Honours research opportunities

HONORS CRITERIA

For an Honours year in the discipline of Anatomy & Histology, you need to:

  1. Have a Sci-WAM of at least 65*
  2. Pre-enrol via Sydney Student
  3. Organise a project with a lab head
  4. Confirm your intention to do Honours with the Honours Coordinator
  5. Be aware of our Summer Scholarship program

Summer scholarships are primarily awarded according to SciWAM. To be eligible, you must be committed to Honours in Anatomy & Histology. Application forms for Scholarships are available from Dr. Paul Austin, contact details are in the sidebar.

*If you do not meet the criteria but are still interested in Honours, see Dr. Paul Austin to discuss options.

Our Honours Program in Brief:

  • Thesis (~20,000 words; November submission).
  • Seminar (~20 minutes; November). You will present your years work.
  • Weekly Honours meetings (attend meetings, 1-2 hour/week during semester). At these meetings, each student will present seminars during the year, outlining for example, the project aims and their early results. These presentations will be to the other Honours students and the Honours Coordinators (Dr Paul Austin and Prof Frank Lovicu).
  • Research proposal (3-page proposal at the beginning of Honours)

When choosing a laboratory to undertake Honours, make sure that: you get on with the Supervisor, the lab is filled with happy and likeable people and has recent publications, and most importantly you are interested in the project.

PROJECTS OVERVIEW

LABORATORY OF NEUROIMMUNOLOGY AND BEHAVIOUR
Dr Paul Austin

NEUROCHEMISTRY LAB
Effects of alcohol on the expressions and regulation of glutamate transporter GLAST (EAAT1)
A/Prof. Vladimir BALCAR

ANIMAL DEVELOPMENT
Gene expression during development of the sea urchin nervous system
Prof. Maria BYRNE, Dr. Demian Koop

PATHOLOGY OF THE CEREBRAL MICROVASCULATURE - ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE AND PARKINSON'S DISEASE
The microvasculature: degeneration, inflammation and Alzheimer's disease
Dr. Karen CULLEN

HUMAN MOVEMENT AND NEUROSCIENCE
Dr Joanna DIONG
Dr Martin HÉROUX

SUNLIGHT AND CANCER GROUP
Dr Katie Dixon

PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY & COMPARATIVE ANATOMY
Dr. Denise DONLON

HUMAN NEUROANATOMY
Interested in human neuroanatomy and/or teaching?
A/Prof Kay DOUBLE

ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE CELL BIOLOGY LABORATORY
Dr Claire GOLDSBURY

STUDY OF NERVE CELLS IN THE EYE
A/Prof Ulrike GRÜNERT

NEURAL IMAGING LABORATORY
A/Prof. Luke HENDERSON
Dr. Flavia DI PIETRO

COGNITIVE EFFECTS OF DIET AND CHEMOTHERAPY
Chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicities
The motivational and cognitive effects of high fat-high sugar diets
Dr Ian JOHNSTON

LABORATORY of NEURAL STRUCTURE & FUNCTION
A/Prof. Kevin KEAY (Head of Discipline)

THE CARDIAC RESEARCH LABORATORY - STUDIES IN HUMAN HEART FAILURE
Dr Sean LAL
Prof. Cris dos Remedios
Dr. Amy Li

LENS RESEARCH LABORATORY
Prof Frank LOVICU

MOLECULAR NEUROBIOLOGY LABORATORY
Monoaminergic Dynamics in chronic pain and stress
Dr David MOR

FEMALE REPRODUCTION and STRUCTURAL CELL BIOLOGY
Changes in the uterus during ovarian hyperstimulation
Prof. Chris MURPHY
Dr. Laura LINDSAY
Dr. Sam DOWLAND

THE IMPACT OF TISSUE MECHANICS ON CANCER CELL RESPONSE TO DRUG TREATMENTS
A/Prof Geraldine O'NEILL

REPRODUCTIVE TOXICOLOGY LABORATORY
Dr Helen RITCHIE

REGENERATIVE MEDICINE
Skin-derived neuroprecursor cells – cell therapy and disease modeling projects
Brain Network Responses to Physical and Cognitive Exercise
Associate Professor Michael VALENZUELA
Dr Kathryn Broadhouse


