News Archive in Physiology


It is with great sadness that we advise of the sudden death of Professor Bill Stanley who joined the University of Sydney in January 2013 as Chair of Cardiovascular Physiology. In this very short time Bill established himself as a greatly admired teacher, colleague and friend who was loved by many. Bill was a recognised expert on cardiac metabolism and physiology, and was also the Editor in Chief of the American Journal of Physiology – Heart & Circulation. Bill was a gentle, positive and friendly person but he was also passionate and innovative in his approaches to the study of cardiovascular disease. He will be greatly missed and we express our deepest condolences to his wife Beth and family.


Dr Katie Dixon has won the European Society for Photobiology's Young Investigator Award, 2013, for her work on photoprotection.  The award came with an invited plenary lecture "Vitamin D and photoprotection: progress to date" which Katie delivered at the European Society for Photobiology's Congress in Liege, Belgium, in September 2013.  This only the second time that this prize has been awarded to an Australian.  
Katie is now an academic with Anatomy/Histology, but undertook much of the work recognized by the prize in Physiology.


Investigation of mechanisms that cause Parkinson’s disease Congratulations to four of our researchers who have received grants for research into Parkinson’s disease. Dr Haydn Allbutt and Dr Daniel Johnstone recently received 2013 Brain Foundation awards, while Drs Atomu Sawatari and Cathy Leamey have received an Innovation Award from the Michael J Fox Foundation. Dr Allbutt’s research will examine how the disease spreads in the brain. The earliest reported pathology in the Parkinson’s disease brain is the aggregation of a small protein of unknown function called alpha-synuclein. The abnormal, aggregated form of this protein has become widely used as a marker for Parkinsonian pathology and has been used to characterise the parts of the brain that are affected by the disease. There is evidence that a change in the structure of alpha-synuclein may lead to the abnormal changes in the brain that are characteristic of Parkinson’s disease. The research grant awarded to Haydn Allbutt will enable him and his co-workers to test this theory, and to investigate the mechanisms that cause abnormal alpha-synuclein to accumulate in the brain. This work will help us to understand better what is going on in the very early stages of Parkinson’s disease before it is even detected in humans, and how the disease spreads through the brain, so that we can potentially interfere with that process. Daniel Johnstone’s project is entitled "Understanding how near infrared light protects against Parkinson's disease". Previous work by Dr Johnstone and his colleagues, Professors Jonathan Stone and John Mitrofanis, showed that applying near infrared light (NIr) to the head protects against neurodegeneration in rodent models of various brain diseases. More recently, his group showed that the brain is also protected following irradiation of remote tissue, such as the back, suggesting that NIr-induced neuroprotection can be mediated (at least partly) by some unknown circulating factor(s). The current project will investigate the mechanisms by which the application of NIr to a remote tissue protects the brain from degeneration. Specifically, they will test the novel idea that NIr-induced neuroprotection stimulates the proliferation of stem cells in the bone marrow, which are then released into the circulation and recruited specifically to sites of damage in the brain, where they induce repair of damaged nerve cells. This research has important implications for translating NIr into a treatment for patients. Dr Johnstone's research is also supported by an NHMRC Early Career Fellowship, awarded earlier this year (in addition to an offer of a University of Sydney Post-doctoral Fellowship. Drs Atomu Sawatari and Cathy Leamey ‘s study will determine whether the removal of extracellular structures known to be key regulators of neural plasticity, will improve therapeutic efficacy of neurotrophin treatment in a key brain area affected by the debilitating neurodegenerative disorder.

April 2013

Differential hearing difficulties in children: progress towards accurate clinical diagnosis

Some children who have trouble learning in the classroom have difficulty switching their listening attention and so have trouble following a conversation from one talker to the next, according to a research study published online in Nature Scientific Reports.  The PhD study led by Imran Dhamani and Johahn Leung was a collaboration between the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory in the Discipline of Physiology and Macquarie University's Audiology Section, funded by the HEARing Cooperative Research Centre.

