Available PhD projects - Health

Chosen a project? Find out what to do next.

Chief Investigator Project title Project description Preferred educational background

Professor Avril Robertson

a.robertson3@uq.edu.au

Novel Broad Spectrum Antifungals Targetting Drug Resistant Candida Auris

Objective: To develop compounds which target Candida Auris and have exciting potential as broad spectrum antifungals. The project will build upon our recently identified novel antifungals, study in detail the mode of action and create a map of fungal specific structure-activity and structure-toxicity relationships. Ultimately the goal is to identify treatments for deadly mycotic diseases.

Justification: Mortality from infection by common pathogenic fungi: yeasts (Candida and Crytpococcus neoformans) and moulds (Aspergillus), is increasing and now exceeds that of malaria or breast cancer. There has been an explosion in occurrence of drug resistant and multidrug resistant (MDR) fungal diseases and some, such as the recently discovered invasive Candida auris, have no available treatment. Indeed the 2019 report “Antibiotic resistance threats in the United States” lists Candida Auris in the highest threat category. The few approved antifungal drugs are relatively toxic, heavily used and efficacy is in decline. Novel classes of broad spectrum antifungal able to treat MDR strains are therefore urgently needed.

This is a fully funded medicinal chemistry project in an established team, the successful applicant will enroll through the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences and will work in the laboratory of Professor Avril Robertson.

Required: 1st Class Honours degree or Masters Degree in Chemistry (or related discipline such as Biotechnology - strong chemistry skills would need to be demonstrated). Practical synthetic organic chemistry skills to synthesise heterocyclic molecules. Experience in use of analytical techniques for structure elucidation. Desirable: Experience with target identification/mode of action studies is an advantage but not essential. Solid phase peptide synthesis experience. Medicinal chemistry experience.

*This project is available until December 2020 unless a candidate is found prior.

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 4, 2020. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons.

Dr Julia Pagan

j.pagan@uq.edu.au

Molecular mechanisms of mitochondrial quality control

To protect cells from oxidative harm caused by damaged mitochondria, eukaryotic cells remove dysfunctional mitochondria through a process known as mitochondrial autophagy, or mitophagy. Mitophagy involves the engulfment of mitochondria by autophagosomes, which are double membrane organelles that deliver mitochondria to lysosomes for degradation by lysosomal hydrolases. It is increasingly recognised that impaired mitophagy is a key feature of several neurodegenerative diseases, most notably Parkinson’s disease (PD).

The PhD candidate will employ cell biological and biochemical techniques to determine whether mitophagy can be augmented by genetic ablation of cell cycle regulators. 

Honours Class I or equivalent.

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 4, 2020. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons.

Associate Professor Karin Borges

k.borges@uq.edu.au

Medium chain triglycerides as treatments for epilepsy

Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) are anticonvulsant and neuroprotective in animal models. This project seeks to investigate the mechanisms of MCTs contributing to these effects.

BSC or Masters in biomedical science related discipline. Good knowledge of biochemistry of energy metabolism. Molecular biology skills.

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 1, 2020. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons.

Dr Shyuan Ngo

s.ngo@uq.edu.au

Fine tuning metabolic flux: Modulating substrate oxidation as a therapeutic strategy in motor neuron disease (MND)

Motor neuron disease (MND) is a complex and highly variable disease. Although it is clinically characterised by the degeneration of motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord, there are several reports of metabolic perturbations in MND, including hypermetabolism (defined by an increase in resting energy expenditure).

We have recently completed a case-control study to show, for the first time, that hypermetabolism in human MND is associated with earlier death. By studying tissue from MND patients, and mouse models of MND, we have also generated data to show that metabolic perturbations extend to the skeletal muscle and spinal cord, and that this is characterised by altered glucose and/or fatty acid metabolism. Using pharmacological approaches to target metabolic perturbations in mouse models of MND, we have shown that modulation of metabolic flux (i.e. the balance between glucose-fatty acid oxidation) is able to improves outcomes. Based on our work to date, our overarching hypothesis is that modulation of glucose-fatty acid flux exerts neuroprotective effects in skeletal muscle and neurons, thereby improving disease outcome in MND.

Through this project, we propose to develop a therapeutic strategy for modulating and reversing metabolic perturbations in MND. Building on our extensive
published and preliminary data, we will systematically evaluate the potential for repurposing fatty acid oxidation inhibitors as a novel disease-modifying therapeutic for MND. Using classical and newly established mouse and human cell-derived models of MND that are relevant to familial and sporadic disease, we will establish the therapeutic reach of our lead compounds, and generate the critical preclinical
data necessary to leverage support and funding to progress to Phase 1 or 2 trials in MND.

Strong background/knowledge in neuroscience, physiology, metabolism/biochemistry. Broad knowledge in neurodegeneration.

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 4, 2020. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons.

Professor Geoffrey Faulkner

g.faulkner@uq.edu.au

The origins of somatic genome mutation in Alzheimer's disease

The Faulkner lab at the Queensland Brain Institute is seeking a PhD student to conduct research on somatic genome variation in the normal and degenerative human brain.