PROJECT DETAILS

LABORATORY OF NEUROIMMUNOLOGY AND BEHAVIOUR
Dr Paul AUSTIN Rm E511. 9351 5061. paustin@anatomy.usyd.edu.au

It is increasingly clear that inflammatory mediators such as pro-inflammatory cytokines from activated glia and immune cells can act on both peripheral and central neurons to alter their functioning. Moreover they have been linked with neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases. My laboratory is focused on investigating the interaction of inflammatory mediators and behaviour in chronic disease states. Using peripheral inflammatory insults such as nerve injury or lipopolysaccharide in experimental rodents, we investigate fine-grained changes in behaviours, such as foraging, investigation, decision-making and risk-assessment in order to identify deficits in cognition or motivation. We are also investigating changes in immune activation in human chronic pain patients who have depression and anxiety. The laboratory uses a variety of neuroanatomical, immunohistochemical and cytometric approaches to probe the underlying immune mechanisms of these behavioural changes.

 

 

NEUROCHEMISTRY LAB
A/Prof Vladimir BALCAR Rm S419. 9351 2837. vibar@anatomy.usyd.edu.au

Effects of alcohol on the expressions and regulation of glutamate transporter GLAST (EAAT1)

 

 

ANIMAL DEVELOPMENT
Prof. Maria BYRNE. Rm S600. 9351 5166. mbyrne@anatomy.usyd.edu.au
Dr Demian KOOP demian.koop@sydney.edu.au

Gene expression during development of the sea urchin nervous system
Sea urchins are a leading model for understanding the genetic networks that regulate animal development. Our lab uses Australian sea urchin species to investigate the evolution of development. We have extensive an extensive annotated developmental transcriptome for this model species which allows us to address a number of questions linking spatial (using in situ hybridization) and temporal gene expression profiles. This allows us to establish which parts of the genetic blueprint for development have been conserved between sea urchins and vertebrates, and will provide insights into the vertebrate ancestor. We investigate aspects of development including axial patterning – such as Anterior-Posterior and Left-Right, genes involved in skeleton formation and genes involved in the development of the central nervous system. The role of key signaling pathways in skeletogenesis and neurogenesis will be also determined by analyzing the effects of pharmacological treatments on development of sea urchin embryos.

 

 

PATHOLOGY OF THE CEREBRAL MICROVASCULATURE - ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE AND PARKINSON'S DISEASE
Dr Karen CULLEN. Rm S464. 9351 2696. kcullen@anatomy.usyd.edu.au

The microvasculature: degeneration, inflammation and Alzheimer's disease

Our laboratory is focused on pathology of the cerebral microvasculature. The brain has an extremely dense and very complex microvasculature. Health of this vascular network is essential for normal brain function. Several neurological conditions are marked by pathology of these tiny vessels, including Alzheimer's disease (AD), Parkinson's disease (PD) and head injury. Our work investigates the anatomy of the normal and diseased microvasculature, as well as the relationship of damaged vessels to neurodegeneration. Several projects are offered in our laboratory. For instance, the key lesion in the AD is the breakdown of the cerebral microvasculature. Projects in AD involve the mapping of capillary damage and the sequence of inflammatory events from fresh microhaemorrhage to scar formation. In PD, we find breakdown of the microvessels in the terminal fields of the substantia nigra neurons, the cells that die in this movement disorder. Our PD project aims to map vascular anomalies in the striatum in human brain tissue. The techniques used in the lab include tissue processing, immunohistochemistry, brightfield and fluorescence microscopy. We use multidimensional analysis to examine the complex vascular network in human brain tissue. These projects would suit high achieving motivated students with some background in neuroanatomy and good literature research and writing skills.

 

 

HUMAN MOVEMENT AND NEUROSCIENCE
Dr Joanna DIONG. joanna.diong@sydney.edu.au
Dr Martin HÉROUX. m.heroux@neura.edu.au

Our research aims to understand what makes human movement normal, and why it is impaired in clinical conditions. We focus on understanding the mechanisms of normal human movement, impaired movement in people with stroke or other clinical conditions, motor control during daily activities, mechanisms of human perception, and muscle and nerve neurophysiology. We use transducers to measure force and angle (i.e. the study of kinematics and kinetics), and electromyography to measure muscle activity. We use scientific computing for biological and transducer signal analysis, and we are passionate about research reproducibility and good science. Students in our laboratory are exposed to a variety of experimental research techniques. Projects could include laboratory research on mechanisms of human movement, literature review and surveys in good research practice, or a combination of both.

