Available PhD projects - health

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Chief Investigator Project title Project description Preferred educational background

Associate Professor Tracy Comans

t.comans@uq.edu.au

Develop and evaluate a picto-graph tool to measure quality of life

This project will develop a quality of life instrument for economic evaluation of health care programs that uses pictures rather than written questions. The instrument will be designed to be easier to complete for those with cognitive decline / dementia or other issues that affect written communication.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Psychology or speech pathology / communication background interested in instrument development and quality of life

Associate Professor Ethan Scott

ethan.scott@uq.edu.au

Neural mechanisms of vestibular perception in zebrafish

The vestibular system allows us to perceive gravity and movement, but we do not have a thorough understanding of how the brain processes information from vestibular sensors in our inner ears. This project proposes a novel preparation in the zebrafish model for exerting forces on the inner ear with a laser, thereby stimulating the vestibular sense. Critically, this means that the animal will experience vestibular stimuli while it is stationary. This will allow calcium imaging of neurons that respond to vestibular cues, and the use of optogenetics to stimulate or silence these neurons. This will reveal just what cells and circuits mediate vestibular perception, processing, and behaviour in a way that has been previously impossible.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Optical Physics, Bioinformatics, or Neuroscience

Associate Professor Trent Woodruff

t.woodruff@uq.edu.au

 

Discovery of new innate immune therapeutics for the treatment of neurodegenerative disease

This project will develop and test novel therapeutics targeting the innate immune system to block inflammation. It will also progress these compounds into early preclinical animal testing regimes in models of neurological disease.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Background in pharmacology/ pharmacokinetics or drug discovery

Therapeutic blockade of neuroinflammation for the treatment of motor neuron disease

This project will test the efficacy of novel drugs target innate immune-mediated neuroinflammation in mouse models of motor neuron disease (MND). It will also identify mechanistic activity using in vitro neuron/glia cultures and clinical validation using MND patient ex vivo samples.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Background in pharmacology or neuroscience research

Dr Jana Vukovic

j.vukovic@uq.edu.au

Understanding the role of microglia as regulators of adult neurogenesis in the intact, injured and ageing brain

The hippocampus is one of the primary brain structures critical for learning and memory. The continuous and regulated production of new neurons – adult neurogenesis – in this part of the brain is believed to underpin some of the hippocampal-based cognitive functions. These newborn neurons are produced from a pool of neural precursor/stem cells, and we have previously shown that microglia (the resident immune cells) play a key role in this process although the mechanisms behind this remain poorly understood. The project will investigate the role of microglia as regulators of adult neurogenesis following traumatic brain injury and during ageing, and the implications of this for behavioural outcomes.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Molecular biology / Immunology / Neuroscience

Dr David Simmons

d.simmons@uq.edu.au

Novel regulators of placental trophoblast cell-cell fusion: implications for preeclampsia

The cellular barrier separating the placental circulation consists in large part of syncytiotrophoblast (STB) cells, a highly specialized multinucleated cell that mediates critical transport and endocrine functions. The health and function of the post-mitotic STB relies on the input of new material by fusion with underlying mononuclear progenitor cells, a process which is dysregulated in pregnancy complications such preeclampsia (PE). Our lab has identified a novel regulator of trophoblast cell-cell fusion, one which is also dysregulated in placentas complicated by PE. The current project aims to characterize this new pathway at the molecular level, using primary human cell cultures and transgenic mouse models.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

The ideal candidate will have a BSc (Hons), with courses in cell biology, developmental biology and/or genetics. Previous experience with tissue culture and molecular biology methodologies a plus

Associate Professor Rohan Teasdale

r.teasdale@uq.edu.au

The role of SNX proteins in formation of endosome transport carriers

The spatial arrangement of proteins within a cell is of fundamental importance and impacts on all biological processes and pathways.  Membranes and proteins are in constant motion within cells and transport pathways control and direct this traffic flow. This flux of internalized and secreted material must be precisely coordinated and this is achieved through a common network of intracellular membrane-bound compartments, the endosomal system. Fidelity of transport through the endosomal system thus requires mechanisms that precisely sort cargoes for delivery to a range of different destinations. This is achieved by cargo engaging specific sorting machinery that is responsible for their accumulation into tubules that then undergo scission to generate endosome-transport carriers (ETCs). Overall this project will determine the contribution of individual sorting nexin proteins has on the formation of the distinct ETC types and to the sorting of a range of cargo actively transported by these vesicles. A detailed definition of these ETC’s at the molecular level will reveal the number of transport pathways emanating from endosomes to other organelles which represents the final membrane transport pathway yet to be fully described.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Cell Biology, Microscopy

Professor Chen Chen

chen.chen@uq.edu.au

Biomarkers of diabetic retinopathy

Using diabetic mouse models, we are looking for early biomarkers to predict diabetic retinopathy.  Pathophysiological roles of identified biomarkers will also be investigated.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

BSc (Hon) in physiology, molecular biology or pathology.

Associate Professor Paul Dawson

paul.dawson@mater.uq.edu.au

Genetics and pathology of fetal and neonatal sulphate deficiency

This PhD project will investigate the genetics and pathophysiology of nutrient sulphate deficiency in human fetal and neonatal development. The project will incorporate clinical, biochemical, genetic and molecular biology approaches.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Biomedical Science degree, preferably with Honours or equivalent research experience.

