UQ $450,000 Enhanced Student Component Grant to establish SBMS excitable cell facility

11 May 2016

A successful grant application by Associate Professors Peter Noakes and Lesley Lluka and Dr Nick Lavidis will provide funds to establish a world leading advanced excitable cell facility within the School.

When complete, the first stage of the facility will enable classes of 100-120 third year UQ undergraduate science students to examine excitable cells from neural, skeletal and cardiac tissues.

The ability to examine excitable cells in large undergraduate classes is rare internationally, it is normally regarded as a small group training process for postgraduate students, and the new facility will be a world leading teaching and learning achievement for SBMS.

Cell excitability from a physiological context controls the beating of the heart and the contraction of the smooth muscle in blood vessels and in the gut.

The main advantage of the new facility is that the advanced laboratory and computer equipment will allow undergraduate students to see the cell excitability process actually taking place in real time.

Students will also be able to undertake a basic examination of excitable cells from different tissues and in the future may also be able to screen for drugs that affect the function of excitatory cells.

In class, students will typically rotate through various modules where, for example, one group may be undertaking an experiment while another group may be analysing previously collected data.

The project is currently being developed in stages with the goal of having the facility fully accessible to third year biomedical science, neuroscience, physiology and pharmacology students by Semester 1, 2017.

Five test units of key items of equipment to be ordered are being trialled over the next 12 to 18 months to troubleshoot potential technical problems and ensure the equipment is fully functional before teaching begins.

Many items within the test equipment modules have been designed to be portable to allow for greater flexibility and the customisation of laboratory and computer equipment to meet the needs of particular classes. 

Some items of equipment necessary for the test modules were not readily available and had to be designed and built specifically for the project by SBMS staff.

The University is currently ascertaining if some of the invented items can be patented and made available to other universities, with UQ benefitting financially. 

The advanced excitable cell facility will be housed in a new $10M undergraduate laboratory currently under construction on Level 1 MacGregor Building.