Available projects for Honours or postgraduate research:

  • Quantifying the effect of unwanted muscle activity on passive joint range of motion after stroke
  • Quantifying the ability to detect unwanted muscle activity during passive joint range of motion
  • Variability in force production and motor control during functional tasks
  • Assessing criteria for reproducible research in key scientific journals

 

 

SUNLIGHT AND CANCER GROUP
Dr Katie DIXON. Rm. S228. 9351 4633. katie.dixon@sydney.edu.au

Skin cancer is highly prevalent in Australia, with two in three people being diagnosed by the age of 70. While non-melanoma skin cancers are more common, melanoma is responsible for the majority of deaths related to skin cancer. Projects in this laboratory involve the investigation of the molecular mechanisms of ultraviolet radiation-induced skin carcinogenesis, as well as inhibition of the growth and metastasis of melanoma. We are particularly interested in cell signaling pathways in cancer, with an emphasis on identification and targeting of tumour suppressor genes. Techniques include but are not limited to cell culture, immunohistochemistry, western blotting, RT-PCR, siRNA, in vivo studies and simulation of ultraviolet radiation.

 

 

PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY & COMPARATIVE ANATOMY
Dr Denise DONLON. Rm W601. 9351 4529. ddonlon@anatomy.usyd.edu.au
Dr. Sarah Croker scroker@anatomy.usyd.edu.au

 

 

HUMAN NEUROANATOMY
A/Prof Kay DOUBLE. Brain and Mind Centre Building K, Level 4. 9114 4292. kay.double@sydney.edu.au

Interested in human neuroanatomy and/or teaching?
An understanding of human neuroanatomy, and how brain anatomy and physiology underlies many common clinical disorders, is an important skill for a range of allied health professionals. Students of introductory human neuroanatomy find brain atlases developed for neuroscientists confusing in their detail and lacking clinical relevance. We are developing an online human brain atlas to support teaching and learning for tertiary allied heath students. The atlas, BrainScape, presents neuroanatomy in an interactive manner, including online quizzes, and places neuroanatomy in a health context meaningful for students in professional allied health degrees. We are looking for an Honours to be involved in the development and testing of the atlas at the University of Sydney. The project will involve working with expert neuroanatomists, neuroscientists and IT specialists, as well as testing how undergraduate students use the atlas. This is a primarily computer-based project that will develop skills in neuroanatomy, development of computer-based teaching tools and quantitative assessment of learning.
Relevant reference: BrainScape: an introduction to human brain anatomy. Schofield, E, Chen, J. Double, KL. The University of Sydney, 2016.

 

 

ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE CELL BIOLOGY LABORATORY
Dr Claire GOLDSBURY. BMRI. 9351 0878. claire.goldsbury@sydney.edu.au

Using autopsied human brain tissue, this lab investigates the cellular pathology of Alzheimer's disease. We are interested in the progression of pathology through the brain and the interaction between glial cells and neurons during this process. The honours project will involve gaining experience in tissue labelling and imaging techniques such as confocal microscopy and image analysis.

 


STUDY OF NERVE CELLS IN THE EYE
A/Prof Ulrike GRÜNERT.
Save Sight Institute. 9382 7641. ulrike.grunert@sydney.edu.au

The retina is a thin piece of nervous tissue that lines the back of the eye. It contains five major classes of neurones, which are organised in nuclear and synaptic layers. The project involves the analysis of post-mortem human retinas (obtained from donor eyes with consent from the Lions NSW Eye Bank) and post-mortem monkey retinas. High-resolution light microscopy, in conjunction with immunohistochemical methods will be used for identifying different cell types and their synaptic connectivity. Accurate knowledge of nerve cell populations and their density can allow more accurate prediction of functional properties of normal visual performance, can give a rational basis for understanding the effects of disease and degeneration, and can form a standard of normal anatomical state against which the effects of dis- ease can be measured.
Skills and knowledge you will acquire:
We are looking for an enthusiastic young scientist to learn neuroanatomical methods including cryostat and Vibratome sectioning of retinas, intracellular injections, double and triple immunofluorescence, high resolution light microscopy (deconvolution and confocal) and image analysis.