The study looked at three groups of participants, 12 adults, 12 normal children and 12 children with persistent listening difficulties in noisy environments, but no diagnosis of a hearing disorder or other attentional disorder.   Paper co-author Associate Professor Simon Carlile said the researchers were determined to find out why some children, with otherwise normal hearing, fell behind in the classroom.

"A wide battery of clinical tests indicated that children who complained of listening difficulties had otherwise normal hearing sensitivity and auditory processing skills," he said.

“In our study, we showed that these children were markedly slower to switch their attention compared to their age-matched peers. In a noisy conversation with many participants, this means that these children were having trouble following a conversation as it moved from one talker to the next, making it difficult for them to get the gist of what was being said.   A deficit in the ability to switch attention across multiple talkers now provides the basis for this otherwise hidden listening disability, especially in noisy environments involving multiple talkers, such as classrooms.  What we have done is provide a tool to diagnose a particular symptom that indicates an underlying problem that has been undiagnosed to date."

Simon Carlile and his co-workers are now working on developing a simple clinical test to diagnose this differential hearing condition, which could then be made available to audiologists.  

April 2013

Roger Dampney will be leaving for Boston to present 2013 Carl Ludwig Distinguished Lectureship in April

The Carl Ludwig Distinguished Lectureship of the APS Neural Control & Autonomic Regulation Section this year is to be given by Professor Roger Dampney. Roger will present this lecture at the Meeting of the American Physiological Society on Monday, April 22 in Boston. The Lecturer is selected by members of the NCAR Section as a representative of the best within the discipline. Roger is the second Australian to be awarded this honour, the previous recipient being Professor Murray Esler of the Baker Heart Research Institute.

March 2013

Circumcision advocacy on ’60 Minutes’

In an interview on 3 March, Professor Brian Morris explained the current medical evidence that now strongly supports the need for universal infant male circumcision in Australia as a ‘surgical vaccine’ to help prevent kidney damage in baby boys, sexually transmitted infections including HPV, herpes and HIV, foreskin problems, and penile and prostate cancer in men, and cervical cancer in women. He said that research has shown there is no adverse effect on sexual function or pleasure. Brian is often sought by the news media for comment on this and other health and research topics. As part of his support for translation of evidence-based medicine into public health policy he helped form the Circumcision Foundation of Australia with other public health advocates, including the former Dean of Medicine, Professor Steve Leeder, and produced a highly accessed evidence-based policy statement last year He has over 50 academic publications on male circumcision and its various benefits, including as primary author of over 15 major reviews in peer-reviewed journals and 5 large book chapters.

October 2012

The lunar cycle can affect visual acuity

It is well known that the lunar cycle can affect tides, but who would have guessed it can also affect vision? Liam Burke and his colleagues Johahn Leung and Dave Davey have recently reported in Biological Rhythm Research (43:249-266, 2012) that in a person with macular oedema in the eye the visual acuity was highest at the time of the full moon and lowest at the time of the new moon. This effect was not seen in a person with a normal eye. There is some evidence that the effect is hormonal, probably due to increased blood oestrogen levels at the full moon. The results may help us to identify the mechanisms underlying macular oedema, which is a common problem in older people.

October 2012

New guidelines for Vitamin D and sun exposure

Rebecca Mason was senior author on an update on health practitioner guidelines for vitamin D in adults, recently published in the Medical Journal of Australia (196: 686-7, 2012). Together with first author, Caryl Nowson of Deakin University, she convened a working party to update the version published in 2005. The new guidelines provide more information on emerging health benefits of vitamin D other than on bone and muscle function, as well as simplified sun exposure proposals, guidelines on who to test and how often, as well as appropriate treatment. The guidelines have been endorsed by the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society, Osteoporosis Australia and the Endocrine Society of Australia.