While inherited DNA mutations are known to play a role in neurodegeneration, the contribution of mutations arising post fertilisation (i.e. somatic genome variation) is poorly understood. This project will, at a minimum:

i) apply single-cell genomics to human tissues, including the brain, to identify several types of somatic genome variation that may contribute to Alzheimer's disease.

ii) use long read DNA sequencing to establish how mutations accumulate in neurons during life.

Key References:

Sanchez-Luque, F.J., et al., Faulkner, G.J. LINE-1 evasion of epigenetic repression in humans. Molecular Cell 75 590-604 (2019)

Faulkner, G.J., Garcia-Perez, J-L. L1 mosaicism in mammals: extent, effects, and evolution. Trends in Genetics 33 802-816 (2017)

Richardson, S.R., et al., Faulkner, G.J., Heritable L1 retrotransposition in the mouse primordial germline and early embryo. Genome Research 27 1395-1405 (2017)

Applicants must have a BSc (Hons I) or MSc for international students and need to demonstrate an outstanding track record in research, including molecular biology laboratory experience.

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 4, 2021. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons.

Dr Fisher Wang

x.wang18@uq.edu.au

Human exposure to trace organic contaminants in the environment and their biotransformation processes

Comprehensive understanding of exposure pathways is essential for chemical risk assessment and management/mitigation. Humans can be exposed to trace organic contaminants such as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) via air inhalation, dust ingestion and dermal contact. Furthermore, transformation of their precursors and/or derivatives in the environment and humans leads to indirect exposure pathways which are not well characterised.

This PhD project aims to characterise trace organic contaminant exposure pathways of air inhalation, dust ingestion and dermal contact for exposed cohorts, and evaluate the role of precursor exposure and biotransformation as a source for body burden of end products.

Specific skills and knowledge the successful candidate will gain, through this PhD, include how to characterise trace organic contaminant levels and profiles in environment matrices; how to identify the products and processes of biotransformation of environmental chemicals; how to assess human exposure to environmental chemicals via different pathways; and how to communicate research outcomes with affected communities.

Preferred candidate should hold a 1st Class Honours or Masters degree (or equivalent) in environmental analytical chemistry or related fields. A background in mass spectrometry particularly with accurate mass suspect screening experience is preferred.

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 4, 2021. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons.

Dr Melissa Reichelt

m.reichelt@uq.edu.au

Understanding the role of membrane proteins in cardiac stiffness (diastolic dysfunction)

Aging is accompanied by a stiffening of the heart and reduced function, which is accelerated by cardiovascular disease and leads to heart failure. How the heart stiffens is poorly understood. The Reichelt laboratory has identified structural membrane proteins (termed caveolae and cavins) and a signalling molecule (nitric oxide) as key determinants of cardiac stiffness. The PhD project aims to unravel the interplay between cardiac cells and these proteins/signals to cause stiffness and to determine whether this process governs normal aging of the heart. This work will advance understanding of how heart function is determined and reveal how the human heart changes with normal aging.

This project will involve working isolated heart perfusion, ultra high resolution cardiac ultrasound, adeno-associated viruses production and administration. Use of transgenic animal models, transfection of cells in culture.

Bachelors degree and honours in biomedical related field. Inclusion of physiology in undergraduate studies an advantage, but not essential.

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 4, 2020. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons.

Professor Jean-Pierre Levesque

jp.levesque@mater.uq.edu.au

Understanding the mechanisms of neurogenic heterotopic ossification following spinal cord injuries

A frequent complication of spinal cord injuries is the growth of bones in muscles outside of the skeleton. These misformed bones usually develop around joints such as the knee, hip, elbow or shoulder and are called neurogenic heterotopic ossifications (NHO). NHOs occur in up to 25% of civilians suffering spinal cord injuries (mostly car/ sport accidents) and are extremely prevalent in soldiers who are victims of battlefield injuries affecting the spinal cord or brain, with these bones developing in up to 60% of cases. NHOs are very incapacitating, causing significant pain and gradual reduction in the range of motion of affected limbs often progressing to complete ankylosis of the affected joints.

There are still no effective pharmacological treatments to prevent or alleviate NHO development, and the pathogenesis of why NHO develop after a spinal cord injury remains poorly understood. Treatment is still limited to surgical resection of matured NHO, however surgery is very invasive and challenging as NHOs often entrap joints, large blood vessels and/or nerves. In order to understand NHO pathogenesis, our group established the first clinically relevant mouse model of NHO following spinal cord injury. Using our model, we have already unravelled fundamental mechanisms linking the original neurological lesion to NHO development and established that macrophages which infiltrate injured muscles, the expression of the pro-inflammatory cytokine oncostatin M, and subsequent JAK/STAT3 signalling pathway activation drive NHO pathogenesis.

Recently we have discovered that dysregulation of the neuro-endocrine and innate immune systems leads to muscle repair failure and NHO formation. This PhD project will further investigate how the neuro-endocrine and immune systems affect muscle stem cell fate during NHO development and whether targeting these pathways is a valid therapeutic strategy to prevent and/or treat NHO.

Bachelors with honours in the fields of cellular biology or molecular biology or immunology.

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 4, 2021. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons.