 

 

NEURAL IMAGING LABORATORY
A/Prof. Luke HENDERSON Rm. S420. 93517063. lukeh@anatomy.usyd.edu.au
Dr. Flavia DI PIETRO Rm. S518. 9351 6878. flavia.dipietro@sydney.edu.au

Chronic, i.e. persistent, pain is a growing problem worldwide; it affects 20% of the population and costs western societies about as much as diabetes and cancer combined. Pain can have a huge impact on someone’s wellbeing and function. Despite being such a common and important issue to address, there is so much we do not understand about pain.

Why are so many of us interested in the role of the brain? Injuries do not always cause pain and, conversely, we know that people can experience pain in the absence of injury to their tissues. Given this disconnect, it seems there is something more to pain than simply what is happening in the painful body part. For this reason, among others, much of pain research is now directed at the human central nervous system, particularly the brain. In our lab we use different types of brain imaging in humans, for example magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), functional MRI, MR spectroscopy, and electroencephalography (EEG), to investigate the structure, function and chemistry of the brain in the pain state. This is the sort of work that leads to an increased understanding of basic pathophysiology, and holds potential to improve the treatments that patients receive.

 

 

COGNITIVE EFFECTS OF DIET AND CHEMOTHERAPY
Dr Ian JOHNSTON School of Psychology, A19. i.johnston@sydney.edu.au

Chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicities
As treatments for cancer become more advanced, the rate and length of survival amongst cancer patients has increased. However, adjuvant chemotherapy is associated with negative side effects, including chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairments (CICI) and chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathies (CIPN). CIPN is a significant dose-limiting side effect of some commonly used chemotherapy drugs, affecting up to 70% of patients during treatment. Up to 40% of patients continue to experience symptoms for 6 months or longer, but often persisting 10 years after chemotherapy. Up to 70% of cancer survivors self-report problems with their memory and concentration after chemotherapy, with 17-50% of survivors having significant cognitive impairment on formal cognitive testing up to 10 years after chemotherapy. Survivors report that the impact of these symptoms on daily function is the most troublesome survivorship issue they face. There is no effective treatment for these symptoms.

We have developed animal models of these neurotoxicities, and have used these to assess novel therapies. Your project will be to assess whether these therapies are effective at reducing the behavioural expression of CICI or CIPN, and how these treatments improve underlying pathologies.

The motivational and cognitive effects of high fat-high sugar diets
There are strong correlations between obesity, a high fat-high sugar (HFHS) diet, and low self-control. It is commonly assumed that obesity is due to low self-control: Obese individuals tend to choose HFHS foods and therefore become obese. However, recent work in my lab has shown this is a bidirectional effect. Eating and exercising affects executive function: Diets high in sugars and fats reduces executive function in rats and people, and exercise increases executive function.

This is a new focus for my laboratory, and we are actively exploring the neurobiology of the effect of diet or exercise on executive function, and its relationship to obesity and dieting. So far we have demonstrated that, after randomising rats to groups that either receive standard rat chow or to those that have 2-hr daily access to high-fat, high-sugar (HFHS) drinks (e.g., sweetened condensed milk) or a western cafeteria diet (e.g., cakes, biscuits, pies, etc), the HFHS diet condition show increased impulsivity compared to the control diet rats. I would like to see this work expanded in several directions: How does food affect the neurobiological mechanisms of executive function? What are the major histological or genetic changes? Does diet affect other executive control tasks? How might we reverse or prevent this effect? How does this relate to obesity and consumption of obesogenic foods?

