Free Radical Centre
The Free Radical Centre or ARC Centre of Excellence for Free Radical Chemistry and Biotechnology, was established in the 2005 Australian Research Council funding rounds. It is administered from the University of Melbourne, and has nodes at five Australian universities; The University of Melbourne, the Victorian Pharmacy College at Monash University, The Heart Research Institute at the University of Sydney, Queensland University of Technology, and the Australian National University in Canberra. The Centre has over 100 researchers working in all areas of free radical chemistry from material science to biology. Free radicals are everywhere causing damage to humans, other animals and materials. Chemically they are molecules with unpaired electrons which in pairing cause damage to other molecules. In animals this causes aging, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and genetic damage. For materials, this means paint cracking, food spoiling, and material degradation. Chemists in the Centre are working on all of these above problems, trying to find ways to control free radical damage in order for us to live longer, healthier lives, as well as finding ways to improve common materials around us such as plastics and paints. Examples of the Centre's work include:
- Devising fluorescent nitroxide probes that 'light up' in the presence of free radicals, which may provide an early warning system for paints and plastics, and even human cells.
- Developing drugs which will control hormone levels within humans and animals using free radical chemistry. This will eventually benefit people suffering from diseases such as asthma, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- Developing nano machines, which use free radical chemical reactions to turn on and off. These machines could provide the newest developments in computer technology, allowing chips to be 90 times smaller than current one.
- Developing drugs that combat the oxidative stress that hearts experience immediately after a heart attack. When a heart attack occurs, extra oxygen is sent to the weakened heart, and this glut of oxygen starts to cause free radical damage. The antioxidant properties of drugs designed in the Centre 'mop up' this excess oxygen.
- Researching into the nitrate radical, which is produced by car exhausts being released into the atmosphere. Little is known about this type of pollution from cars and how it damages the human respiratory tract. These radicals are destroyed during the day through the sun's UV radiation, however, at night the concentration of nitrate radicals in the atmosphere increases. Centre researchers are examining the chemical reactions that nitrate radicals take part in within the respiratory tract in humans, in order to understand how these radical affect human health.