Bioactive compounds, which are naturally produced by the liver in minute quantities, have a wide range of highly specialised functions and potentially therapeutic properties. Bioactives from plants and animals can be a valuable source of pharmaceutical products, and the project has huge potential as a source of additional income for Australia's livestock industry.
A team of scientists at Flinders, led by Associate Professor Whei Zhang (pictured), are looking to create in-vitro cultures of liver cells (hepatocytes) from animal livers and then to identify methods that will stimulate the production of bioactives, boosting their yield many times over.
The aim of the initial two-year project is to demonstrate proof of concept at laboratory scale. The research is supported by a $400,000 of funding from Meat and Livestock Australia.
Hepatocytes are large and comparatively robust cells which can survive up to three days post mortem, and the team are conducting trials to see how best to culture the cells to enable the optimisation of bioactive production.
Initially the researchers will need to establish whether the cells will be more productive cultured in very fine sections three or four cells in thickness or in the small clumps that hepatocytes form after their intercellular bonds have been broken down by chemical "digestion".
Once the most efficient culture method has been identified, the researchers will seek to identify suitable hormonal, chemical and physical stresses that will boost the production of bioactives. While literally hundreds of additives or techniques have been shown to increase the rate of production, the trials will concentrate on a handful considered to be the most promising in terms of their relative output and cost.
The project brings together expertise from across the University, including Professor Chris Franco, Dr Fiona Young and Dr Lisa Schmidt from the Department of Medical Biotechnology, and Dr Stewart Walker from the School of Chemistry, Physics and Earth Sciences. Two new researchers, Dr Ken Lang and Ms Sue Guo, and Business Development Mangager Mr Raymond Tham complete the team.
"Our success in attracting this grant is largely due to the collaborative nature of this effort," Associate Professor Wei Zhang said.
Dr Philip Franks, Manager Value Adding of Meat and Livestock Australia, said he was enthusiastic about the progress made by the team at Flinders during the early phase of the project.
"We are hoping through our support of this research to create a sophisticated method of value-adding to the processing of red meat in Australia," he said.
"Should the project prove to be commercially viable, our ultimate aim is to pass a significant proportion of the returns back to the meat and livestock producers."