 

 

LABORATORY of NEURAL STRUCTURE & FUNCTION
A/Prof Kevin KEAY. Rm S502. 9351 4132. keay@anatomy.usyd.edu.au

Following injury and some surgical procedures, a number of individuals are left with persistent pain that has been attributed to the pathophysiological consequences of nerve damage (neuropathy). In these individuals, pain persists despite well-established post-operative or post-injury clinical management procedures and the use of conventional analgesic treatments. The pain in these individuals persists long after healing of the injury or the surgical site, and is given the diagnostic label of a chronic neuropathic pain state. People with chronic pain states typically present clinically with a range of co-morbid physiological, behavioral, affective and cognitive changes. More often than not it is these co-morbid changes referred collectively to as "disabilities", that are the significant and debilitating consequences of the chronic neuropathic pain state. There are three puzzling observations arising from the clinical literature on chronic neuropathic pain: firstly despite similar injuries or surgical procedures, not all people develop chronic neuropathic pain; secondly, the degree of neuropathic pain a patient describes does not correlate with the severity of the disabilities demonstrated and thirdly there are a population of people with the diagnostic sensory criteria of neuropathic pain that have no disabilities at all.
Following twenty years of studying the functional neuroanatomy of the emotional coping responses to acute pain, for the last 15 years my laboratory has focused on the functional neuroanatomy of disrupted emotional coping responses and behavioural disability associated with chronic neuropathic pain. In a rat model of chronic neuropathic pain, we showed that several measures of sensory hypersensitivity (indicators of neuropathic pain) do not correlate with the degree of disability and further that there are rats with sensory hypersensitivity with no disabilities at all. The rat model recapitulates the clinical picture with remarkable accuracy and we are currently using this to study the following major question: What is the role of early life stress on resilience and vulnerability to developing chronic neuropathic pain? We have asked this question because there is evidence that, early-life stress can modify the resilience or vulnerability of an individual to stress, threat or pain in later life through a number of epi-genomic and non-genomic mechanisms. The model of early life stress we are currently using is early post-natal inflammation. We are determining the central, peripheral and complex behavioural consequences of this early life stress (ELS) on the development of neuropathic pain.
The following individual projects are available in the lab, under this broad question.
(1) The effects of ELS on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis response to nerve injury.
(2) The effects of ELS on the response of the amygdala and hypothalamic PACAP-VIP circuits in the response to nerve injury.
(3) The effects of ELS on the number, composition and architecture of perineuronal networks in the midbrain periaqueductal grey region.
(4) The effects of ELS and nerve injury on (a) the relationship of BDNF and serotonin in raphe cells that project to the medial prefrontal cortex and; (b) the expression and phosphorylation of tyrosine hydroxylase in neurons of the locus coeruleus that project to the medial prefrontal cortex.
If you are considering post-graduate research in my lab, then there are other projects that can be discussed.

 

 

THE CARDIAC RESEARCH LABORATORY - STUIDES IN HUMAN HEART FAILURE
Dr Sean LAL. Room S468. 9351 3209. sean.lal@sydney.edu.au
Associate supervisors: Prof. Cris dos Remedios and Dr. Amy Li

Our translational research focuses on the human heart. We aim to investigate the molecular basis of cardiomyopathies, cellular changes in ageing, and intrinsic mechanisms of cardiac regeneration. We uniquely draw on tissue from The Sydney Heart Bank (SHB), which comprises of over 20,000 cryopreserved human cardiac samples from our collaborations with St Vincent's Hospital and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Over the years, we have developed an extensive tissue database and international research network with the common goal to further our understanding of human heart failure. Techniques include tissue microarray profiling, immunohistochemistry, immunofluorescence, RT-PCR, Western blots, cell culture and functional phosphorylation studies.

 

 

LENS RESEARCH LABORATORY
Prof Frank LOVICU. Rm S252. 9351 5170. frank.lovicu@sydney.edu.au

Research in our laboratory is directed at identifying the mechanisms that regulate eye lens development, growth and pathology. Using a range of techniques (including tissue culture, immunohistochemistry, qRT-PCR, chromatography, Western blotting, light and electron microscopy, in vitro biological assays and transgenic mouse strategies), we investigate the expression, effects and function of different growth factors and their receptors, as well as the regulation of their intracellular signalling, both in normal lens development and pathology.

To date, we have shown that members of the fibroblast growth factor (FGF) and Wnt families are important regulators of lens epithelial cell proliferation, migration and differentiation and are important for the normal development and maintenance of the lens. We have also shown that other growth factors, such as members of the transforming growth factor family (TGF-ß, BMPs), can regulate lens cells to form aberrant fibrotic plaques that lead to cataract (loss of lens transparency), similar to that found in humans, that results in blindness. Regulation of these different growth factors and their respective signalling pathways have led us to identify key molecules and mechanisms that alter lens cell behavior, in turn preventing or blocking cataract formation.