July 2012

Myriam Abboud invited to 1st Asia-Europe Students' Forum on a sustainable future

Congratulations to Myriam Abboud, who is currently undertaking a PhD on vitamin D with Rebecca Mason and David Fraser, for the award of a special invitation to attend the 1st Asia-Europe Students’ Forum at The University of Groningen. This Forum engages graduates who have become professionals or entrepreneurs, to perform a reality check on working life after graduation and the efficacy of skills learnt at University. Myriam is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian, who established All About Nutrition private practices in 2009. These nutrition clinics are based in medical centres in various areas in the Sydney metropolitan area and offer dietetic consultancy to individuals and corporations. At the Forum in Groningen, Myriam will take part in discussions and workshops about Universities and Business programs for a Sustainable Future.

November 2011

Hypertension breakthrough

Using genomics technology, Professor Brian Morris' group have discovered all of the genes and microRNAs abnormally expressed in kidneys from subjects with essential hypertension. This also revealed the pathways involved. Since a kidney defect has long been suspected as being the cause of hypertension, the findings represent a major breakthrough. As it turned out, one of the genes encoded renin, which Brian had been studying for over 40 years. Transfection experiments in kidney cells with PhD student Francine Marques suggested that the 6-fold over-expression of renin seen was caused by loss of expression of two microRNAs that they showed normally target the renin messenger RNA for degradation. The findings appeared in the Dec 2011 issue of 'Hypertension' and were widely reported in the news media including the Sydney Morning Hearld and the Daily Mail.

Francine Marques was awarded the Bosch Institute's 2011 Bercovici Medal for this work. She also received the award for the best student oral presentation at the 2011 High Blood Pressure Research Council of Australia meeting in December; this award included being the Council's nominee to present her paper at the British Hypertension Society meeting in Cambridge in 2012.

October 2011

Resources to Enhance Learning and Teaching Grant (RELT) Grant Awarded

Congratulations to Stuart Fraser, Steve Assinder & Isabel Arnaiz who were awarded an RELT grant.
Their challenge “Expanding student-directed research-enriched teaching in Physiology: “A research experience” in 3rd year”

October 2011

ITL Grant Awarded

Congratulations to Stuart Fraser, Margot Day, Michael Morris & Steve Assinder on their second teaching grant for the year. This ITL grant is for “Widening Student Participation In Human Cellular Physiology” and was chosen by poster at the recent Teaching Colloquium.

July 2011

Roger Dampney awarded a Senior Visiting Fellowship at the University of Bologna

Professor Roger Dampney has been awarded a Senior Visiting Fellowship by the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of Bologna. The aim of the Fellowships are "to develop interdisciplinary research by facilitating visits by distinguished scholars from abroad". Roger Dampney will spend three months in the first semester of 2012 at the University of Bologna, where he will give some lectures and work with Professor Alessandro Silvani on the central regulation of the cardiovascular system during sleep.

January 2011

Obituary for Professor Gavin Brown by Professor Max Bennett

An obituary for our former Vice Chancellor, Professor Gavin Brown was published in
yesterday's Higher Education Section of The Australian.  It was written, at the request of the
family and the newspaper, by Professor Max Bennett.  Max also gave the  eulogy at Professor Brown's funeral in Adelaide

Canny Scot invigorated Sydney Uni
From: The Australian
January 12, 2011
OBITUARY: Gavin Brown. Academic. Born Lundin Links, Scotland, February
26, 1942. Died Adelaide, December 25, 2010.

October  2010

Brian Morris - Lewis K Dahl Memorial Lecturer for 2010

Congratulations to Professor Brian Morris, who was recently chosen to give the prestigious Lewis K. Dahl Award at the American Heart Association's 2010 Council for High Blood Pressure Research meeting in Washington, DC on 15 Oct.

Brian gave the 2010 Dahl Lecture entitled: "Genes, renin and beyond: 40 years of molecular discoveries in the hypertension field".

October 2010

Francine Marques Genomics Trainee Attendance Award

Francine Marques, a PhD student with Professor Brian Morris, has won a Genomics Trainee Attendance Award from Genome Canada, worth $1000.

This is based on her talk in late September at the genetics satellite meeting in Montreal of the 2010 International Society of Hypertension meeting in Vancouver.
October 2010

Welcome to Matt Naylor

Dr Matt Naylor will be joining the Discipline of Physiology in 2011 as a Senior Lecturer. His group is working on understanding the role of integrin signalling and transcriptional regulators of cell fate in the control of breast and prostate development and cancer.

