April 19 2019

Imaging CoE PhD students, Ms Holly Ung and Mr Blake Mazzitelli completed a three-month research placement at Fraunhofer IZI-BB in Potsdam, Germany. Both students studied and implemented Fraunhofer IZI-BB’s optimised system for Cell-Free Protein Synthesis (CFPS).

The research placements mark a significant milestone in the partnership between Monash University and the Imaging CoE with Fraunhofer IZI-BB. By developing a novel pipeline of cell-free protein-synthesis to molecular imaging, researchers expect to be able to address previously unanswerable research questions.

As part of the Imaging CoE’s commitment to fostering the next generation of scientists, the research placements offered the students an opportunity for international exposure and allowed them to gain valuable insights into the German approach to applied research. Ms Ung and Mr Mazzitelli were the first students to participate in the program.


“We honed in on current skills, and came away with connections that we would not have built outside of this program. The placement was hugely beneficial to our careers in biomedical science,” Mr Mazzitelli said.

While CFPS technology has existed previously in various forms, the Department of Cell-free and Cell-based Bioproduction at Fraunhofer IZI-BB has spent many years optimising the system for the generation of disease-related human proteins. Many of these proteins are typically unable to be generated in cell-based systems and, indeed, many commercial CFPS systems.


“It was an incredible learning experience. My two supervisors were inspiring women who are pioneering the development of this powerful technology. Their words of encouragement and support gave me the independence and confidence to contribute to the scientific community in this exciting era, where more and more women are leaders,” Ms Ung said.

“As scientists at the Imaging CoE, our goal is to obtain a detailed understanding of the mechanisms by which various proteins function, as well as the molecular events that allow these proteins to cause diseases such as autoimmune disease and cancer,” Mr Mazzitelli said.

“A significant bottleneck to our research is the difficulty in expressing many of these disease-related proteins for further studies. CFPS, therefore, presents as a promising technique to overcome these difficulties.”

The goal of this research placement was to test some of the most difficult-to-express proteins in the Fraunhofer IZI-BB CFPS system. Ms Ung and Mr Mazzitelli were given a first-hand look at the powerful capabilities of CFPS. They were able to synthesise various proteins otherwise unable to be generated in traditional systems, as well as confirm the functionality of these proteins by harnessing the impressive infrastructure and machinery housed at Fraunhofer IZI-BB.

The work allows various projects to push forward to the molecular imaging stage, primarily undertaken at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Centre, including the Monash Micro Imaging (MMI) platform, FEI Titan Krios and the Australian Synchrotron.

In addition to breaking down scientific barriers, the experience was incredibly beneficial for Ms Ung and Mr Mazzitelli’s professional development. Integrating into a new research group and learning novel techniques providing a different perspective into biomedical sciences.

The Imaging CoE would like to thank Dr Stefan Kubick, Head of the Department of Cell-free and Cell-based Bioproduction at Fraunhofer IZI-BB, and his team for hosting Ms Ung and Mr Mazzitelli during their three months placement.