Mega magnet adds to UQ's research attraction

25 Sep 2006

One of the world's most powerful magnetic instruments has been officially commissioned at The University of Queensland, helping pave the way for research and development into the next wave of life-saving drugs. 

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie today launched the instrument, a 900MHz nuclear magnetic resonance high-resolution spectrometer, at UQ. 

Known as an NMR, it is the largest machine of its kind in the southern hemisphere, and is the centrepiece of the $17 million Queensland Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Network (QNN) based at UQ. 

“This new facility will help make the Smart State a key centre for biodiscovery and drug design,” Mr Beattie said. 

“Nuclear magnetic resonance is a key technology for determining the structure of molecules and for visualising the anatomy of living tissue and microscopic structure. It has helped revolutionise chemistry, physics, diagnostic medicine and structural biology. 

“It will enable scientists in Queensland and across our region to pioneer pharmaceuticals that require a detailed understanding of large molecules and target diseases such as cancer, heart disease and inflammatory disease. 

“It will also help attract top international researchers in fields such as drug design, biodiscovery, neuroscience and materials science. 

“Already, UQ researchers are working with this technology to develop a treatment for multiple sclerosis and a pain killer that could be 1000 times more powerful than morphine.” 

The State Government contributed $5 million through the Smart State Research Facilities Fund to help establish the QNN. 

UQ Vice-Chancellor Professor John Hay, AC, thanked the Premier for his long-term investments in excellent infrastructure and research capability. 

Professor Hay said the 900 MHz NMR was an invaluable tool for scientists working at the leading edge of bioscience and nanotechnology. 

“UQ, with its cluster of new institutes that are pioneering new territory in biotechnology and nanotechnology, is the logical location for this equipment,” Professor Hay said. 

“UQ has Australia's best NMR technology. Along with other world-class research infrastructure at UQ, it helps attract leading international scientists to pursue their research goals in Australia,” Professor Hay said. 

The government funding has helped purchase three systems: the 900MHz high-resolution machine for biomolecular studies; a 700MHz wide-bore micro-imaging system for small animal neuroimaging; and a 600MHz system for use in biodiscovery. 
“These powerful machines have the potential to take our scientists into a whole new realm of discovery,” Mr Beattie said. 

“The NMR operates under the same principles as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI, which many patients experience as part of modern medical procedures) but is powered by a superconductor and has a magnetic field 400,000 times stronger than the Earth's magnetic field. 

“The machine is so strong it has the power to “wipe” information from credit cards, to stop watches, and also to interfere with heart pacemakers.” 

Mr Beattie said the new facility would provide Queensland with a competitive edge in biotechnology research and development unparalled in Australia. 

“This type of facility provides not only the technological solutions for our future, but also vital, knowledge-intensive jobs,” he said. 

“It also means that our best research brains do not have to go interstate or overseas to conduct top level research and we can attract top researchers from overseas, who will come not just for our lifestyle but because of what this state-of-the-art facility offers.” 

Members of QNN are UQ, the Queensland Government, Queensland University of Technology, Griffith University, James Cook University, Central Queensland University, Sunshine Coast University, The University of Auckland and Massey University. 

Media contact: Premier's office 3224 4500 
UQ Fiona Kennedy 3365 1088 /0413 380 012