August  2010

Congratulations to David Allen

Congratulations to Professor David Allen, who has been made a 'Fellow of the International Society for Heart Research'!

The letter from the Society stated that 'this disinction was awarded to a highly select group of prominent cardiovascular scientists chosen from our membersip of thousands'.

August 2010

Promotions to Senior Lecturer

Dr Stephen Assinder and Dr Meloni Muir have both been promoted to Senior Lecturer, effective January 2011. Congratulations to both on this well-deserved recognition.

 March 2010

 Cottrell Memorial Lecture given by Rebecca Mason

In March, 2010, Rebecca Mason was invited by the Royal Australian College of Physicians to give the Cottrell Memorial Lecture at the World Congress of Internal Medicine in Melbourne.

The Cottrell Memorial Lecture acknowledges the late Dr Jack D Cottrell and promotes the study of epidemiology and the social and community aspects of medicine. The title of the lecture was "Vitamin D: the dilemma of skin and bone"

January 2010

Congratulations to David Allen

Professor David Allen has been elected President of the Australian Physiological Society for a three year term (2010-2012)

November 2009

Congratulations to Rebecca Mason

Professor Rebecca Mason has been elected President of the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society for a 2 year term (Nov 2009-Nov 2011).

October 2009

Rebecca Mason awarded for Vitamin D Research

At the 14th International Workshop on vitamin D held in October in Brugges, Belgium, Professor Rebecca Mason was presented with an award for "career contributions to vitamin D research".

October 2010 Katie Dixon received Young Investigator Award

At the 14th Workshop on Vitamin D, Dr Katie Dixon received a Young Investigator award for her presentation on "Photoprotection by 1, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D and analogs: Further studies on mechanisms and implications for UV-damage.”
June 2009 Honour for Professor Max Bennett - 40 years as a Sydney University Academic

On 23rd June, 2009, Professor Max Bennett received a silver medal yesterday in the Great Hall for more than 40 years as an academic in the University, all spent as a member of the Department of Physiology. The following biography was read out on this occasion.

Maxwell Bennett is Professor of Neuroscience and holds the first University Chair for ‘research recognized internationally to be of exceptional distinction’ He graduated in Electrical Engineering and did his doctoral research in Zoology at Melbourne University. He then turned to the brain sciences and was appointed to the second Personal Chair at Sydney University, after Lord May, at which time he was awarded the largest personal Centre of Research Excellence by the Australian Government. His over 300 papers are concerned with research on synaptic connections between nerve cells in the brain. This research led to the discovery that novel transmitters exist at synapses, the first to be identified in fifty years, for which he received the major award in biology and medicine in Australia, the MacFarlane Burnet Medal of the Academy of Sciences. His subsequent discovery that molecules exist at synapses which guide their reformation after nerve injury was recognized by an invitation to give the opening Plenary Lecture to the World Congress of Neuroscience in 1996 as well by appointment in 2000 as an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO). Professor Bennett has written eight books concerned with the history and philosophy of the brain and mind. These have created much interest as indicated, for example, by a recent invitation to give a talk on this subject at the United Nations in New York. Amongst the organizations he has initiated to promote science and brain research are the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, the main lobby group for science in Australia, the International Society for Autonomic Neuroscience, as well as Brain and Mind Research Asia/Pacific. In the last six years Professor Bennett has raised over $50 million to found the Brain and Mind Research Institute, which now has seventeen research professors concerned with the amelioration of diseases of the brain and mind.
February 2009 New book by Professor Max Bennett launched

A new book written by Max Bennett and Peter Hacker: "History of Cognitive Neuroscience" (Wiley Blackwell, 2008) was launched by Sydney University Vice-Chancellor, Dr Michael Spence on 26th February 2009. As Max explained, it is a history of ideas with the experiments designed to test them then leading to more ideas. Just a survey of the contents suggests a thoroughly interesting read.
 February 2009 Renewal of ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science