Dr Loic Yengo

l.yengo@imb.uq.edu.au

Genetic and Molecular consequences of non-random mating in humans

This projects aims at utilising genetic and phenotypic data from ~500,000 participants  of the UK Biobank to investigate phenotypic and genetic patterns induced by non-random mating in humans. Two forms of non-random mating will be investigated: assortative mating (resemblance between spouses) and inbreeding (mating between relatives). Findings from this project have implications in the analysis and interpretation of genome-wide association studies. The project will involve advanced modelling and statistical analyses of large volumes of data (genotyped and imputed SNP data, whole-exome sequencing, gene-expression, brain-imaging derived-traits).

The successful candidate will be doing their research within the Program in Complex Traits Genomics (PCTG) Lab co-led by Professors Jian Yang, Naomi Wray and Peter Visscher, who are internationally recognized leaders in the field of complex traits genetics and have been recently listed among the world’s top one per cent most cited researchers of their field. PCTG provides a stimulating and highly interdisciplinary environment for PhD candidates to form and develop their research.

Candidates with a background in quantitative/population genetics, statistics, mathematics and other quantitative fields will be considered. Programming skills (R, python, C/C++) and prior experience in analysing genetic data (e.g. GWAS) is desirable. (Note: if required, lectures on fundamental concepts of quantitative and population genetics can be taken as part of the PhD training).

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 4, 2020. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons.

Dr Maggy Lord

For enquiries please contact

tharanga.kariyawasam@uq.edu.au

Development of a novel, rapid and non-invasive malaria diagnostic tool
Mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue affect more than half of the world’s population. Mosquito control and accurate diagnosis is critical for managing outbreaks of these diseases. However, accurate diagnosis in many countries relies on molecular techniques which can be costly and time consuming. Over the last few years my team has been collecting data using alternative diagnostic techniques for these diseases. We are looking for a PhD student with experience and interest in machine learning to develop robust diagnostic models with our existing data. The project is computer based and the successful student will be enrolled through the Faculty of Medicine, School of Public Health.

The candidate should have a BSc Hons (or equivalent), majoring in machine learning or mathematical modelling.

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 3, 2020. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons.

Dr Oliver Rawashdeh

o.rawashdeh@uq.edu.au

Sleep and Circadian Rhythms in Neurodegenerative Disorders We are involved in a long-term research program to study sleep and circadian rhythms in neurodegenerative disorders. Our collaborative group includes chronobiology, neuroscience, pharmacology, and engineers interested in translational research. We have a long-term project to study sleep and circadian rhythms in neurodegeneration, to develop electrophysiological biomarkers (e.g., EEG, neuronal), and to study circadian regulatory mechanisms. Also, we propose to develop novel neuromodulation methods and therapeutics. The Ph.D. candidate will take interest and leadership in formulating scientific questions, develop new techniques, and mechanistic/therapeutic solutions. Training to design experiments, new techniques, and grantsmanship will be provided. The Ph.D. candidate will be supported by lab staff (including a lab technician). Unique lab skills in emerging fields and initiatives within the broad framework are welcomed.

An MSc., M.D. or equivalent in biomedical engineering, neurosciences, biochemistry, or related disciplines are required. Candidates experienced in small animal neurophysiological research, biochemistry, behavioral studies, and an interest in developing or comfort with new instrumentation and techniques, and asking fundamental and translational questions are strongly encouraged to apply.

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 4, 2021. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons.

Dr Sumaira Hasnain

sumaira.hasnain@mater.uq.edu.au

Cellular and Behavioural Effects of Stress on Chronic Inflammatory Diseases

Chronic inflammatory diseases, such as– inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Type 2 Diabetes (T2D) and Non-Alcoholic fatty liver disease (NASH) are most prevalent chronic illnesses in Australia. Notably, a high prevalence of depression/anxiety has been reported in patients with chronic inflammatory diseases. Emerging evidence propose excess inflammation as central to associated brain changes. Chronic stress is a major risk factor for depression and has been shown to worsen pathology in chronic inflammatory diseases.  However, molecular and cellular mechanisms underpinning these reciprocal interactions between peripheral organs and brain and their behavioural consequences are largely unknown.    The overall goal of this project is to investigate the cellular and behavioural effects of stress on the pathophysiology and behavioural outcomes of chronic inflammatory disease such as  inflammatory bowel disease.  To address this, we will use pre-clinical animal models of stress and inflammatory bowel disease and interrogate chronic stress-induced changes in immune responses and their effects on mood-related behaviours.

Minimum: BSc. Hons (GPA of 6 or above) Preferred: Immunology, Molecular Biology, Neuroscience focus MSc, MPhil preferred

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 1, 2020. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons.

Professor Ian Frazer

i.frazer@uq.edu.au

The role of bacterially induced inflammation in squamous skin cancer development

Objective: to define the contribution of the protein products of the skin microbiome to the progression of sun damaged skin to squamous cancer

Justification:  In Australia, squamous skin cancer is the commonest cancer .  Solar UV radiation damage is widespread even in apparently healthy skin: progression of these mutated clones and of actinic keratosis (AK) to invasive cancer is rare in healthy immunocompetent individuals.   The microbiome of actinic keratoses differs from that of normal healthy skin. The student will examine the contribution of the protein products of  skin bacteria to local immune regulation and inflammation, and the impact of these products to squamous cancer  progression, using a  combination of skin immunology, cancer biology, and microbiology methods. 

