Origin of Sensation
Origin of Sensation
Studying the small to understand the big
Challenge Leader
Challenge Leader
Prof Mark Hutchinson
Glial cells
Glial cells
The other 90% of the brain
Challenge team
Challenge team
Find out who we are


Biological Challenge 2: Origin of Sensation

Biological Challenge Leader: Prof Mark Hutchinson

Identifying the origin, actions and behavioural consequences of central nervous system (CNS) immune signals.

We will use new Centre developed probes and techniques, to identify the origin, actions and behavioural consequences of central nervous system (CNS) immune signals, and explore their role in the sensations of touch and pain.

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Over the past 30 years the evidence for glial immune-like signals in pain has grown from a trickle to a torrent. It is thought that immune signals, such as proinflammatory proteins, called cytokines, are critical for normal pain and the development of chronic pain states. Importantly, we are pioneering research examining sex differences in pain signalling, and demonstrating that females have a significantly heightened glial involvement in pain processing.

However, the exciting opportunities that this research affords, remains blocked by the limitations of existing sensing tools for immune signals in the brain and spinal cord.

To advance our understanding of glial involvement in touch and pain processing we need a new type of sensing technology that allows for precise and sensitive, temporal and spatial resolution of classic immune signals. These tools must be able to sense their targets, at low concentrations, in small volumes, in discrete locations, and do this repeatedly over time. 

Nanoscale biophotonic sensing tools look to be the answer, including use of innovative probes using functionalized optical fibre tips. They have the power to go to places such as the brain, and can monitor small molecules and proteins in localised volumes of cerebrospinal fluid that could never be assessed before. 

The lofty goals set by this Biological Challenge, built on the sensing tools being developed by the CNBP research themes Illuminate, Recognize, Measure and Discover, will address the needs of basic scientists whilst simultaneously addressing the ethical considerations of the “3Rs”: Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of animals in research.

Information will be produced by this challenge which will validate the use of these new sensing technologies, with Prof Mark Hutchinson leading a team of medical scientists and PhD students through the complete stages of concept development, testing, rollout and release.

The ultimate aim is to provide researchers skilled in the science of neuroimmunology with access to emerging Centre based sensing technologies and techniques.

We will: 

  • identify the origin, actions and behavioural consequences of central nervous system (CNS) immune signals as they relate to pain
  • work alongside Centre scientists as they develop their technologies from conceptual frameworks to tangible devices, using existing and new collaborations
  • explore the application of the new Centre technologies to validate them against existing methods
  • initiate new science projects upon finalisation of the new sensing technology, allowing for the testing of completely new scientific questions
  • pioneer the testing of the new sensing technologies in a broad range of applications in both the spinal cord and brain

The Centre for Nanoscale BioPhotonics links Australia's key nanophotonics groups and builds on Global Collaborations with a focus on doing the science required to advance biology.