Inhibiting inflammasomes with small molecules for treatment of inflammatory diseases

Project opportunity

This Earmarked Scholarship project is aligned with a recently awarded Category 1 research grant. It offers you the opportunity to work with leading researchers and contribute to large projects of national significance.

Individuals with asthma or obesity have substantially elevated susceptibility to Influenza A virus with 2-8 fold increased risk of hospitalisation. Efficacy of vaccines and antiviral therapeutics is limited in these groups leaving them incredibly vulnerable. During severe IAV in susceptible individuals, activation of multiple inflammasomes (NLRP3, AIM2, NLRP1, MxA) triggers a “cytokine storm” to clear the infectious agent from the host, however, this is accompanied by severe chronic inflammation of the respiratory tract. Respiratory inflammation due to IAV infection leads to ~650,000 fatalities/year globally. Ideally a balance between potent anti-viral responses and limited pro-inflammatory responses in the host is required to clear infection and prevent immunopathology. As part of our work we synthesised a small molecule inflammasome inhibitor which simultaneously suppresses pro-inflammatory inflammasome responses and boosts anti-viral signalling in bronchial epithelial cells during IAV infection. This is an exciting development which will form the foundation of this PhD project.

Importantly, inflammasome targetted therapeutics have exciting potential for much wider application in other debilitating inflammatory diseases such as multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury and stroke. In recent years inflammasome inhibitors have attracted unprecedented commercial interest with multiple new start-up ventures and large pharmaceutical companies heavily invested in this space.

This project is medicinal chemistry based with focus on design and synthesis of small molecule inflammasome inhibitors.

  • Aim 1: Use our early stage molecule to create potent efficacious drug leads and build a map of the structure activity relationships.
  • Aim 2: Examine the activity and selectivity of the compound series to fully understand its dual mode of action and utility in IAV.
  • Aim 3: Test the drug like properties of the most active compounds, identify any metabolic liabilities and mitigate these using medicinal chemistry strategies.

As part of this project you will also interact with our collaborators at The University of Newcastle's Hunter Medical Research Institute.

Scholarship value

As a scholarship recipient, you'll receive: 

  • living stipend of $32,192 per annum tax free (2023 rate), indexed annually
  • tuition fees covered
  • single Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC)


Professor Avril Robertson

School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences


Preferred educational background

Your application will be assessed on a competitive basis.

We take into account your

  • previous academic record
  • publication record
  • honours and awards
  • employment history.

A working knowledge of synthetic organic chemistry would be of benefit to someone working on this project.

The applicant will demonstrate academic achievement in the field(s) of synthetic or medicinal chemistry and the potential for scholastic success.

A background or knowledge of Structure Based Drug Design is highly desirable.

Latest commencement date

If you are the successful candidate, you must commence by Research Quarter 1, 2023. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date.

If you are an international applicant, you may need to apply much earlier for visa requirements.

How to apply

You apply for this project as part of your PhD program application.

View application process