First class honours in a bioscience degree, preferably with experience in microbiology and immunology

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 4, 2022. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons.

Dr Yvonne Eiby

y.eiby@uq.edu.au

Effective cardiovascular support for very preterm neonates

There are currently no clinical interventions that effectively support cardiovascular function in premature babies. This project will examine the unique cardiovascular physiology of preterm neonates using a pre-clinical model and medical information from preterm babies in order to rationally design effective interventions to manage blood volume. It will focus on microvascular and lymphatic function and how they affect plasma volume. This is a fully funded project.

BSc (Hons) or Masters in Biomedical Science. The student should be able to demonstrate a strong proficiency of the English language and the ability to take the initiative in the project. The successful student will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 4, 2020. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons. 

Andrew Bartholomaeus

a.bartholomaeus@uq.edu.au

Mechanistic and comparative toxicity of commercial essential oils

This project will focus on the investigation of endocrine disruption of male reproductive performance by essential oils in experimental animals. The project will start with a literature review on essential oil endocrine disruption, fertility in the male rat, and differences in their reproductive physiology in comparison to other experimental animals and humans. After that, an experimental program will be developed to identify which physiological pathways are disrupted in experimental animals by oregano oil, and other essential oils of similar or overlapping composition

BSc (Hons) or Masters in Biomedical Science, Toxicology or Pharmacology. The student should be able to demonstrate a strong proficiency of the English language and the ability to take the initiative in the project.

Dr Susannah Tye

s.tye@uq.edu.au

Circuit, Cellular and Synaptic Mechanisms of Nucleus Accumbens Deep Brain Stimulation

The nucleus accumbens (NAc) is a common deep brain stimulation (DBS) target used to treat a diverse range of psychiatric disorders, including obsessive compulsive disorder, addiction, depression, Tourette’s syndrome, and chronic pain. Why the NAc is an effective target across diverse treatment-refractory disorders is not clear. The NAc is rich in dopamine terminals, and dopamine signalling in this region plays an important role in the integration of stress- and reward-related information to regulate the expression of incentive-motivation behaviours. As part of this, NAc dopamine serves as a neuromodulator, effectively gating information flow from cortical and limbic inputs to determine which successfully activates post-synaptic outputs. The location and function of the NAc mean that NAc dopamine is strategically positioned to modulate overall mesocorticolimbic network function. Despite its clinical potential, the effects of NAc DBS on NAc dopamine neurotransmission have not yet been systematically explored. The proposed study is designed to test the central hypothesis that NAc DBS disinhibits midbrain dopamine cells to increase dopamine neurotransmission, and that this is necessary for its behavioural effects. Specifically, we will demonstrate NAc DBS increases phasic NAc dopamine, stress coping and motivated behaviour. We will then identify the cell and receptor mechanisms mediating NAc DBS effects on NAc dopamine and demonstrate that facilitation of NAc dopamine neurotransmission is essential for the behavioural effects of NAc DBS. This investigation will establish the direct effects of NAc DBS on NAc dopamine and NAc dopamine-dependent behaviour, providing an essential foundation for future studies aimed at target optimisation and development of closed-loop feedback technologies.

The successful student will enrol through the Queensland Brain Institute.

Preferred educational background in psychology and neuroscience. Experience in behavioural neuroscience and brain stimulation applications would be an advantage.

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 4, 2020. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons. 

Dr Run Zhang

r.zhang@uq.edu.au

Monitoring inflammation through quantitation of redox-mediated macrophage polarisation

 

Failure to turn off the body’s immune response results in chronic inflammation characterised by oxidative stress. Such oxidative stress is associated with irreversible cell/tissue damage and linked to a variety of diseases, such as inflammatory arthritis, liver inflammation, and cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, quantitation of these redox biomolecules in macrophages is critical to understand the correlation between redox levels, macrophage polarisation status and inflammation progression.

This project aims to develop and pre-clinically validate advanced responsive probing technology to quantify redox biomolecules produced in macrophages. This research will address major knowledge gaps relating the redox levels with the macrophage polarisation. This information will underpin a novel method for improved diagnosis and monitoring of inflammatory diseases.

The successful student will enrol through the Australian Institute for Bioengineering & Nanotechnology.

Chemistry (Analytical Biochemistry), Cell and molecular biology, Biomedical engineering

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 4, 2022. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons. 

Dr Jian Zeng

j.zeng@uq.edu.au

Statistical methods for risk prediction of common diseases

Polygenic risk predictors based on a large number of genetic variants can identify a subgroup of individuals at high risk of developing a common disease, such as coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, or breast cancer. This risk stratification will greatly facilitate precision medicine through opportunities for early disease diagnosis, prevention and intervention. The overall aim of this project is to develop and implement optimised statistical methods and software to best predict an individual’s disease risk through the use of genetic and non-genetic data. Data available for the analysis include large-scale genetic data from genome-wide association studies, whole-genome sequence data, molecular quantitative phenotypes across tissues and cell types, functional annotations on genomic regions, and longitudinal health conditions and lifestyle phenotypes from biobanks.