Funding for the ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science, with Chief Investigator, Professor Jonathan Stone, has been renewed for the period 2010-3. The University of Sydney 'node' of the Centre has until now had one CI - Professor Dreher from Anatomy and Histology. It has expanded with the recent arrival of Professor Stone in Physiology and will continue to expand with Dr Sam Solomon joining the Centre in 2010, assuring his funding for that period.
February 2009 Professor David Allen has NHMRC Program Grant renewed

Congratulations to Professor David Allen on the succesful renewal of his NHMRC Program Grant "Molecular mechanisms of cardiac function and disease". Over $9million was awarded to Prof Robert Graham, Prof David Allen, A/Prof Diane Fatkin, Prof Michael Feneley, Prof Richard Harvey and Prof Peter MacDonald.

Adult-onset heart disease remains the leading cause of death and disability in our society, with almost 2 million Australians affected. Furthermore, structural heart malformations are the most common type of abnormality at birth and the leading cause of deaths in infants dying from non-infectious causes. Many of these problems are due to defects in the development, repair and/or function of heart muscle cells or cardiomyocytes. Thus, we propose to understand, in fine detail, cardiomyocyte as well as integrated heart development,biology, physiology and function as a prerequisite for the development of major advances in the prevention and treatment of these disorders.
 February 2009 Dr Katie Dixon awarded NHMRC Biomedical Fellowship

Dr Katie Dixon, who did her honours and PhD with Prof Rebecca Mason's vitamin D, bone and skin group, was awarded an NHMRC Australian Based Biomedical Fellowship for work on "Investigating novel treatments for prostate cancer". The work will be carried out with Prof Des Richardson's group in Pathology.
 February 2009 TIES grant support for Drs Muir and Frommer

Dr Meloni Muir and Dr Miriam Frommer were awarded a large Teaching Improvement and Equipment Scheme grant in 2009 for a project "Feedback in the Sciences: what is wanted, what is given and how can it be improved". Co-investigators include Dr Fiona White (Psychology), Dr Vanessa Gysbers (Molecular Biology and Genetics) and two staff from the Learning Centre. The project aims to improve teaching quality and student learning by identifying the kinds of feedback on writing which science students perceive as contributing to their overall learning in both individual and group settings and then integrate this information with markers insights and current research to develop guidelines and models for an on-line staff handbook illustrating best practice for giving feedback in the sciences. The work will be carried out over two years.