Students that undertake Honours projects in our laboratory can expect to be exposed to a wide array of techniques, encompassing cellular, developmental and/or molecular biology, and can carry out a project in one or a combination of the following areas:

Normal Lens Biology
*Investigate the role of growth factors (FGF, PDGF, IGF, EGF, BMPs) and their signalling pathways in regulating lens cell proliferation and fibre differentiation using lens epithelial explants and/or transgenic mouse models.
*Identify factors that maintain the normal lens epithelial phenotypic characteristics including cell-cell and cell-matrix adhesion and communication.
*Use transgenic mice and in vitro assays to determine the role of novel genes (Crim1, Spreds1/2/3) thought to be involved in regulation of growth factor bioavailability and signalling.
*Use electron microscopy and tissue culture to identify the molecules in the ocular fluid that are important for lens cell differentiation and how this contributes to lens transparency.

Lens Pathology (Cataract)
*Use transgenic mouse models to understand how TGFß induces and regulates cataract formation.
*Use lens explant cultures to determine how TGFß disrupts normal lens signalling pathways and induces an epithelial-mesenchymal transition, characteristic of cataract.
*Use lens explant cultures to identify putative inhibitors of TGFß signalling as a means of preventing cataract.

 

 

MOLECULAR NEUROBIOLOGY LABORATORY
Dr David MOR david.mor@sydney.edu.au

Monoaminergic Dynamics in chronic pain and stress
Monoamine projections from selected brainstem nuclei to a range of forebrain structures regulate affective behaviours, motivational drive and decision making. Description of these projections is associated with a range of psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety. My lab focuses on exploring the mechanisms in which these projections regulate motivation and cognition in the healthy state and how exposure to chronic stress, either physical or psychological, alters regulation of these projections, leading to motivational deficits and cognitive dysfunctions.

Projects offered in this lab will use microinjections of specific agonists/antagonists to manipulate activity in specific neural pathways in order to understand the roles of these pathways in healthy regulation of affective behaviour and cognitive processing as well as identify mal-adaptations caused by the chronic stress. The animal work will be followed by molecular work using techniques such as HPLC, immunohistochemistry and gene and protein expression techniques with an attempt to link between the molecular differences found after chronic stress and altered behaviour.

 

 

FEMALE REPRODUCTION and STRUCTURAL CELL BIOLOGY
Prof. Chris MURPHY. Rm N364. 9351 4128. histology@medsci.usyd.edu.au
Dr. Laura LINDSAY. Rm N364. 9351 2508. laural@anatomy.usyd.edu.au
Dr. Sam DOWLAND. Rm N364. 9351 2491. sdowland@anatomy.usyd.edu.au

The work in this lab is centered around reproductive biology and medicine and in particular the biology of the uterus, uterine receptivity for blastocyst implantation and hormonal influences on the uterus. We are interested in how it is that the uterus manages to tightly regulate those times during the reproductive cycle when it will allow the blastocyst to attach but to prevent attachment and the beginning of a pregnancy at other times. We are particularly interested in uterine epithelial cells and the molecular interactions that occur between the surface of these cells and the implanting blastocyst. A variety of methods are available including light & electron microscopy, immunohistochemistry, Western blotting and PCR. The work uses both animal and human tissues and involves basic cell biological research. We also have a number of in vitro models of implantation. The laboratory also has extensive contacts with The School of Biological Sciences and the Australian Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis (ACMM) which involves a major project on the evolution of viviparity (live birth) and the development of the placenta. This work involves study on mammals and lizards in particular but also other animals to understand the biology of different types of placentas. We would accept students interested in mammalian reproduction and/or students interested in working on an aspect of the evolution of live birth and placentation. An honours place in conjunction with the ACMM could also be arranged. We are particularly interested in accepting Honours students who may be interested in progressing to a PhD and have laboratory-funded top-up scholarships available for such students.

