Chemistry right for award winning UWS student

A University of Western Sydney student's high calibre chemistry experiments, which may lead to better cancer detection, have been recognised by the Royal Australian Chemical Institute.

Abhishek Gupta, now a PhD candidate at UWS, recently received the 2012 RACI Western Sydney Section Honours Prize for his Honours thesis he completed while enrolled in the University's Bachelor of Medical Science (Nanotechnology) program.

Mr Gupta's work is focused on improving the chemicals, or contrast agents, used to enhance and differentiate tumours from normal tissue when patients undergo an MRI scan.

"MRI scans are much safer for patients because other techniques such as X rays and CT scans expose patients to ionising radiation which is itself a potential cause of cancer. However, it has been a challenge to produce high resolution MRI images of very small cancers, and clearly distinguish diseased tissue from the surrounding healthy tissue," says Mr Gupta, who also received a University Medal at his graduation in April this year.

Abhishek Gupta with Professor Peter Shergold

Abhishek Gupta holding his University Medal with Chancellor Professor Peter Shergold


Medical MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, machines use very powerful magnets, sophisticated electronics and software to build images of organs, bones and other tissue inside patients. The magnetic fields while very strong (more than 200,000 times stronger than the Earth's magnetic field) but are completely harmless and there are no health risks for the patient.

Mr Gupta says the magnetic fields and the power of the MRI scanners are increasing with each new model but the contrast agents used to make the tumours visible to the scanner are failing to keep up.

"We need better contrast agents to take advantage of the more powerful scanners," says Mr Gupta.

"When I finished my undergraduate degree I decided I wanted to do a research project that involved both practical and theoretical components that involved chemistry, medical nanotechnology and medical physics.  I could see researching contrast agents could make a difference and may help doctors detect cancers even earlier – giving people a better chance of surviving."

MRI scan of a brain

The contrast agent used in the brain scan on the right helps to clearly identify a tumor


Mr Gupta's interest in pursuing postgraduate study was seeded early in his time at UWS.

"I originally chose UWS because I liked the undergraduate program but I was also lucky enough to work with leading researchers even during my undergraduate studies and have access to some very advanced lab equipment.  I think this early exposure to high quality research really influenced my decision to stay on to do my PhD."

NMR Facility

The Biomedical Magnetic Resonance Facility at UWS

Professor Bill Price, from the UWS School of Science and Health and School of Medicine, a world renowned leader in MRI research, taught Mr Gupta in the UWS undergraduate program and also heads the lab where he is now completing his PhD.

"Abhishek is a worthy recipient of the RACI prize.  He was an outstanding undergraduate student at UWS who has also shown a real passion for research," says Professor Price, Director of the Biomedical Magnetic Resonance Facility in the UWS School of Science and Health.

"Abhishek was able to get a taste for research science at the facilities on our Campbelltown campus during the undergraduate program.  The interest in research grew and now he's on his way to gaining a doctorate and is already a valued member of the team." 

Mr Gupta is currently undertaking his PhD under the supervision of Professor Price, Dr Tim Stait-Gardner from UWS and Dr Minoo Moghaddam (CSIRO) on prestigious UWS and CSIRO scholarships and is based at the advanced NMR/MRI research facility on the UWS Campbelltown campus.


22 June 2012 

Contact: Paul Grocott, Senior Media Officer