The successful applicant will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

Statistical genetics with an interest in computer programming

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 4, 2022. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons. 

Associate Professor Gail Robinson

gail.robinson@uq.edu.au

Conversational speech in ageing and dementia

The production of propositional language is uniquely human; it is central for communication. Propositional language is voluntary, spontaneous, novel to a context, and distinct from core spoken language skills (e.g., reading, naming, repeating). Prior to producing propositional language, the speaker must generate an idea or message for expression. This preverbal stage of message formulation represents the interface between broader cognition and language. The number of ideas contained in speech, or propositional density, has been suggested to be predictive of dementia later in life; however, evidence is sparse and largely observational.

There are few experimental studies addressing the relationship between cognition and critical mechanisms involved in spoken language and it therefore remains poorly understood. This project will investigate the mechanisms crucial for message formulation and producing propositional language in healthy and pathological ageing populations (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, parkinsonian disorders) in order to identify early indicators of decline that can be useful diagnostic markers.

The successful applicant will enrol through the School of Psychology.

Bachelor of psychological science or a Bachelor degree with a psychology major and honours is desirable or a student with a speech and language degree and strong statistical knowledge.

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 1, 2020. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons. 

Professor Gita Mishra

Please contact Reshika Chand to discuss this project:

r.chand@uq.edu.au

Women’s health service use across life stages

This project will conduct a comprehensive assessment of Australian Women’s use of health services across life stages, identifying key factors influencing distinct patterns of health service use and assessing the comparative impact of NCDs on health service use.

The project description above is a brief outline of what the project hopes to achieve. Supervisors will work with candidates to develop a PhD project that is in line with the candidate’s research interests and also fits within the overall scope of the wider project. 

The successful applicants will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Public Health, Biostatistics, Life Course Epidemiology

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 2, 2022. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date.

Professor Gita Mishra

Please contact Reshika Chand to discuss this project:

r.chand@uq.edu.au

Risk of Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) in women across life stages

This project will undertake a systematic investigation into the associations of established and emerging risk factors at each stage of women’s lives (including early life, young adults, main reproductive stage, menopausal transition and later life) with NCD incidence (using both prevalence and age at onset of each NCD), including multimorbidity.

The successful applicants will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Public Health, Biostatistics, Life Course Epidemiology

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 2, 2022. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date.

Dr Sarah Wallace

s.wallace3@uq.edu.au

MEASuRES: Driving quality improvement through Meaningful Evaluation of Aphasia SeRvicES

One scholarship is available for either of the following two topics:

1. MEASuRES: Driving quality improvement through Meaningful Evaluation of Aphasia SeRvicES

Despite the existence of a strong evidence-base for aphasia rehabilitation, people with post-stroke aphasia experience poor outcomes. Living with aphasia often means living with lifelong disability associated with social isolation, reduced employment, and an increased risk of depression. The translation of existing evidence to practice has the potential to improve outcomes for this population, however in Australia, there is no systematic means of determining whether the care provided by aphasia services is effective or meets consumer expectations. This project will use consensus methods to establish a minimum data set and core outcome measures for Australian aphasia services. The core set will be piloted in a prospective observational study to assess data quality and feasibility. This body of research represents the first steps in a broader plan to use routine data collection and data linkage to identify and address evidence-practice gaps in aphasia services. 

2. Development of a Measure of Processes of Care (MPOC) for aphasia rehabilitation services.

In addition to clinical measures of process and outcomes, the assessment of health service quality should incorporate the patient perspective. The patient experience is increasingly recognised as a pivotal aspect of health service evaluation. This project will use experience-based co-design methods to develop a patient-reported measure of processes of care (MPOC) in collaboration with people living with aphasia and clinicians who provide aphasia services.

The successful student will enrol through the School of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences. 

This project would suit a candidate with a background in speech pathology / speech therapy.

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 4, 2022. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons. 

NOTE: The closing date for this project is 30 November, 2019.

Associate Professor Irina Vetter

i.vetter@uq.edu.au

The role of ion channels in pain pathways

Pain is Australia’s third most costly health problem and has been suggested as the developed world’s largest undiscovered health priority, with health expenditure on persistent pain exceeding that of cancer, diabetes, and stroke. The enormous
socioeconomic cost of poorly relieved chronic pain provides a powerful rationale to increase our understanding of the underlying pathophysiology of pain. In recent years, ion channels have received attention as putative analgesic targets due to their crucial role in neuronal excitability, signal transduction and action potential propagation. However, the precise role of specific ion channel isoforms in modality- and disease-specific pain pathways remains unclear. The aim of this project is to systematically define the functional role(s) and therapeutic potential of ion channel isoforms expressed in sensory neurons using pharmacological, electrophysiological and behavioural approaches.


Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

Pharmacology
Biomedical Science
Pharmacy
Medicine

Please contact the Chief Investigator to check on this project's availability.