Dr Paul Gardiner

p.gardiner@uq.edu.au

Stand up to dementia

This project explores relationships of lifestyle behaviours with cognitive decline. The project may incorporate epidemiological as well as health behaviour intervention approaches.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Health and related fields such as Medicine, Public Health, Psychology etc.

Associate Professor Antje Blumenthal

a.blumenthal@uq.edu.au

Enhancing host defence mechanisms in severe bacterial infections

New options to treat bacterial infections are needed because of the rapid increase in antibiotic resistance. One very attractive strategy is to boost the body’s own defence mechanisms against bacteria. Using molecular, cell biological and in vivo techniques, this project defines host cell molecular mechanisms that can be manipulated to better control bacterial infections.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Immunology, Microbiology, Cell biology
Innate immune signalling in Mycobacterium tuberculosisinfection

This project investigates the functions of a new innate immune receptor in the host response to Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection using a range of molecular, cell biological, biochemical and immunological approaches.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Cell Biology, Immunology, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Bioinformatics.

Professor Murray Mitchell

murray.mitchell@uq.edu.au

Evaluation of biomarkers and  responsive cell pathways in reproductive biology

The project involves the measurements of compounds (lipids, nucleic acids and proteins/cytokines) from biological fluids (e.g milk/plasma) and cell culture media.  In particular, we are examining the roles of eicosanoids and endocannabinoids in fertility and pregnancy using Mass Spectrometry and ELISA. Other techniques such as PCR arrays and miRNA profiling will also be used with the aim to study higher and lower fertility metabolic and reproductive pathways, including within exosomal cargo.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Degree in any related area from cell to molecular biology or equivalent

Associate Professor Michael Piper

m.piper@uq.edu.au

Transcriptional regulation of brain size during development

Here, we aim to understand the factors mediating normal brain size during development, as well as how these factors contribute to adult neurogenesis and neurodevelopmental disorders such as hydrocephalus.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

BSc (Hons – first class)

Associate Professor Bradley Launikonis

b.launikonis@uq.edu.au

Ca2+ cycling and heat generation in muscle

This project will uncover the mechanisms that enable mammalian skeletal muscle to play a major role in generating the heat required to maintain a constant body temperature. The ability to modulate body heat played a defining role in the evolution of species, their behaviour and global distribution.  All vertebrates have muscle but only mammals and birds can use muscle to provide an essential modulatory role in whole body resting heat production. The muscle spends most of its time in a resting state (not contracting), when vital heat production must occur. How heat production occurs in resting muscle is of fundamental importance and will be defined for the first time, providing new avenues to manipulate metabolic rate and counter obesity.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

BScHons in physiology or similar
Effect of heavy load exercise on Ca2+ handling in human skeletal muscle

This project will look at the movements of calcium associated with delayed onset muscle soreness and uncover the mechanisms that the muscle fibres employ so that the muscle is protected from long-term injury. The project will be based around imaging calcium, associated proteins and membrane networks inside human muscle fibres from subjects before and after strenuous exercise.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

BScHons in physiology or similar

Associate Professor Trent Woodruff

t.woodruff@uq.edu.au

Therapeutic blockade of neuroinflammation for the treatment of Huntington’s disease

This project will test the efficacy of novel drugs targeting innate immune-mediated neuroinflammation in mouse models of Huntington’s disease (HD). It will also identify mechanistic activity using in vitro neuron/glia cultures and clinical validation using HD patient ex vivo samples.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Background in pharmacology or neuroscience research

Dr Josephine Bowles

jo.bowles@uq.edu.au

Investigating the timing and mechanism of spermatogonial stem cell allocation in the fetal testis

This project addresses a fundamental biological question: how the spermatogonial stem cell (SCC), a unique type of stem cell that generates sperm throughout life, is allocated during fetal development. We aim to determine exactly when and how SSCs are specified, and further, whether a genetic pathway that is used by in vitro stem cells is also employed, in vivo, by testicular stem cells – all of this work will be done in the mouse model.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Experience or interest in the fields of developmental biology, stem cell biology or reproductive biology

Dr Run Zhang

r.zhang@uq.edu.au

X-ray induced photoacoustic nanoprobe: Break depth dependency of bioimaging

This project aims to develop a nanoprobe using an X-ray excited luminescence “nanolaser” as the local light source to activate coupled responsive photoacoustic sensors. In-situ imaging of specific biomarkers at the molecular level is key to understanding their roles in physiological and pathological processes, but current imaging techniques using fluorescent probes cannot detect biomarkers in deep tissues due to shallow light penetration. By capitalising on the tissue penetrating property of X-rays and acoustic waves and collecting acoustic waves as the read-out signal, real-time monitoring of biomarkers in deep tissues could be achieved, advancing detection technology for deep-tissue biomarkers.

Students will enrol through the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN).

Chemistry and materials science, bio-nanotechnology

 

Dr Hang Ta

h.ta@uq.edu.au

 

Smart magnetic resonance imaging nanosensor for detecting and grading diseases

The early detection and accurate characterization of life-threatening diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer are critical to the design of treatment. This project aims to develop smart magnetic resonance imaging nano-sensors that can detect, sense and report the stage or progression of cardiovascular diseases such as thrombosis, the leading cause of death in Australia and worldwide.

Students can enrol through the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) or the School of Pharmacy. Discuss with Dr Ta.

Chemistry, chemical engineering, materials science, biotechnology, nanotechnology, pharmacy, biochemistry.
Activatable nanomaterials for advanced diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular diseases

Cardiovascular disease accounts of over one third of all deaths in Australia and is forecasted to become the leading cause of death in Australia and worldwide. This project will develop next-generation activatable nanomaterials for drug delivery with an imaging sensor mechanism to monitoring drug release in cardiovascular diseases.

