Dayong Jin is a scientist on a novel mission – to apply the principles of Google’s street-view mapping tool to disease diagnostics.
Over the next five years, the UTS physicist will use the discoveries he has made in super-resolution imaging and high-performance sensors – namely Super Dots and Hyper Dots – to meet his “ambitious goal” of being able to zoom in on the workings of a single human cell.
Heart-attack risk among people with diabetes and the mechanisms that make bacteria resistant to antibiotics are two urgent medical issues in his sights.
“Human beings have a long history of making and using maps. Satellite technology has given us the images for global maps while cameras used at street level allow us to zoom in and know exactly where we are,” says Professor Jin, who has today won the Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year in the 2017 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science.
“My target is to generate a complete, real-time ‘street view’ of intra-cellular traffic using the fastest and most sophisticated imaging tools and intra-cellular sensors.
“If we can finish this project within five years, human beings will have a much better understanding about the single cell. And once you have the street view of the intracellular environment there are many other potential projects. That's my strong belief.”
A single platelet cell under a normal microscope, left, and viewed with super-resolution imaging. Images: courtesy Dr Qian (Peter) Su, UTS, and Dr Lining (Arnold) Ju, University of Sydney
“Every year we make progress in terms of intra-cellular detection and biomedical cellular detection methods. The new trend is super-resolution imaging which is based on the technologies and materials we've developed, bringing exciting opportunities for science.”
Most recently, Professor Jin and his research colleagues have:
Shown that bright luminescent nanoparticles can be switched on and off using a low-power infrared laser beam – a breakthrough in the development of compact, low-cost optical microscopy. The discovery overcomes obstacles of cost and heat which limit the development of super-high-resolution imaging for examination of live cells and organisms
Grown cells on tiny mirrors for imaging with super-resolution microscopy, allowing scientists to see the structures of three-dimensional cells with comparable resolution in each dimension.
“New-generation super-resolution microscopy gives you what we might call a ‘satellite view’ of cellular and sub-cellular structure,” Professor Jin says.
“To build the street view, you need the car with its sensors and cameras, collecting the information and sending it back to the data station.
“My Super Dots are the vehicle, moving through the cell, detecting properties such as pH and temperature, for example, and relaying optical signals. With Hyper Dots you can build multiple functions, and greater control, on a single particle.
“The next thing we need to do is try to engineer the surface molecules on these Super Dots so you can watch them, you can manipulate them, you can have them interact with specific localised molecules.
“Once we have street view, the real-time traffic, you know what you do with the map – which road to avoid and how to solve the traffic jam.”
As the Prime Minister’s Physical Scientist of the Year, Professor Jin joins an illustrious list of previous winners including Professor Tanya Monro and Professor Brian Schmidt.
UTS Vice-Chancellor Professor Attila Brungs says the prize is a very exciting first for the university.
“More importantly though, it is a well-deserved recognition of Professor Jin and the fantastic scientist that he is,” says Professor Brungs.
“The work he does will bring great benefits to our society and is an excellent example UTS’s focus on high-quality, impact-driven research.
“Professor Jin’s collegiate approach to his research also reflects the dynamic and collaborative intellectual culture we aim to foster.”