Associate Professor Brett Collins

b.collins@imb.uq.edu.au
Structural studies of the mechanism of formation of caveolae

Caveolae are plasma membrane invaginations involved in transport, signalling and mechanical membrane sensing in metazoans. The Cavin proteins are absolutely required for the formation of caveolae, and mutations in cavin proteins (and other caveola-coat proteins) lead to human disorders including lipodystrophy and muscular dystrophy. Alterations in cavin protein expression are also implicated in cancer progression due to perturbed cellular signalling. The fundamental mechanisms by which Cavins regulate caveola formation are still largely unknown and this project will provide important new insights into the role of strictly conserved cavin domains in cavin protein functions. The project will involve the use of structural and biophysical methods such as X-ray crystallography, cryoEM and liposome binding assays to analyse cavin structure and function.

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

BSc (Hons) or Masters in biomedical science, cell biology or molecular biology

Please contact the Chief Investigator to check on this project's availability.

Associate Professor Brett Collins

b.collins@imb.uq.edu.au
Structural studies of endosomal membrane trafficking

Endosomal trafficking involves the assembly of large dynamic protein complexes, and their interactions with cargo receptors and membrane lipids to generate tubulovesicular carriers. One of the major endosomal trafficking assemblies is the “retromer complex”. This forms membrane tubules that incorporate a host of different cargo molecules and is essential for normal cellular protein and membrane homeostasis. In humans, mutations of the retromer complex are involved in both Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. The Collins lab has recently reported the crystallographic and cryoEM structures of the retromer complex and associated sorting nexin proteins from yeast, and this PhD project will explore the structure and function of the human retromer and sorting nexin proteins, using approaches including X-ray crystallography, cryo electron microscopy and protein-protein interaction studies. Ultimately the goal is to derive a more complete understanding of the molecular mechanisms that control their function in receptor transport and signalling. 

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

BSc (Hons) or Masters in biomedical science, cell biology or molecular biology

Please contact the Chief Investigator to check on this project's availability.

Dr Daniel Watterson

d.watterson@uq.edu.au
Structural insights into the flavivirus NS1 protein

This project aims to generate new broad-spectrum human antibodies as potential therapies for both dengue and Zika virus infections. Using a combination of state of the art structural biology techniques together with preclinical disease models, this project will identify key regions within the NS1 protein that drive pathogenesis. Critical epitopes will then be targeted using a phage display human antibody library to generate next-generation biological therapeutics to combat these important human pathogens.

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

Candidates should have a BSc Hons (or equivalent), majoring in a relevant discipline (virology, immunology, molecular or structural biology). One or more peer reviewed publication, prior experience with molecular cloning and protein expression/purification. Working with either murine models or structural biology techniques (electron microscopy / x-ray crystallography) would be ideal.

Please contact the Chief Investigator to check on this project's availability.

Dr Daniel Watterson

d.watterson@uq.edu.au
Structure of pathogenic flaviviruses by cryo-EM

Advances in cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) make it now possible to solve the 3D structure of a virus particle within the timeframe of an outbreak, offering the potential to rapidly develop new vaccines and therapies against emerging viral pathogens. The major limits to structural determination now lie in virus isolation, safe lab handling and propagation. This project will overcome these issues using a new chimeric flavivirus technology that allows the production of virus particles that resemble the pathogenic viruses from which they were constructed, but are safe for human handling. This project will use this platform to reveal the structure of several unsolved and highly pathogenic flaviviruses by cryo-EM, providing a rational basis for the development of viral countermeasures.

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

Candidates should have a BSc Hons (or equivalent), majoring in a relevant discipline (virology, molecular and structural biology).   One or more peer reviewed publication, prior experience with molecular cloning and protein expression/purification.  Knowledge and any practical experience with structural biology techniques (electron microscopy / x-ray crystallography) would be ideal.

Please contact the Chief Investigator to check on this project's availability.

Dr Rachel Stephenson

r.stephenson@uq.edu.au

Developing an effective vaccine against Group A Streptococcus

Globally Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have the highest recorded rate of Group A Streptococcus (GAS) infection, mainly rheumatic heart disease and rheumatic fever. GAS infection is endemic and often fatal due to post-infection problems. This project aims to develop a glycoconjugate vaccine to prevent GAS infection. We aim to avert these deaths by making a vaccine from small, specific parts of GAS proteins so the body makes safe antibodies that stop GAS and its related diseases.


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

BSc Honours or Masters (or equivalent) in Medicinal chemistry or related discipline.

Please contact the Chief Investigator to check on this project's availability.

 

Dr Barbara Rolfe

d.rolfe@uq.edu.au
Targeting the innate immune system: a novel immunotherapeutic strategy for cancer

This project  will investigate the potential of complement system as a therapeutic target for the treatment of brain cancer.

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

MSc in Immunology and Inflammation; with knowledge of  neuroimmunology and neuroinflammation.

Please contact the Chief Investigator to check on this project's availability.

Associate Professor Nick West

n.west@uq.edu.au

Blocking TB Latency: The Key to Reducing Therapy Duration

To assess the contribution of specific genetic regulators in the TB bacterium and how they cause disease. Project will examine the host cellular response to TB.

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

BSc Hons
BSc MSc
BBioMed

Please contact the Chief Investigator to check on this project's availability.