Students can enrol through the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) or the School of Pharmacy. Discuss with Dr Ta.

Chemistry, chemical engineering, materials science, biotechnology, nanotechnology, pharmacy, biochemistry.
Cardiovascular diseases on the chip

Every newly developed drug need to be tested through numerous rounds of animal testing before they can be tested on human. However, a rodent or chimp’s response to a medication does not alsway translate smoothly in a person. This project aims to develop chips that mimics the biological processes of cardiovascular diseases, which allows testing new therapies freely on “subjects” without harming any living creatures and lessen the need for animal testing.

Students can enrol through the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) or the School of Pharmacy. Discuss with Dr Ta.

Chemistry, chemical engineering, materials science, biotechnology, nanotechnology, pharmacy, biochemistry.

Professor Matthew Sweet

m.sweet@imb.uq.edu.au

Combating infectious diseases by harnessing macrophage functions

The project aims to characterize a molecular pathway that constrains the ability of macrophages to kill intracellular bacterial pathogens, and to inhibit this pathway as anti-infective approach.

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB).

B. Sc hons, majoring in immunology, cell biology and/or biochemistry.
Demystifying histone deacetylase functions in immune cells

The project aims to understand how one member of the histone deacetylase family of enzymes (HDAC7) controls innate immune-mediated inflammatory and antimicrobial responses.

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB).

B. Sc hons, majoring in immunology, cell biology and/or biochemistry.
The dual-edged sword of zinc as an innate immune antimicrobial weapon against uropathogenic E. coli.

The project aims to understand how innate immune cells utilize zinc as a direct antimicrobial weapon against bacterial pathogens, and how uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC, the major cause of urinary tract infections) subverts this host defence pathway.

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB).

B. Sc hons, majoring in immunology, cell biology and/or biochemistry.

Dr Kelly Smith

k.smith@imb.uq.edu.au

Left-right patterning of the heart

For the heart to form the correct shape and architecture, not only must the correct number and type of cells be generated but they must assemble in the correct pattern, both at a cell-cell level but also on a whole organ scale. We have identified a previously unidentified asymmetry in the developing heart that is essential for later morphogenesis, patterning and, therefore, function of the heart. The project will use fluorescent transgenic zebrafish embryos to follow tissue morphogenesis in real-time (timelapse imaging) and use drugs and mutant lines to study the molecules that instruct this asymmetric development.

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB).

Molecular Biology Developmental Biology
Investigating cell adhesion dynamics during cardiomyocyte morphogenesis

The heart forms its unique shape through altering cell shapes and modifying cell-cell junctions. To form a bulge in the cardiac chamber wall, cardiomyocytes elongate. To do this, they must reorganise their actomyosin network within the cell and they must also alter their cell-cell junctions, altering the number of junctions they have as well as how many neighbouring cells they are in contact with. The project will investigate a protein essential for cell-cell junctions and investigate how it signals to the actomyosin network to bring about cell shape changes. We use the zebrafish model to study embryonic heart development, employing transgenic fluorescent reporter and mutant lines.

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB).

Molecular Biology Developmental Biology

Professor Jenny Stow

j.stow@imb.uq.edu.au

Macrophage Polarisation and Control of Pulmonary Inflammation

Uncontrolled inflammation contributes to many chronic diseases, including cystic fibrosis. This project aims to find macrophage molecules and drug targets to switch off inflammation in disease, using models of disease and human cells, working with clinicians.

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB).

Strong in at least one of the following:

  • Cell biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Immunology
  • Physiology
  • Biotechnology
Big data image analysis and advanced cell imaging

Two related projects:

  1. Developing machine learning algorithms for analysis of big image data sets.
  2. Advanced laser imaging of live cells expressing fluorescnt proteins to study cell behaviour, mostly in immune cells.

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB).

  1. Mathematics/bioinformatics/computing
  2. Cell biology/ physiology/immunology/ microscopy

Dr Nathan Palpant

n.palpant@uq.edu.au

Stem cells and cardiovascular development

This project utilizes genomics data coupled with CRISPR gene editing and human pluripotent stem cells to identify novel mechanisms that underlie differentiation into the cardiovascular lineage.

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB).

  • Cell biology
  • Cardiovascular development
  • Genetics
Identifying genetic determinants of cardiovascular development and disease

This project will utilize and develop computational genomics tools for analysis of single cell RNA-sequencing data to identify novel genetic mechanisms underlying cardiac development and disease.

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB).

  • Computational and statistical genetics 
  • Bioinformatics

Dr Christina Schoeder

c.schroeder@imb.uq.edu.au

The potential of membranes – peptide engineering to modulate ion channels

Naturally derived disulfide-rich peptides interact with a range of human ion channels and receptors as agonists and antagonists and have been shown to be important and useful drug leads and research tools. This program focuses on the discovery of new molecules targeting these channels as well as understanding the mechanistic details behind the peptide-receptor interactions in order to engineer more potent and selective peptides to modulate the activity of therapeutically relevant ion channels and receptors. 

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB).

  • organic/medicinal chemistry
  • peptide chemistry
  • chemical biology
  • pharmacology

*This project is available until October 2019 unless a suitable candidate is found prior.