Changes in the uterus during ovarian hyperstimulation
Controlled ovarian hyperstimulation (COH) is part of the in vitro fertilisation (IVF) protocol to harvest multiple eggs from a woman. It has been known for many years that the drugs used in COH leads to a decrease in uterine receptivity, however there is currently no known mechanism of how this occurs. We use a rat ovarian hyperstimulation model (OH) to investigate changes in the rat uterus during OH pregnancy, especially at the time of blastocyst implantation. We use several molecular and histochemical techniques to investigate changes in protein localisation and expression, such as immunofluorescence microscopy, western blotting and ELISAs. We also use a range of microscopy techniques such as light microscopy, transmission electron microscopy and scanning electron microscopy. The ultimate aim of this project is to identify factors or proteins associated with the decreased uterine receptivity in women undergoing ovarian hyperstimulation. A more detailed understanding of these factors may increase the pregnancy rate in IVF procedures.

 

 

THE IMPACT OF TISSUE MECHANICS ON CANCER CELL RESPONSE TO DRUG TREATMENTS
A/Prof Geraldine O'NEILL.  Children's Cancer Research Unit, Children's Hospital at Westmead. geraldine.oneill@health.nsw.gov.au

For many years, tumours have been diagnosed by the presence of a lump that can be detected by touch. This ability to palpate the tumour is due to increased rigidity of the tumour matrix. More recently, research in the tissue engineering field has revealed that matrix rigidity is an important determinant of cell fate. These two observations have now come together, in a growing recognition that external mechanical forces regulate cancer progression. This realization means that investigation of cancer cells in flat, plastic dishes does not provide a faithful replicate of the in vivo tissue environment. The dishes are significantly more rigid than any tissues in the body and they do not mimic the 3-dimensional (3D) in vivo tissue structure. In order to investigate how mechanical forces regulate cancer cell response to drug treatments, our lab therefore employs a range of cell culture models that mimic in vivo tissue and tumour organization, with a focus on brain cancer and neuroblastoma. We have projects available to investigate how external tissue rigidity effects cancer cell response to chemotherapy. Techniques employed include fluorescence microscopy, time-lapse microscopy, molecular biology and biochemistry. We are looking for enthusiastic students who enjoy problem solving.

 

 

REGENERATIVE MEDICINE
A/Prof Michael VALENZUELA. Brain and mind Centre 9114 4136 michael.valenzuela@sydney.edu.au
Dr Kathryn Broadhouse, Brain and mind Centre, 9351 0893 kathryn.broadhouse@sydney.edu.au

Skin-derived neuroprecursor cells – cell therapy and disease modeling projects
The Regenerative Neuroscience Group has been at the forefront in defining the “dementia” syndrome in older pet dogs. It is incredibly common and has many fascinating parallels with human dementia. Much less is known about the neurobiology of this disorder, with potential to reveal new pathogenic mechanisms relevant to human Alzheimer's Disease. We have now established an internationally unique Canine Brain Bank, with brain tissue from several dogs with dementia as well as age-matched controls. This Honours project will therefore investigate the histological and pathological underpinnings of canine dementia. Training in the very latest advances in multispectral multiplex microscopic imaging will be provided, allowing for simultaneous visualization of a panel of neurobiological markers with unprecedented spatial sensitivity. For the dedicated student this project has excellent prospects for a high impact neuroscience publication.

Brain Network Responses to Physical and Cognitive Exercise
Functional connectivity of the brain plays a key role in cognitive performance. Network based analyses have shown significant differences in the overall organization of the functional brain network between healthy ageing and participants with mild cognitive impairment (MCI); brain regions communicate differently in cognitively impaired brains. Encouragingly, the functional connectome is extremely plastic even in individuals with MCI. Cognitive and physical exercise training have shown to increase cognitive performance and functional connectivity between brain regions. Part of the research carried out at the Regenerative Neuroscience Group (RNG) aims to assess and identify new interventions to prevent or delay dementia onset by investigating training induced neuronal plasticity. We currently have several projects on offer that aim to utilize multimodal MRI to increase our understanding of the functional connectome, functional plasticity and the underlying mechanisms that support the training induced improvements in cognitive performance in MCI. The projects on offer will implement data driven analysis techniques, such as network based statistics, to analyse longitudinal functional MRI acquired from clinical trials in MCI. These projects will suit highly motivated students interested in learning mathematical network based analyses and some background in neuroscience. A basic understanding of coding and statistics will be beneficial, but is not essential.