This year's TIES grant complements one awarded in 2008 to Drs Hayden Allbutt, Meloni Muir, William Phillips, Miriam Frommer and Stephen Assinder for "Improvements in the quality of teaching in the practical component of physiology units of study to students in the Faculty of Science". This grant provided funding principally to purchase and update teaching equipment.
2008  The Cancer Institute and the Minister assisting the Minister for Health, Verity Firth, announced that Katie Dixon from the Bosch Insititute had won a Premier's Award for Outstanding Research Scholar for her work on how vitamin D compounds protect skin from UV damage. The award includes a trophy and a cash prize of $10,000.
   Dr Cathy Leamey has been awarded the Sir Zelman Cowan Universities Fund Prize for Discovery in Medical Research, for her discovery of the gene Ten_m3, which is essential for binocular vision. The prize recognizes discovery in medical research by a researcher under 40 years of age who has made a major contribution to the understanding or treatment of disease. It is awarded in alternate years to researchers at the University of Sydney or the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
   Honarary Associate Professor Arthur Everitt has been awarded the 2008 Distinguished Achievement Award of the American Aging Association. Previous recipients include Linus Pauling, Denman Harman and Ronald Reagan. It is one of the highest international awards for research in ageing.
   Helena Mangs, a PhD student in Brian Morris' Lab, has been awarded a Australian Based Biomedical Fellowship by the NHMRC for 2008-2012. Her PhD thesis describes her research on novel splicing factors and their interactions. This has included exon arrays to discover splicing targets for one of them. These Fellowships must be undertaken in Lab other than that of the PhD. After taking up the Fellowship she plans to undertake postdoctoral research in the Lab of Prof Des Richardson, Discipline of Pathology, School of Medical Sciences and Bosch Institute.
2007  The John Hunter Prize for 2007 has been awarded to Iwan Williams from David Allen's lab. Congratulations on this prestigious award.
  At the recent annual meeting in Melbourne of the Australian Neuroscience Society (held in conjunction with that of the International Brain Research Organisation), Sam Solomon was presented with the AW Campbell award. The award acknowledges the best contribution to the field by a member of the society in their first five postdoctoral years, and commemorates the eminent Australian neurologist whose "Histological studies on the localisation of cerebral function" in 1905 founded cerebral cytoarchitectonics.
  In the recent promotions round, neuroscientists Cathy Leamey and Dario Protti received promotions to Senior Lecturer and Andrea Markus was promoted to Level B research only. All promotions were very well merited.
  Michael Morris, the newly appointed Sesqui Embryonic Stem Cell Senior Lecturer, has recently arrived to take up this appointment. We look forward to his contributions in this exciting field.
  The Brain and Mind Research Institute was successful in the Budget in their request for a further $6 million from the Federal Government to support the building of new research laboratories at the Institute. This brings to $31 million the amount received from Government in the last 18 months to support the BMRI's building program, with the promise of a further $6 million from the Premier in the next few months.
  A review on "The machinery of colour vision" written by Sam Solomon, Sesqui Lecturer in SMS, and Peter Lennie is the Featured Article (and Cover) of April's issue of Nature Reviews Neuroscience
   A new book on Neuroscience and Philosophy written by neuroscientists Max Bennett, of Physiology and Peter Hacker and two philosophers, Daniel Dennett and John Searle, is due to be released in the next few weeks.
   Helena Mangs wins Promega award for abstract presented at the Lorne Genome conference.
2006 We are delighted to be able to announce that the draft agenda for the Faculty of Medicine meeting on Nov 23rd has the very good news that Professor B Morris, School of Medical Sciences has been awarded the Faculty Award for Excellence in Research Higher Degree Supervision.
  Stage 2 of the Brain and Mind Research Institute was opened today by the Prime Minister, the Honourable John Howard, whose government has contributed $9million for capital works to date.
The Prime Minister, the Vice-Chancellor, Gavin Brown, and the Chancellor, Justice Kim Santow all paid tribute to the vision, drive and dedication of Professor Max Bennett, Scientific Director of the BMRI and the Executive Director, Professor Ian Hickie. The BMRI will harness the work of 65 laboratories in the University and associated teaching hospitals and has attracted key researchers in neuroscience, neurology and psychiatric medicine to improve mental health and brain function in the Australian community.
  Hearty congratulations are due to Professor David Allen. It was announced today that he has been elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy (of Science). This is a prestigious honour and a great credit to David and his work.
We are indeed fortunate to now have three FAAs in Physiology - Professors Max Bennett and David Cook are also Fellows of the Australian Academy.
2005 A prize of $500 for the best presentation in the e-learning section at the College of Health Sciences Ed Health Conference, Innovation to Practice, Terrigal, Nov 2005 was awarded for the following paper from Physiology:
"An online interactive approach to improving practical report writing" by Meloni Muir, Helen Drury (Learning Centre) , Miriam Frommer, Janet Jones (LC), Gosia Mendrela (Flexible Online Learning Team), Irene Schneider and Helen Wozniak, which was presented on the day by Meloni and Helen Drury.
Congratulations in particular to Meloni, Miriam and Irene.
  A recent media release from the Federal Minister for Health and Ageing, Tony Abbott MHR, announced the award of $5 million dollars for infrastructure for the Brain and Mind Research Institute. This item was specifically mentioned in the recent Federal Budget as part of the Medical Research Infrastructure program. Professor Max Bennett of the BMRI has indicated that the funds will be used to fit out a number of floors of the Institute building in Mallett St. The BMRI will further enhance the already excellent Neuroscience research undertaken in Physiology and other disciplines in the School of Medical Sciences.