Please send in your queries, CV and preferred project titles to students@uqccr.uq.edu.au.

Characterisation of inflammatory pathways associated with preterm birth

Type of project: Honours/PhD/MPhil

Supervisor: Professor Murray Mitchell

Project Description: Preterm delivery is a major obstetric health problem in the developing world, however the mechanisms that trigger this is unknown. There is evidence that extrauterine maternal infections and subclinical intrauterine infections are associated with preterm birth. Furthermore, intrauterine infection or systemic administration of bacteria and lipopolysaccharides to pregnant animals results in spontaneous preterm labour. The aim of this project is to identify key inflammatory proteins and signalling pathways associated with early delivery using an in vitro cell model.

Evaluating how environmental agents affect pregnancy outcome

Type of project: Honours/PhD/MPhil

Supervisor: Professor Murray Mitchell

Project Description: Environmental agents such as bisphenol A (found in common household goods) are structurally similar to estrogen. Low dose in utero exposure to bisphenol A has been shown to affect fetal development over multiple generations, however the mechanism for this is unknown. The aim of this project is to characterise the actions of bisphenol A on estrogen receptors and identify activated signalling pathways in the placenta.

The effect of maternal nutrition on placenta development and pregnancy

Type of project: Honours/PhD/MPhil

Supervisor: Professor Murray Mitchell

Project Description: Maternal nutrition plays a critical role in placental-fetal growth and development. progression. Given the role of the placenta as an interface between the fetus and its external environment, genome programming likely affects placenta function. Therefore, we hypothesise that maternal nutrition drives gene changes in the placenta that affect fetal nutrient uptake and growth. The aim of this project is to determine which nutrient uptake pathways are affected by maternal diet.

Assessing the risk of complications of pregnancy

Type of project: Honours/PhD/MPhil

Supervisor: Professor Greg Rice

Project Description: Complications of pregnancy, including preeclampsia, intrauterine growth restriction and preterm birth represent the major causes of fetal and neonatal morbidity and mortality and potentially affect childhood and adult susceptibility to both cardiac and metabolic diseases. As these complications of pregnancies are often not diagnosed and clinically overt until the third trimester, little opportunity is afforded to implement preventative strategies that may ameliorate their impact upon both mother and baby. The aim of this project is to identify blood-borne biomarkers that may be used at the first antenatal visit to identify pre-symptomatic women who are at risk of developing complications of pregnancy.

What triggers birth?

Type of project: Honours/PhD/MPhil

Supervisor: Professor Greg Rice

Project Description: There is now compelling evidence implicating nuclear regulatory factors including, the nuclear factor-κB family of nuclear transcription factors; the nuclear hormone receptor superfamily of peroxisome proliferator activated receptors and the steroid receptors for progesterone as candidate upstream regulators of labour associated processes.The aim of this project is to investigate the role of specific nuclear regulatory factor pathways the initiation of labour and delivery.

Predicting preterm labour

Type of project: Honours/PhD/MPhil

Supervisor: Professor Greg Rice

Project Description: The principal objective of this project is to develop and deliver a multivariate assay for the prediction and diagnosis of human preterm labour. Through the successful application of our own proteomic 2DE discovery programme using human cervico-vaginal fluid samples, we have identified several new protein markers of labour. Having completed Phase I biomarker discovery and established proof-of-concept, this project focused on the conduct of a Phase II biomarker trial to determine reliable estimates of assay sensitivity and specificity of multiple biomarker panels.

How do membranes rupture?

Type of project: Honours/PhD/MPhil

Supervisor: Professor Greg Rice

Project Description: Preterm premature rupture of fetal membranes (PPROM) is responsible for more than one-third of cases of preterm birth and has additional substantial consequences for mother and baby including intrauterine infection, cord compression, pulmonary hypoplasia and placental abruption. To reduce the high incidence of PPROM, study of fetal membrane (FM) biology is requisite. The aim of this project is to gain a better understanding of the physiological mechanisms involved in FM rupture with a view to future development of clinically useful interventions to reduce this potentially devastating complication of pregnancy.

