Dr Sanam Mustafa
Dr Sanam Mustafa is a senior research associate at the University of Adelaide node of the CNBP. Trained as a molecular pharmacologist, she has worked closely with CNBP researchers from diverse research backgrounds to develop tools to aid investigation into the molecular mechanisms resulting in pain.
In collaboration with Dr Arun Dass, an expert in protein biology, Sanam has taken an unbiased and label-free approach to identify previously unknown players in pain biology. Using a state-of-the-art imaging technology (MALDI), Sanam and her team have identified novel changes observed in the brains and spinal cord of animals experiencing pain. These results will aid further in-depth studies into the mechanisms of pain and have potentially identified targets for new pain therapies.
Sanam has also been working closely with CNBP chemists to test and validate light-activated opioids. These opioids can be selectively switched on, when and where they are required, to block pain signaling and thus avoiding unwanted side effects such as respiratory suppression or constipation commonly associated with opioid use.
Complementing these studies, Sanam has applied a novel imaging system, hyperspectral imaging, to identify ‘the colour of pain’. This research, in collaboration with the physicist Prof Ewa Goldys, will lead to the development of a pain test that will objectively quantify pain and allow the prescription of a personalised pain management regime.
Identifying an opportunity to exploit a commercial plate readers capability to excite and detect multiple wavelengths, Sanam has facilitated a relationship with BMG instruments to develop a customised hyperspectral plate reader. Dr Georgios Tsiminis and Dr Erik Schartner were instrumental in developing the prototype, which is now routinely utilised for numerous projects.
Sanam’s expertise in in vitro technologies has allowed her to provide advice and insight into numerous CNBP projects across the nodes.
Prof Ewa Goldys, co-director, CNBP
CNBP co-director Prof Ewa Goldys has opened a new research frontier at the interface of bioimaging and big data. She is applying hyperspectral methods developed in the field of satellite imaging of the Earth and its environment to the biological world on a microscale. Her program builds on the idea that the native colour of cells and tissues is a supremely sensitive indicator of biological processes. Because the native colour is a sensitive indicator of biochemistry at a molecular level, hyperspectral imaging enables us to non-invasively identify key cell and tissue characteristics that may have biological and clinical relevance.
Building on advances in light emitting diode (LED) technology, modern cameras and digital control, Ewa has developed a range of automated devices that detect different wavelengths of light, allowing the display of unique colour signatures of molecules in the samples.
This technology, in combination with state-of-the-art big data science, is now being applied to non-invasive assessment of physiological function, in ways that have never previously been possible and are only just beginning to be explored.
Ewa is collaborating with Prof Mark Hutchinson and his team to analyse human samples across a variety of disease conditions. One of the results will be a test that can indicate the best treatment for migraines from a blood sample.
Ewa is pioneering the applications of her technology in a range of other fields of medical diagnostics including eye cancer, motor neurone disease, and chronic pain. She is also translating these technologies to medicine and industry, working closely with medical and commercial partners in Australia and overseas. These novel technologies enable the pursuit of research questions that could not be asked before.
Dr Vicky Staikopoulos
Dr Vicky Staikopoulos is a biologist who has worked extensively towards understanding chronic pain conditions. There are challenges when observing changes deep in the body, such as the spinal cord following injury, due to the limited technology available to penetrate tissue in a minimally invasive way. Information on how tissue and cell characteristics change following injury would be very valuable to further our understanding of how chronic pain develops and provide a key to how we can then either prevent or manage it.
Vicky has collaborated with CNBP teams such as those headed by Prof Ewa Goldys, Dr Michelle Zhang and Dr Antony Orth, as well as external international partners based in Wuhan, China, such as Prof Zhihong Zhang, to develop new light-based technologies that would allow biologists to measure tissue and cellular changes in the spinal cord following injury in a minimally invasive way.
This includes the use of hyperspectral imaging, novel fluorescent chemical probes, endoscope fibres and deep tissue imaging. These applications have the potential to create new ways for biologists to measure cellular and molecular changes in chronic pain, either from blood samples or by internal deep tissue observations.