Dr Lin Luo

l.luo@imb.uq.edu.au

Controlling inflammation in chronic disease

Macrophages are regarded as ‘guardian immune cells’ functioning at the front line of innate immunity. By secreting an array of cytokines, macrophages also control inflammation throughout the body. However, in a wide variety of common diseases, including cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and many others, inflammation is ‘out of control’. New ways to curtail macrophage function and inflammatory cytokines are urgently needed. As part of University of Queensland (UQ)/ Institute for Molecular Bioscience’s Centre for Inflammatory and Disease Research, we have identified a selective regulator of inflammatory responses, a protein called SCIMP. 

In this project, the roles of SCIMP and its effectors, in Toll-like receptor-driven inflammation will be investigated. This research will entail multiple approaches including proteomics, structural biology, protein biochemistry and cell imaging, and applicants ideally will have completed courses or training in immunology, cell biology and/or biochemistry. 

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB).

Applicants ideally will have completed courses or training in immunology, cell biology and/or biochemistry.

Dr Enda Byrne

enda.byrne@uq.edu.au

Post-partum depression: Action towards causes and treatment

The project will use genetic data combined with data from a large, detailed online survey to investigate genetic and non-genetic risk factors for postpartum depression. These risk factors will be compared with those for depression occurring outside of the postpartum period. In addition, variation in response to treatment will be investigated. 

The project will involve statistical analysis of large datasets in a high-performance computing environment.

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB).

Students with a background in genetics, psychiatry, statistics/mathematics, and/or computer programming will be considered. 

Professor David Craik

d.craik@imb.uq.edu.au

Development of peptide-based scaffolds for intracellular cancer targets

The overall aim of this project is to develop peptide-based drugs that are able to cross cell membranes and inhibit specific intracellular cancer targets, leading to more effective, safer and cost effective drugs. 
Our critical discovery that certain classes of cyclic peptides can cross
cell membranes and bind to specific targets inside cells has opened the possibility to inhibit these intracellular cancer targets with highly specific peptide-based drugs.
We will use stable, cyclic, disulfide-rich peptides as frameworks to design novel drugs that can penetrate into cells and block protein:protein interactions.
The major outcome of this project will be new drug leads to treat melanoma and leukaemia with higher specificity, lower toxicity and a lower likelihood to develop resistance than current therapies.

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB).

Chemistry

Associate Professor Helen Cooper

h.cooper@uq.edu.au

Associate Professor Michael Piper

m.piper@uq.edu.au

Aberrant ependymal development and the formation of hydrocephalus

Foetal hydrocephalus is a prevalent neurodevelopmental condition associated with severe intellectual impairment. Breakdown of the ependymal cell layer, which acts as a barrier between brain tissue and the ventricular space, is a major cause of hydrocephalus. Despite the importance of these cells, we have little understanding of the molecular mechanisms that regulate their production. This project will identify critical signalling pathways governing the establishment of the ependymal layer.

Students will enrol through the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI).

Neuroscience. Cell biology, Molecular biology, Developmental biology or Stem cell biology

Professor David Copland

d.copland@uq.edu.au

PAPAR@cai.uq.edu.au
Using NeuroImaging to Predict Aphasia Recovery and Treatment Response

The aim of this research is to determine whether brain activity and structure observed after stroke predict subsequent aphasia (language impairment) recovery and response to treatment. Participants will be tested on a clinically language battery and scanned at 1, 3 and 6 months post-onset, with half the participants receiving treatment at 1 month. Imaging will be used to identify language-related brain activity, white matter tract integrity, and lesion-symptom mapping.

Students will enrol through the School of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences.

Background in one or more of the following: Speech Pathology, Clinical Linguistics, Psychology, NeuroImaging, Cognitive Science, Cognitive Neuroscience
Stimulating aphasia recovery after stroke with daily music exposure

In this project, participants with aphasia (language impairment) will have MRI scans and language assessments at 2 week post-stroke. They will then receive either usual care alone or will listen to music daily (minimum 1 hour) for 2.5 months in addition to receiving usual care. All participants will then be scanned and re-tested at 3 months and 6 months post-onset. We will determine whether the addition of daily music listening to usual care has a clinically significant impact on aphasia recovery and measure effects on cognition, mood, and depression. Neuroimaging will determine how music listening impacts on language-related brain activity, brain structure and connectivity.

Students will enrol through the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

Background in one or more of the following: Speech Pathology, Music Therapy, Clinical Linguistics, Psychology, Cognitive Science, NeuroImaging, Cognitive Neuroscience

Dr Luke Kelly

l.kelly3@uq.edu.au

Optimising the spring in your step to enhance running performance

This project is part of an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant, in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Sport and Asics. This project will incorporate the use of novel musculoskeletal imaging, biomechanical and neurophysiological research tools to explore ways to augment / enhance the function of the human foot during running, with specific emphasis on the plantar fascia. This research will have direct implications for management of running injury and athletic performance.

Students will enrol through the School of Human Movement & Nutrition Sciences.

Exceptional candidates with a background in Exercise SciencePhysiotherapy, PodiatryBio/mechanical Engineering or related disciplines are encouraged to apply.
Sensorimotor control of foot function: Adapting the mechanical function of the foot to optimise balance and gait performance

This research will examine how the brain and spinal cord integrate sensory feedback to tune foot muscle activation in response to loading and balance challenges. This research will incorporate advanced neurophysiological and biomechanical research tools to gain a comprehensive understanding of the role of the foot in balance and locomotion. Findings from this research will be used to directly inform strategies for enhancing foot function and ultimately reducing injury and pain in this important part of the body.

