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10 of our biggest stories from the last decade

17 December 2019
The top research stories from the 2010s
As a new decade approaches, we look back on our ten biggest stories from the 2010s. From uncovering the key to pain, the benefits of the arts and dealing with cane toads, our experts advanced knowledge across a whole range of issues.


Biomedical engineers from the University of Sydney and United States worked together to develop a highly elastic, adhesive surgical glue that quickly seals wounds in body tissue.

MeTro sets in just 60 seconds after treatment with UV light and even has applications for internal wounds.

Professor Anthony Weiss from the Charles Perkins Centre said, “When you watch MeTro, you can see it act like a liquid, filling the gaps and conforming to the shape of the wound.”

Read the full story.


Introduced to Queensland in 1935, cane toads are now widespread across north-eastern NSW and considered a threat to biodiversity.

In 2015, Professor Rick Shine from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences led research that found a pain-free way for the general public to humanely kill the invasive species.

The research provides a simple solution to a difficult dilemma. The researchers implanted small data-loggers in the brains of cane toads to measure pain responses.

They then put the toads into a refrigerator for a few hours, before transferring them to a household freezer. The toads quietly slipped into unconsciousness as they froze, and their brains did not register any evidence of pain during the process.

Watch the video explainer from Professor Rick Shine. 


Ever wondered if the arts have an impact on academic and personal wellbeing?

The arts should be central to schooling and not left on the fringes.
Professor Michael Anderson

A study by the University of Sydney and the Australian Council for the Arts found students who are involved in the arts have higher school motivation, engagement in class, self-esteem and life satisfaction.

Positive effects also resulted from home influences, such as how often parents and their children talked about and participated in the arts.

Co-author of the study, Professor Michael Anderson from the School of Education and Social Work, said, "This study provides new and compelling evidence that the arts should be central to schooling and not left on the fringes."

Find out more about the research.


Researchers studied the most venomous creature on earth to learn how venom works and what causes pain.

Using CRISPR genome editing, Associate Professor Greg Neely and Dr Raymond (Man-Tat) Lau uncovered a medicine that blocks the symptoms of a box jellyfish sting if administered to the skin within 15 minutes after contact.

The Charles Perkins Centre researchers hope to develop a topical application for humans.

Read the full story


In 2012, a major review of evidence on the impact of coal mining highlighted serious, ongoing health and social problems as well as an urgent need for improvements in government coal mining policy.

Analysing 50 peer-reviewed research papers from ten countries, the research found a critical lack of local studies investigating the effect of coal mining on Australian communities.

Lead author Associate Professor Ruth Colagiuri said when the report was released, “This comprehensive review of Australian and international health and medical literature underlines the pressing need for Australia to re-evaluate whether the overall health and social costs of Australia's reliance on a coal economy will ultimately outweigh its economic benefits.”

Read more about the study


Flu vaccines are considered a great way to lessen your odds of catching the disease and in 2013, University of Sydney researchers advised exercise may be key to a successful vaccination.

Writing in a commentary for the journal Human Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics, Dr Kate Edwards from the Faculty of Health Sciences and Dr Robert Booy from the Faculty of Medicine and Health said exercise both before and after a vaccine could potentially boost the vaccine response.

The researchers added, based on previous studies, physical activity after a shot might not only make the vaccine work better, it might protect them from some side effects as well – but warned not to overdo it and engage in moderate activities such as cycling.

Read the full story


Medicare, Australia's universal health insurance scheme, might enjoy strong support today but at its origins was bitter opposition.

The battle for Medibank was the most bitterly fought political and constitutional struggle of the Whitlam government.
Associate Professor James Gillespie

Writing in Making Medicare: The Politics of Universal Health Care in Australia released in 2013, Associate Professor James Gillespie, Deputy Director of the University's Menzies Centre for Health Policy, and his co-author Anne-Marie Boxall explored the history of the scheme’s introduction. 

Describing it as the “most bitterly fought political and constitutional struggle of the Whitlam government,” it went through multiple iterations from its beginning 1974 to its revival in 1984, with the authors writing the Coalition’s opposition to the scheme likely kept them out of office until 1996.

The authors concluded that the scheme was far less radical than it appeared and ultimately offered little critique of how health care was actually delivered.

Read more about Professor Gillespie's work


Research by neuroscientists showed people living with frontotemporal dementia – a form of younger-onset dementia – lose the ability to daydream.

While most healthy people daydream approximately 50 percent of their waking lives, people living with frontotemporal dementia became increasingly fixed on their external environment, losing the ability to mind-wander.

Author of the study, Associate Professor Muireann Irish from the Brain and Mind Centre and School of Psychology said, “This study helps us to understand the rigidity and behavioural changes that we typically observe in frontotemporal dementia.

“These behaviours can be particularly difficult to manage, as the individual with dementia may appear apathetic and difficult to motivate, particularly in the absence of external stimulation.”

Find out more about the study


Earlier this year, a study provided new evidence that nanoparticles present in common food items could have harmful impacts on human health.


The study investigated the health impacts of food additive E171 (titanium dioxide nanoparticles), which is commonly used food products such as mayonnaise and some medicines as a whitening agent.

The mice study found that consumption of food containing E171 had an impact on the gut microbiota, which could trigger diseases like inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer.

Read the full story


Amino acids have long been touted by the fitness and bodybuilding communities for their muscle building benefits. 

But protein’s popularity has also meant that less attention has been paid to researching its potentially negative side-effects. 

Research led by academics from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, Professor Stephen Simpson and Dr Samantha Solon-Biet, suggests that while delivering muscle-building benefits, excessive consumption of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) may reduce lifespan, negatively impact mood and lead to weight gain.

Find out more about the study


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