Syn­chro­tron brings $220m sup­port for re­search

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health - Adam Cress­well

RE­SEARCHERS have wel­comed this week’s open­ing of the $220 mil­lion Aus­tralian syn­chro­tron as hav­ing huge im­pli­ca­tions for the abil­ity to con­duct im­por­tant en­vi­ron­men­tal health re­search.

One ex­am­ple of re­search likely to ben­e­fit is on­go­ing work that has been look­ing at the ex­tent and na­ture of ar­senic con­tam­i­na­tion in young chil­dren.

The re­searchers have so far been us­ing an over­seas syn­chro­tron — a type of par­ti­cle ac­cel­er­a­tor that can be used for ad­vanced sci­en­tific work— to de­ter­mine the pat­tern of ar­senic de­posits in the toe­nail clip­pings of chil­dren.

While this has meant tak­ing the sam­ples on a flight to Chicago in the US, this week’s open­ing of the Aus­tralian syn­chro­tron in Clay­ton, by Vic­to­rian Pre­mier John Brumby and fed­eral Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Julie Bishop, means fur­ther work may be con­ducted here in Aus­tralia.

Dora Pearce, the Univer­sity of Bal­larat PhD stu­dent whose work on toe­nails has been done us­ing the US syn­chro­tron, said the open­ing of the Aus­tralian fa­cil­ity had ‘‘ huge im­pli­ca­tions’’ for health-re­lated re­search. ‘‘ It just opens up the pos­si­bil­i­ties for en­vi­ron­men­tal health re­search amaz­ingly,’’ she said.

Pearce’s re­search has in­volved her look­ing at the clip­pings to de­ter­mine whether ar­senic found there was de­posited evenly or in con­cen­trated pe­ri­ods of time, and also how it was metabolised and ex­creted.

Pro­fes­sor An­drea Ger­son, an ex­pert in min­eral pro­cess­ing at the Univer­sity of South Aus­tralia, who uses syn­chrotrons ex­ten­sively and has acted as an ad­viser to the project, said al­ter­na­tive meth­ods of study­ing ar­senic lev­els re­quired the nail or hair to be dis­solved in a sol­vent be­fore the anal­y­sis.

‘‘ You lose the chem­i­cal in­for­ma­tion — you know how much ar­senic is there, but you lose the chem­i­cal state it was in, what else it was bonded to,’’ Ger­son said.

‘‘ That’s quite im­por­tant for th­ese ma­te­ri­als. In some forms they are quite toxic, and in other forms they are not as toxic. It pro­vides valu­able in­for­ma­tion about the pat­terns of in­ges­tion.

‘‘ What we are hop­ing to do in the next set of ex­per­i­ments, again over­seas, is to check that the ar­senic has come through the blood sup­ply, and hasn’t been ab­sorbed through the sur­face of the nail.’’

The is­sue of ar­senic con­tam­i­na­tion is rel­e­vant be­cause of the pol­lu­tion prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with min­ing. Ar­senic is a rel­a­tively com­mon el­e­ment of­ten found un­der-

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