Students will enrol through the School of Human Movement & Nutrition Sciences.

Exceptional candidates with a background in Exercise Sciences (Exercise Physiology, Sport & Exercise Science), Clinical Sciences (Physiotherapy, Podiatry) or related disciplines are encouraged to apply.

Associate Professor Timothy Carroll

timothy.carroll@uq.edu.au

A common sub-cortical system for human eye and limb control? - 1

The capacity to produce fast and accurate visually-guided movement was crucial for survival long before animals evolved a cerebral cortex, suggesting that basic control systems may be conserved across species. This project will test the extent to which the human brain controls reaching movements via structures and control mechanisms known to be used for rapid eye movements, and for prey capture by lower vertebrates such fish. The notion that complex, human limb movements can be controlled by primitive subcortical systems challenges conventional thinking about movement-related brain activity, and therefore has important implications for the design of human-machine interfaces and training protocols in rehabilitation, industry and sport.

The project involves experiments in humans using non-invasive brain stimulation, and measurements of eye and limb movements in response to precisely controlled visual and auditory stimuli. It will provide opportunities to develop expertise in electrophysiology, motion capture and coding for electronic device control and data analysis.

Students will enrol through the School of Human Movement & Nutrition Sciences.

Neuroscience, Exercise Science, Neurophysiology, Medicine, Physiotherapy, Psychology, Engineering.
A common sub-cortical system for human eye and limb control? -2

The capacity to produce fast and accurate visually-guided movement was crucial for survival long before animals evolved a cerebral cortex, suggesting that basic control systems may be conserved across species. This project will test the extent to which the human brain controls reaching movements via structures and control mechanisms known to be used for rapid eye movements, and for prey capture by lower vertebrates such fish. The notion that complex, human limb movements can be controlled by primitive subcortical systems challenges conventional thinking about movement-related brain activity, and therefore has important implications for the design of human-machine interfaces and training protocols in rehabilitation, industry and sport.

The project involves experiments in humans using non-invasive brain stimulation, and measurements of eye and limb movements in response to precisely controlled visual and auditory stimuli. It will provide opportunities to develop expertise in electrophysiology, motion capture and coding for electronic device control and data analysis.

Students will enrol through the School of Human Movement & Nutrition Sciences.

Neuroscience, Exercise Science, Neurophysiology, Medicine, Physiotherapy, Psychology, Engineering.

Professor Janet Hardy (CIA)

Dr Rebecca Olson (CIH)
r.olson@uq.edu.au

Medicinal Cannabis to Relieve Symptom Burden in the Palliative Care of Patients with Advanced Cancer

This study addresses the lack of high quality evidence for the use of medicinal cannabis in palliative care patients. The PhD Candidate will work on the qualitative sub-study to the clinical trial, gaining in-depth insight into patients’ perceptions of medicinal cannabinoids.

Students will enrol through the School of Social Science.

  • Background in Social Science & Health (e.g., Sociology of Health & Illness, Medical Anthropology, Criminology)
  • Experience in conducting qualitative research 

Dr Andrew Brooks

a.brooks@uq.edu.au

HLA-G/H2-Bl is Critical for Regulating Inflammation in the Liver

The key factor to induction of liver fibrosis, progression to cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma is inflammation. Liver transplant and liver regeneration following liver resection are also dramatically impaired by elevation of inflammation. We have identified a potent anti-inflammatory protein, HLA-G, that is critical for regulating post-surgical inflammation in the liver. We will determine if HLA-G can reverse and/or block liver fibrosis and modify HLA-G for improved clinical potential.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Molecular Biology, animal handling and surgery, immunology.

Dr Xiaowen Liang

x.liang@uq.edu.au

Visualisation and early prediction of ROS-mediated treatment response in liver cancer by a novel nanoplatform

Change of tumour microenvironment has potential to serve as an early predictor of drug efficacy. This proposed project aims to develop a new technology to accurately measure tumour microenvironment during treatment, and to explore the correlation between this potential predicator and tumour growth. This technology would significantly improve the patient prognosis by revealing non-response to chemotherapeutics early and allowing the timely administration of alternative therapies.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Biomedicine and Biological Science /pharmacology

Dr Jatin Patel

j.patel@uq.edu.au

Defining the biology of vascular stem cells for tissue regeneration

This project aims to understand the fundamental biology of vascular stem cells by defining their in vivo niche and molecular identity. Further, this project will delineate the important role vascular stem cells play in regenerating the circulatory system and their potential use as a cell therapy in treating cardiovascular disease.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

The ideal candidate will have a BSc (Hons), with courses in biomedical science, animal handling, cell/molecular biology and cardiovascular anatomy

Professor David Evans

d.evans1@uq.edu.au

Development and application of a Mendelian randomization framework aimed at dissecting the biological basis of complex disease

The aim of this project is to identify genes and molecular biomarkers (i.e. gene expression and gene methylation) that causally affect risk of complex disease using a combination of genome-wide association studies and Mendelian randomization approaches.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Epidemiology, Statistics, Genetics, Psychology
Using Methods in Genetic Epidemiology to Elucidate the Relationship Between Viral Infection and Risk of Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune diseases occur when the body's natural defense mechanisms attack healthy tissues by mistake. It has long been thought that viral infections might play a role in triggering autoimmune disease. This project aims to find genes that influence the body's response to viral infection and subsequently whether the same genes are involved in autoimmune disease pathology.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Epidemiology, Statistics, Genetics,  Psychology

