UNSW researchers will share $6 million in grants from the federal government’s Cooperative Research Centre Projects (CRC-P) program for projects to develop a new space traffic management system and to make cell and gene therapy more affordable.

More than $25 million was granted to 10 projects in the latest round of CRC-P program funding announced by Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews today. The CRC-P program supports collaborations between industry, researchers and the community.  The focus is on linking researchers with industry to develop products with commercial use.

UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Nicholas Fisk said he was pleased to see UNSW researchers focussing their skills on solving industry problems.

“The CRC-P program allows our academics to both cement relationships with industry and to take new technologies to market. It’s impressive to see their innovative approaches to address frontier issues facing society in the 21st century – here translating ex vivo gene/cell therapy, and harnessing satellite navigation,” Prof. Fisk said.

A new space traffic management system

A team from UNSW Canberra led by Dr Melrose Brown will work alongside Clearbox Systems, Capricorn Space and Bluerydge to develop a unique Australian radio frequency (RF) sensor for satellite identification, tracking and collision avoidance.

The new system will identify satellites from their transmitted signal characteristics, offering high precision tracking that can operate day or night. The RF sensor network will integrate with optical telescopes and advanced artificial intelligence algorithms being developed by Australia’s leading space mission team, UNSW Canberra Space.

Dr Brown said that the space traffic management system is being developed at a time when the global space sector is undergoing unprecedented change.

“There is a projected twenty-fold increase in the number of satellites in orbit by 2025. In addition, new technologies are enabling satellites to constantly change orbit, which poses a significant challenge to legacy space traffic management systems. The new sensor system we are developing will make an important contribution to the global effort to safely and sustainably manage the growing population of satellites orbiting Earth into the future,” Dr Brown said.

 Another major goal of the project is to grow Australia’s human capital and skills base in the field of space domain awareness.

 “An exciting outcome from the collaboration are the industry-focussed education opportunities, which enable students in our undergraduate, online Space Masters and PhD streams the opportunity to gain direct experience with these important technologies and concepts,” Dr Brown said.

Making cell and gene therapy affordable with a microbioreactor

Dr Robert Nordon from UNSW’s Faculty of Engineering will work alongside Genesys Electronics Design and CSL to develop a microbioreactor for use in cell and gene therapy.

Cell and gene therapy is a process where a patient’s stem cells or T cells are extracted from their blood, modified with therapeutic genes, and then infused back into them. 

The CRC-P funding will progress the technology toward full commercialisation, developing an automated microscale bioreactor to bring down the cost of genetically modifying cells for the treatment of cancers and inherited diseases. Existing large-footprint machines require skilled staff and complicated multi-step procedures, resulting in prohibitively expensive treatment costs, limiting accessibility.

Dr Nordon and his team at UNSW have developed microfluidic technology for miniaturising and simplifying the therapeutic cell manufacturing process, which thus aims to substantially reduce cost. Genesys will commercialise the technology, establishing a new company to manufacture microbioreactors that can be used for both research and treatment purposes.

“I look forward to continue working with my colleagues at UNSW, Genesys and CSL to address the need for affordable cell and gene therapy products. Our project is a great example of how university sector skills can benefit society by establishing expertise for high-tech manufacturing while having a positive impact on people’s health,” Dr Nordon said. 

More information and a full list of recipients can be found on the Federal Government’s Business website.