Professor Paul Alewood

Dr Markus Muttenthaler

m.muttenthaler@imb.uq.edu.au
Oxytocin and Vasopressin Ligand Development

The oxytocin and vasopressin signalling system regulates many physiological processes such as reproduction, water balance, cardiovascular responses and complex social behaviour. It is also a target for breast and prostate cancer. This project is about developing advanced probes to study this signalling system and to develop therapeutic and diagnostic leads for cancer management.

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

Medicinal Chemistry
Peptide Chemistry
Chemical Biology
Pharmacology
Oncology

Please contact the Chief Investigator to check on this project's availability.

Professor Glenn King

glenn.king@imb.uq.edu.au
Gain from pain: new tools from venomous animals for exploring pain pathways

Many venomous animals use their venom defensively and envenomation is frequently associated with rapid and often excruciating pain. In most cases the molecular mechanisms by which they achieve this is unknown. A diverse array of biochemical, pharmacological and biophysical techniques will be used to explore animal venoms for new pain-causing toxins, to determine their structure and mechanism of action. This project is likely to uncover toxins that employ new mechanisms of pain signalling, leading to new insights into pain physiology.

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

Honours or MSC degree  in the biological sciences, with a focus on protein and peptide  chemistry. Experience with venomous invertebrates would be  a distinct advantage, as would be familiarity with venom proteomics.

Please contact the Chief Investigator to check on this project's availability.

Professor Glenn King

glenn.king@imb.uq.edu.au
Development of a first-in-class neuroprotective drug for protecting the brain after stroke

We have developed a peptide drug (Hi1a) that prevents stroke-induced brain damage. Hi1a is the most potent known inhibitor of acid-sensing ion channel 1a (ASIC1a), which is robustly activated during stroke-induced cerebral acidosis. Inhibition of ASIC1a by Hi1a prevents the neuronal death caused by ASIC1a activation. We plan to conduct preclinical safety and efficacy studies with Hi1a to develop a data package for supporting its registration as an Investigational New Drug (IND). We will optimise the dose and mode of administration of Hi1a, determine its optimal and maximal therapeutic time window, and examine its performance across a range of ischemic and haemorrhagic stroke models.

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

Honours or MSC degree  in the biological sciences, with a focus on protein and peptide  chemistry.

Please contact the Chief Investigator to check on this project's availability.

Associate Professor Dominic Ng

d.ng1@uq.edu.au
Novel centrosomal mechanisms required for brain growth

Centrosomes are small, non-membranous organelles that are central hubs in orchestrating cytoskeletal and intracellular signalling networks required for a surprising range of cellular functions. Defects in centrosome function is genetically linked to human microcephaly, a neurological condition characterized by reduced thickness of the developing forebrain.

This project will define how a new centrosome protein complex contributes to the regulation of neural stem cell proliferation and expansion of the neocortex. 

Students will enrol through the School of Biomedical Sciences.

Honours First Class or Masters by Research. 

A background in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, Physiology, Molecular Neuroscience or related would be advantageous.

Please contact the Chief Investigator to check on this project's availability.

Professor Peter Visscher

peter.visscher@uq.edu.au
The contribution of coding variants to complex trait variation

The Project will use state-of-the-art computational and statistical methods to address a number of scientific questions:

  1. (how much variation in common diseases (such as type 2 diabetes and asthma) can be explained by coding variants?
  2. what is the contribution of regulatory vs coding variants to complex trait variation?
  3. which genes are associated with trait-specific variation?
  4. how pleiotropic are coding variants?

Statistical methods and software tools that will be used in the Project are from the Visscher-Yang-Wray groups and from other sources. When necessary, the Project will create new software tools to address specific questions.

Students will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

Computer science, econometrics, statistical genetics

Please contact the Chief Investigator to check on this project's availability.

Professor Di Yu

di.yu@uq.edu.au

Follicular cytotoxic T cell differentiation and function in infection and B-cell lymphoma

Cytotoxic T cells eliminate infected or cancerous cells, constituting a major arm of the immune defence. In this study, we will investigate a
subset of cytotoxic T cells that particularly migrate into B cell follicles to control infection and malignancy. Understanding of the differentiation
and function of this subset, termed as follicular cytotoxic T (TFC) cells, will help us to develop new strategies to treat EBV and HIV infections
as well as B cell lymphomas.

The successful applicant will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Biomedical Sciences

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

Professor Kwun Fong

Please contact Annette Dent

annette.dent@health.qld.gov.au

Volatile organic compounds in exhaled breath to diagnose lung disease

This project is intended to lead to the identification and development of non-invasive breath biomarkers for the diagnosis and management of lung disease. The ultimate long-term goal would be to develop a desk-top, convenient point of care test that could be used in the primary care as a stand-alone test or to complement other proven tests for reducing lung disease mortality.

The successful applicant will be enrolled through the Faculty of Medicine.

Minimum qualification of Bachelor of Science or equivalent with an honours in biomedical science.