Dr Gabriel Cuellar Partida

g.cuellarpartida@uq.edu.au

Development of bioinformatics methods and applications aimed at dissecting the basis of complex traits and diseases

The aim of this project is to develop bioinformatics methods that integrate genotypic, DNA methylation and gene expression data to investigate the role of genomic imprinting on complex traits and disease.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Bioinformatics, Software engineering, Genetics, Statistics, Epidemiology

Professor Michael Roberts

m.roberts@uq.edu.au

 

Physiologically-based pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of therapeutic stem cells for liver disease

Time course and targeting of stem cells to damaged livers as a result of liver disease.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Background in science, medicine, pharmacy or related field with an interest in biochemistry, physiology, and possibly mathematical modelling

Professor Zhi Ping Xu

gordonxu@uq.edu.au

What are key physicochemical properties of nanomaterials determining their disposal by liver cells?

This project aims to understand how  nanomaterials in the body are handled by the liver, and have what adverse effects in naïve and modified livers in relation to nanomaterial’s defined attributes (size, shape, charge and deformability) using state-of-the-art chemistry, imaging and biological methods.

Students will enrol through the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN).

Engineering, Health

Dr Felicity Davis

f.davis@uq.edu.au

Identifying and exploiting novel pharmacological targets for breast cancer treatment

Breast cancers are made up of different types of cancer cells and not all cells contribute equally. A subset of cancer cells may be uniquely capable of driving tumour growth, rebuilding fatal tumours after therapy and establishing new tumours at distant sites. New therapies to inhibit the activity and survival of these cells will lead to better modes of treatment and accelerate progress toward ending breast cancer.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Pharmacology, signal transduction, physiology, stem cells

Professor Maher Gandhi

m.gandhi@uq.edu.au

Integrating immunity and genetics in Follicular Lymphoma to establish a prognostic score fit for the modern era

A novel study of immunity and genetics in clinical samples involving Follicular Lymphoma.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

MBBS, Experience in clinical and laboratory haematology. Prior publications in the field of haematology desirable.

Professor Grant Montgomery

g.montgomery1@uq.edu.au

Shared genetics and functional mechanisms underlying female reproductive disorders and related diseases

The human endometrium plays a vital role in female fertility, embryo implantation, pregnancy and related diseases. Current studies integrate genetic, RNA-sequence and epigenetic data to understand how genetic variants control gene regulation and disease risk. The aim of this project is to integrate locally and externally accessible omic datasets to determine the genetic and epigenetic overlap between loci associated with endometrial gene regulation endometriosis, other female reproductive disorders such as ovarian cancer, and related diseases including melanoma. Overlap in genomic risk loci will be tested using recently developed statistical and computational genomics tools. Shared risk loci will be fine mapped to identify potential shared casual mechanisms.

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

Students with a background in genomics, computational and statistical genetics and/or bioinformatics are encouraged to apply.

Professor John Fraser

Contact Dr Jacky Suen

j.suen1@uq.edu.au

The Dead Heart Project – when is a ‘dead heart’ truly dead?

This project aims to improve the number and quality of donor hearts available for transplantation. This aim will be addressed by investigating an alternative donor heart storage device, and a new source of donor hearts.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Biomedical science, physiology, molecular biology.

Dr Mark Blaskovich

m.blaskovich@uq.edu.au

Lipopeptide antibiotics for XDR Gram-negative infections

The polymyxins are a drug class considered to be a last-resort treatment option for multidrug-resistant (MDR) and extremely drug resistant (XDR) Gram-negative infections. Unfortunately resistance is rapidly developing against these antibiotics, leaving no effective therapies and resulting in patient death. This project aims to develop an antibiotic with superior spectra of action and improved safety profiles compared to the polymyxins, with activity against polymyxin-resistant bacteria. It is based on a related class called the octapeptins, for which we recently published the first synthesis (Cell Chemical Biology, 2018. DOI: 10.1016/j.chembiol.2018.01.005; Biorg. Med. Chem. Lett. 2017, 27, 2407). This project will conduct additional structure-activity relationship studies with associated microbiological and ADMET testing.

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

Medicinal chemistry with strong synthetic chemistry background; peptide chemistry a benefit. This project is cross disciplinary, and a background or aptitude to also conduct biological testing (MIC assays, cytotoxicity, protein binding, plasma and microsomal stability, confocal microscopy) would be beneficial.

Dr Christina Schroeder

c.schroeder@imb.uq.edu.au

 

Dr Markus Muttenthaler

m.muttenthaler@imb.uq.edu.au

The trefoil factor family – intriguing peptides for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders Trefoil factor family (TFF) peptides are key players in gastrointestinal epithelium protection by stabilizing the mucosal barrier and promoting wound healing. Many studies have highlighted their therapeutic potential for gastrointestinal disorders and their gut stability makes them interesting leads for drug design. This project addresses gaps in knowledge regarding the mechanisms of action of the TFF and aim to develop therapeutic leads. Organic/Medicinal Chemistry, Peptide Chemistry, Chemical Biology

Professor Paul Colditz

p.colditz@uq.edu.au

Stem cell treatment for neonatal hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy We aim to undertake a systematic pre-clinical study to identify an effective stem cell treatment for neonatal hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy (HIE). Biomedical Science, Neuroscience

Professor Darryl Eyles

d.eyles@uq.edu.au

Does Developmental Vitamin D (DVD) deficiency increase the risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Our discoveries: We have recently shown DVD-deficiency is associated with a 2.4 fold increased risk of ASD and maternal vitamin D treatment completely blocks ASD-related behaviours in a separate and widely used ASD animal model.