 

Mechanisms of injury and neuroprotection in hypoxic ischemic injury

Type of project: Honours/PhD/MPhil

Supervisor: Dr Tracey Björkman

Project Description: A lack of oxygen and blood to the brain around the time of birth can result in devastating injury and remains the 3rd leading cause of perinatal death in Australia. Our research is focussed on understanding the pathways through which injury occurs with the hope of identifying and developing therapies specific to the treatment of seizures and brain injury in the newborn.

The role of excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitter systems and their development in neonatal seizures

Type of project: Honours/PhD/MPhil

Supervisor: Dr Tracey Björkman

Project Description: Many currently used antiepileptic drugs (AED's) do not effectively suppress neonatal seizures. Recent data suggests that this may be due to the changing role of the GABAA receptor (an AED target) during normal neurodevelopment. This project entails unravelling the normal developmental trajectory of GABA and associated systems.

Role of inflammatory cytokines during skin wound healing

Type of project: PhD

Supervisor: A/Prof Kiarash Khosrotehrani

Project Description: During skin wound healing the inflammatory process allows the recruitment of different subpopulations of macrophages and directly affects other components of the healing process: keratinocytes, fibroblasts and endothelial cells. Understanding the role of the inflammatory cytokines in situations of normal and pathological healing will open new therapeutic avenues for skin wounds.

 

Establishing drivers of hair follicle cycling in the epidermal stem cell niche: Sox2 versus Sox18

Type of project: Honours/PhD

Supervisor: A/Prof Kiarash Khosrotehrani

Project Description: Stem cells depend on their niche to make decisions of quiescence, differentiation or cell cycling. This process has been clearly identified in the hair follicle. This project will further dissect the mesenchymal cells from the niche and the important molecular pathways needed to govern hair follicle stem cell biology.

Generation of Induced Pluripotent Stem cells for patients with neurodegenrative disease

Type of project: Honours/PhD/MPhil

Supervisor: Professor Martin Lavin

Project Description: Fibroblasts from patients with autosomal recessive ataxias such as ataxia-telangiectasia are being re-programmed to generate induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC).The aim is to use these as disease models to investigate the basis of the neurodegeneration that characterizes these disorders. iPSC will be differentiated into different cell types such as neurons relevant to the specific syndrome.

Identification of snake venom protein with therapeutic potential

Type of project: Honours/PhD/MPhil

Supervisor: Professor Martin Lavin

Project Description: A comprehensive study of Australian snake venom proteins and the genes specifying these proteins has identified a number of candidate proteins with either pro-coagulant or anti-coagulant activities.These proteins are being investigated in depth to understand the basis of these activities with a view to developing them as anti-bleeding agents in surgery or to prevent thrombosis.

Actions of Inotropes in the Preterm Cardiovascular System

Type of project: PhD/ MPhil

Supervisor: Dr Barbara Lingwood

Project Description: This project will define cardiac and peripheral actions of inotropic treatments currently used in preterm babies and identify reasons for their lack of efficacy in many babies. It will also assess alternative treatment strategies. The results will contribute to the development of improved treatments for preterm babies. 

Nutritional factors which influence early growth and body fat in Preterm infants

Type of project: PhD/ MPhil/ Honours/ Summer Research

Supervisor: Dr Barbara Lingwood

Project Description: This research investigates maternal factors which may influence early growth and body fat. To date, studies designed to inform optimal treatment of gestational diabetes have focused on normalisation of birthweight, but neonatal adiposity may be a more sensitive marker of disturbed in utero metabolism and risk of obesity and poor long term health, than birthweight alone.

Cardiovascular function in preterm infants

Type of project: PhD/ MPhil/ Honours/ Summer Research

Supervisor: Dr Barbara Lingwood

Project Description: The research will clarify the reasons for poor cardiac function in preterm babies and lead to new targeted therapeutic strategies to improve cardiovascular function, and thus neurodevelopmental outcome.