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

Professor Glenn King

glenn.king@imb.uq.edu.au

Virtuous cycles: a novel cyclic peptide approach to develop neuroprotective and cardioprotective drugs

Stroke and myocardial infarction (MI) are leading causes of death and disability in Australia. Although thrombolytic drugs can be administered pre- and post-hospital admission for MI and stroke, respectively, these drugs are designed to ameliorate the vascular occlusion rather than address the underlying tissue damage caused by the ischemic insult. This application is focussed on development of a new class of drugs that protect the heart and brain following MI and stroke.

The successful applicant will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

Honours or MSc degree  in the biological sciences, with a focus on protein and peptide  chemistry.

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 4, 2020. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons. 

Professor Paul Alewood

Dr Christina Schroeder

Dr Markus Muttenthaler

m.muttenthaler@imb.uq.edu.au

Venom peptide drug discovery

Venoms comprise a highly complex cocktail of bioactive peptides evolved to paralyse prey and defend against predators. Homology of prey/predator receptors to human receptors render these venom peptides also active on human receptors and they have become a rich source for neurological tools and therapeutics. This project is involved in the discovery, synthesis and structure-activity relationship studies of these venom peptides with the goal to develop novel probes for neuroscientists as well as therapeutic drug leads.

The successful applicant will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

Chemistry
Chemical Biology
Bioinformatics
Pharmacology
 

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

Dr Leanne Sakzewski

l.sakzewski1@uq.edu.au

 

Novel rehabilitation to improve outcomes for children with cerebral palsy A number of projects are available across two funded NHMRC clinical trials:
  • Efficacy of intensive bimanual training on bimanual hand skills and goal attainment in children with bilateral cerebral palsy  
  • Efficacy of intensive lower extremity training on gross motor function, walking efficiency and mobility
  • The relationship between clinical outcomes and neuroplasticity following intensive upper and lower extremity training in children with bilateral cerebral palsy  
  • The relationship between capacity, participation and habitual physical activity in children with cerebral palsy  
The successful applicant will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Occupational therapy or physiotherapy

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

Associate Professor Ray Steptoe

r.steptoe@uq.edu.au

Reducing toxicity of protocols for human hematopoietic stem cell transplantation

This project will explore new, non-toxic approaches for bone marrow transplant in humans.  Techniques and areas may include hematopoiesis, hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, gene therapy, immunology and therapy of type 1 diabetes.

The successful applicant will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

BSc(Hons I) or MSc

*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 peptide based delivery system for GAS vaccine

Vaccines are the most effective intervention against infectious diseases. Classical whole organism based vaccination is not always effective and safe, while subunit-based vaccines are poorly immunogenic and need help of an adjuvant. However, many adjuvants are not effective immune stimulators or too toxic for human use.

Therefore, the aim for this project is to develop a novel delivery system with self-adjuvanting properties using unique peptide sequences which are able to self-assemble into nanoparticles. To examine the efficacy of this delivery system, the one or more peptide epitopes from group A streptococcal (GAS) M-protein will be conjugated to the synthesized delivery system to form a peptide-based subunit vaccine. The resulted constructs will be self-assembled to form nanoparticles as well as be incorporated into liposomes. These nanoparticles and liposomes will be examined towards their stability, toxicity, and ability to be recognized by antigen presenting cells in vitro. The most promising candidates will be evaluated in vivo for ability to induce humoral immune responses against GAS. Following initial screening of delivery systems second generation of self-assembled peptides will be generated and examined as vaccine delivery systems. Finally, challenge and opsonization experiments will be performed to determine the most effective delivery system.

The successful applicant will enrol through the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences.

Applicants must hold a 1st Class Honours degree for Masters degree (or equivalet in medicinal chemistry or related fields.

Undergraduate training in synthesis and characterisation of peptides, immunology and experience in work with animals is essential.

Additional background in production and characterisation of lipsomes and nanoparticles, while not essential, would be advantageous

*This project is available until December 2019 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.

The successful applicant will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

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

Please contact the Chief Investigator to check on this project's availability.

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.

The successful applicant 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.

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.

The successful applicant will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Biomedical science, physiology, molecular biology.

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.

The successful applicant 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.

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 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.

The successful applicant will enrol through the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN).

Engineering, Health

Professor David Evans

d.evans1@uq.edu.au

Using Statistical Techniques in Genetic Epidemiology to Investigate the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD)

There is a well-documented observational relationship between low birthweight infants and increased risk of disease in later life (e.g. type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and many more). This inverse association was initially interpreted as resulting from developmental compensations to an adverse intrauterine environment, which in turn led to long-term changes to offspring physiology and increased susceptibility to disease. This theory was christened the “Developmental Origins of Health and Disease” (DOHaD) and has been one of the preeminent paradigms in life-course epidemiology over the last thirty years. The aim of this project is to investigate the DOHaD hypothesis using a variety of statistical techniques including genome-wide association, Mendelian randomization and G-REML approaches in large scale datasets such as the UK Biobank Study.

The successful applicant will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Epidemiology, Statistics, Genetics, Psychology

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

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.

The successful applicant will enrol through the Faculty of Medicine.

Molecular Biology, animal handling and surgery, immunology.

Professor Jenny Stow

j.stow@imb.uq.edu.au

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.

The successful applicant will enrol through the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB).

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