Our approach: We now want to understand the neurobiology behind this risk relationship. New data from our animal model of DVD-deficiency reveals developmental abnormalities in 3 pathways regularly associated with ASD, namely a) Increased Testosterone in embryonic brains; b) increased placental inflammation and c) increased oxidative stress. 

Our key aims: Are to clarify the exact downstream molecular processes targeted by DVD-deficiency. Our study has implications for other  prominent ASD neurobiological theories such as the “extreme male brain” and “maternal inflammatory” hypotheses of ASD. 

Students will enrol through the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI).

Hons or Masters student with background in 

Neuroscience/
Pharmacology/
Behaviour/
Molecular Biology

*This project is available until May 2019 unless a suitable candidate is found prior.

Maternal Vitamin D supplementation: Mechanisms of prevention in a maternal immune activation model of schizophrenia

Our discovery: We have shown the hormonally-active form of vitamin D, completely abolishes behaviours relevant to the positive, negative and cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia induced by maternal inflammation.

Our approach: First we will examine plausible prophylactic targets for vitamin D in the developing inflamed brain. Next we aim to 1st establish the critical window for vitamin D intervention and dose threshold. Ultimately we will examine the prophylactic potential of the (safe to use) and translationally relevant dietary form of vitamin D, cholecalciferol. 

Students will enrol through the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI).

Hons or Masters student with background in 

Neuroscience/
Pharmacology/
Behaviour/
Molecular Biology

*This project is available until January 2019 unless a suitable candidate is found prior.

A new animal model of the prodrome in schizophrenia: Enhanced Dopamine in Prodromal Schizophrenia (EDiPs)

Our discovery: We have developed an animal model of the most robust neurotransmitter abnormality in schizophrenia, namely an elevation of dopamine synthesis capacity in the dorsal striatum. We reproduce this abnormality as the animal progresses from adolescence to adulthood, exactly in line with clinical findings in patients prodromal for schizophrenia. We refer to this model as “Enhanced Dopamine in Prodromal Schizophrenia” (EDiPs).

Our overall approach: EDiPs produces behavioural phenotypes of relevance to schizophrenia in young adults. EDiPs allows us to answer key questions on the impact of early elevations in dopamine synthesis, specifically a) The effect on dopamine uptake, and release; b) What molecular adaptions occur within the striatum; c) Is hypodopaminergia induced in the prefrontal cortex; d) Are cognitive deficits produced. Ultimately EDiPs allows us to e) Test prophylactic agents that may delay or even prevent onset of schizophrenia.

Students will enrol through the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI).

Hons or Masters student with background in 

Neuroscience/
Pharmacology/
Behaviour/
Molecular Biology

*This project is available until January 2019 unless a suitable candidate is found prior.

Dr Mitchell Stark & Professor Peter Soyer

m.stark@uq.edu.au

Deciphering the molecular hallmarks of nevus progression to melanoma

With direct access to a large collection of study participants and clinical specimens from ongoing skin imaging studies, the successful candidate will perform targeted, whole exome/genome, and transcriptome sequencing and methylation arrays together with associated comprehensive bioinformatics analysis. Functional validation will follow in in vitro and in vivo models.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

BSc with Honours/Masters are a minimum and preferably with 1-2 years work experience or equivalence.

Laboratory and bioinformatic skills are essential.

*This project is available until November 2018 unless a suitable candidate is found prior.

Professor Stephen Mahler

s.mahler@eng.uq.edu.au

Development of novel bio-conjugation strategies for targeting polymeric nanomedicines for cancer imaging and diagnostics

This project will focus on the isolation, development and characterisation of novel antibodies and antibody-nanomaterial conjugates for application in diagnostics, imaging and therapy.

Students will enrol through the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN).

Biochemistry, Protein/Antibody Engineering

*This project is available until January 2018 unless a suitable candidate is found prior.

Associate Professor Luke Guddat

luke.guddat@uq.edu.au

Ketol-acid reductoisomerase: An important antituberculosis drug target

The project is aimed at validation of ketol acid reductoisomerase as a new drug target for the treatment of human tuberculosis.

Students will enrol through the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences.

Master or Honours level Microbiology

*This project is available until December 2018 unless a suitable candidate is found prior.

Inhibitors of hypoxanthine-guanine-xanthine phosphoribosyltransferase as versatile drugs to treat infectious diseases.

The project is aimed at in vivo and in vitro testing enzyme inhibitors as new antimalarial drugs.

Students will enrol through the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences.

Master or Honours level in Molecular and or Cellular parasitology

*This project is available until September 2018 unless a suitable candidate is found prior.

Associate Professor David Jenkins

d.jenkins@uq.edu.au

and

Dr Tina Skinner

t.skinner@uq.edu.au

Peer support in maintaining physical activity and health following an exercise training intervention for cancer survivors: A randomised controlled trial

The proposed investigation will combine high intensity intermittent exercise with a structured peer-support program to investigate whether cancer survivors can maintain the necessary
amount and intensity of exercise to sustain improvements in health, functional capacity and quality of life for 12 months following a brief (4 week), supervised training intervention.

Students will enrol through the School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences 

A degree in Exercise Physiology, or equivalent; eligible for entry to UQ’s PhD program and to become an Accredited Exercise Physiologist with Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA); https://www.essa.org.au 

The successful applicant will have excellent communication skills and attention to detail.