 

Understanding the role of clonal progression in hair and nail biology

Type of project: PhD/ MPhil/ Honours

Supervisor: A/Prof Kiarash Khosrotehrani

Project Description: Hair follciles and nails have been studied for a long time as epidermal appendages. Very few studies have looked at the evolution of clones over time in these tissues. Using Rainbow technology and single cell labelling we have a unique opportunity to track the clonal progression during homeostasis and wound healing in these specific environments

Role of inflammatory mediators in bovine and human fertility

Type of project: PhD

Supervisor: Professor Murray Mitchell , Professor Greg Rice

Project Description: The project is based around evaluating the utility of measuring inflammatory mediators in exosomes, biological fluids and cell culture media from bovine and human early pregnancy. In particular, we are examining the roles of eicosanoids and endocannabinoids in fertility and pregnancy. 

Elucidating the molecular basis for the female age-related decline in human fertility

Type of project: PhD, Honours, MPhil

Supervisor: Professor Hayden Homer

Project Description: Pregnancy success is closely tied to female age; indeed, female age is arguably the single most influential factor for human pregnancy success. This is because of the age-related decline in the quality of female reproductive cell known as the oocyte (or egg). However, the cellular basis of this deterioration remains elusive. This project will use state-of-the-art techniques and an ageing model to better understand the molecular factors important for oocyte quality.

Investigating chromosome segregation during oocyte maturation

Type of project: Christopher Chen PhD Student Scholarship in Reproductive Medicine 

Supervisor: Professor Hayden Homer

Project Description: The vast majority of numerical chromosomal abnormalities (or aneuploidy) in humans is the consequence of errors arising during the first meiotic division in female reproductive cells (or oocytes). Yet very little is known about how oocytes orchestrate chromosomal separation events. This project will use the latest gene-silencing and live-oocyte imaging technology to study the process of chromosome sharing in living oocytes.

Novel approaches for reversing infertility

Type of project: Honours, PhD or MPhil

Supervisor: Professor Hayden Homer

Project Description: Christopher Chen PhD Student Scholarship in Reproductive Medicine: The quality of female reproductive cells (or oocytes) is rate-limiting for pregnancy success because oocytes provide virtually all of the cellular building blocks required by the embryo. However, as women age, oocyte quality declines leading to a decline in human fertility. This project will investigate novel interventions for reversing poor oocyte quality to alleviate infertility.

Understanding exosome biology for advancing fertility treatment

Type of project: Christopher Chen PhD Student Scholarship in Reproductive Medicine 

Supervisor: Professor Hayden Homer , Professor Greg Rice , Dr Carlos Salomon

Project Description: Exosomes are a specific type of secreted extracellular vesicle approximately 30-120 nm in size that originate from endosomal compartments. Exosomes are released from a wide range of cells, such as placental and cancer cells. It is becoming increasingly apparent that exosomes constitute a critically important mode of cell-to-cell communication. Also, as the content of exosomes is cell type specific, they have the potential to provide a “fingerprint” of the releasing cell and its metabolic status. A major unmet need during assisted reproductive treatment (ART) for infertility is the ability to non-invasively select the best oocyte/embryo for treatment. There is also a dearth of knowledge regarding the molecular cross-talk between the embryo and the endometrium in the lead up to successful implantation. Given their biological properties, exosomes could provide a readout of oocyte/embryo health and could be integral to embryo-endometrial synchrony required for implantation. However, surprisingly little is known about exosomes in relation to oocytes and embryos. This project will investigate exosomes produced from oocytes and embryos with a view to developing novel non-invasive selection strategies during ART and for advancing fundamental understanding of the implantation process. Uniquely, alongside studies on the mouse model, this project will analyse clinical samples obtained from infertile patients through established partnerships with local IVF units. The successful candidate will gain exposure to NATA-accredited clinical diagnostics and will develop skills in the latest proteomics and sequencing platforms for profiling exosomes as well as in handling, culture and live-cell imaging of oocytes and embryos.