," Professor Hilder said.

Trajan will run a commercial unit as well as offer industry experience at their facilities, or at one of its partner organisations around the world.

Closing the gap between research and product development has been a career goal for Professor Hilder.

As a researcher in the Australian Centre for Research on Separation Science at the University, she has worked closely with Trajan for several years.

"Over the years we have come to know and trust each other and we have both expressed an interest in how research, and research training, can transform Australian industry," Professor Hilder said.

Ensuring analytical technologies are progressing towards enabling personalised measurement for human wellbeing is a driving factor for Mr Tomisich and Trajan's future growth. Both he and Prof Hilder and are in agreement on what the future holds.

"By working together, we want to do things differently," they said.

Central Focus

ASTech will encompass research under three themes – sampling and sample preparation; separation; and detection.

The Centre's aim is to develop new capabilities and technologies that have the potential to progress the deployment of portable separation science systems into society, through transformation of analytical innovations into real-world applications, such as point-of-care diagnosis.

Work programs include:

  • Micro-sampling of whole blood and plasma-like fraction collection using porous polymer monolith technology
  • Micro-sampling of tissue and nucleic acid/protein extraction from microbiopsies Lab-in-a-syringe, a portable digital syringe platform using lab-on-a-chip techniques for sample preparation
  • Platform integration for collection of sample data, including smartphone technology
  • Improved MS interfaces to optimise analysis of complex samples
  • Rapid separations into the MS, with a focus on therapeutic drug monitoring and immunosuppressants
  • "Smart filters": the morphology/chemistry of the filters enable improvements in sample clean-up, enrichment and separation.
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