Willingness to become DXA and phlebotomy qualified.

*This project is available until June 2019 unless a suitable candidate is found prior.

Dr Philip Stevenson

p.stevenson@uq.edu.au

Understanding how cytomegaloviruses establish systemic infection

Human cytomegalovirus infects most of us and causes congenital harm. This reflects its capacity for systemic spread. Vaccination could potentially prevent such spread, but empirical attempts at vaccination have so far failed. We need to understand better how infection works. Murine cytomegalovirus provides an accessible model. We showed that it spreads in dendritic cells, using chemokine signals to manipulate their migration. We will define which signals are required.

Students will enrol through the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences.

Honours in virology.

*This project is available until December 2019 unless a suitable candidate is found prior.

Professor Istvan Toth

i.toth@uq.edu.au

 

Development of new adjuvants and vaccine delivery systems

Vaccine is highly efficient medical intervention to prevent infectious diseases and reduce related morbidity and mortality worldwide.  Peptide vaccine are able to induce very specific and safe immune responses; however, the need to be administered with strong adjuvants. Adjuvants such as Lipid A are very efficient to stimulated humoral immunity against co-administered antigen. The same time Lipid A is very toxic. To overcome this issue, new analogues of lipid A are proposed here. Lipid A toxicity will be reduced by elimination of phosphate group from its structure and by replacement of lipidic moieties with special self-assembling peptides (similar to transmembrane fragments of proteins). Several derivatives will be synthesized and examined in vitro and in vivo towards inducing immune responses. Leading derivatives will be also examined as part of self-adjuvanting liposomal delivery system (anchoring to membrane in similar way as transmembrane fragment of protein). The sytem will be used to make new vaccine against Goup A Streptococcus.

Students will enrol through the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences.

Biological / medicinal chemistry

*This project is available until December 2019 unless a suitable candidate is found prior.

Associate Professor Kate Stacey

katryn.stacey@uq.edu.au

The core inflammasome as a model for caspase activation

Inflammasomes are large protein complexes that play a very important role in defence against infectious disease, but also contribute to a wide range of inflammatory pathologies including in Alzheimer’s Disease, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. There is consequently enormous interest in control of inflammasome activity. This project is a study of fundamental mechanisms involved in the activation of caspase-1, that lies at the heart of inflammasome function. The student will use a broad range of techniques in cellular and molecular biology, biochemistry and electron microscopy.

Students will enrol through the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences.

B. Sc. with good understanding of principles of biochemistry and molecular biology, and some research experience in these fields.

*This project is available until December 2019 unless a suitable candidate is found prior.

Associate Professor Timothy Bredy

t.bredy@uq.edu.au

Novel DNA modifications underlying sex differences in fear-related learning and memory

Studies involve an investigation into the role of epigenetic mechanisms and how they influence fear related learning in male and female mice.

Students will enrol through the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI).

Undergraduate Class I Honours or Masters degree with strong Genetics and Molecular Neuroscience background.

*This project is available until July 2019 unless a suitable candidate is found prior.

Cell-type specific profiling of nascent RNA in the brain during learning

Studies involve an investigation into the role of RNA mediated mechanisms and how they influence fear related learning and memory.

Students will enrol through the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI).

Undergraduate Class I Honours  or Masters degree with strong Genetics and Molecular Neuroscience background.

*This project is available until July 2019 unless a suitable candidate is found prior.

Associate Professor James Fraser

j.fraser1@uq.edu.au

Microevolution of Cryptococcus neoformans

The pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths annually. If the infection is survived, relapse caused by evolved forms of the original infecting strain is common. Our research has uncovered similar genetic changes in isolates from unrelated patients that implicate epigenetic processes in relapse and reveal potential vulnerabilities of the pathogen. The proposed work is to  investigate these changes using genomics, fungal genetics, systems biology, and/or protein chemistry, to assist in our antifungal drug development efforts.

Students will enrol through the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences.

BSc (Hons) or equivalent

*This project is available until November 2018 unless a suitable candidate is found prior.

Dr Nadeeka Dissanayaka

n.dissanayaka@uq.edu.au

Anxiety in persons with dementia

One in two persons with dementia experience anxiety. Anxiety often coexists with depression and is a significant contributor to a poor quality of life, increased progression and early institutionalisation. This project will investigate anxiety in persons with dementia using an existing dataset, and develop and test a psychological package to combat anxiety in persons with dementia attending hospital outpatient clinics. The package will include virtual reality, telehealth and online health modalities to increase access and effectiveness of the treatment.

Students will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

A background in Psychology,  Software engineering, web development and virtual reality is desirable.

*This project is available until July 2019 unless a suitable candidate is found prior.

Professor Paul Hodges

p.hodges@uq.edu.au

Targeted pelvic floor muscle training for urinary incontinence after radical prostatectomy: A randomised
controlled trial with embedded physiological studies

Prostatectomy is a common treatment for the most common cancer in men. Survival is good, but many develop debilitating urinary incontinence. Past pelvic floor muscle training has had limited effect, but recent work has changed understanding of how muscles control continence and compensate for surgery. This clinical trial compares innovative training individually tailored to optimise continence, usual exercise and no treatment, and aims to identify men most likely to benefit from treatment.

Students will enrol through the School of Health and Rehabilitation Science.

Health Science (e.g. Physiotherapy; Human movements; Exercise Science)

*This project is available until July 2019 unless a suitable candidate is found prior.