Investigation into the pharmacokinetics and efficacy of analgesics used in koalas


Our research shows many therapeutic drugs administered to koalas do not reach therapeutic plasma concentrations; this project investigates whether this is also the case with analgesics.   


Associate Professor Merran Govendir

Research Location

Faculty of Veterinary Science

Program Type



Therapeutic drugs are used by koala facilities to medicate koalas for a number of reasons. Koalas are frequently medicated with analgesics to treat or burns, feral animal attacks and car accidents. The koala’s diet has a high proportion of plant secondary metabolites (PSMs), consequently the koala is presumed to have physiological adaptations to minimise oral absorption and maximize elimination of these PSMs. Like PSMs, we have found that all the drugs we have investigated so far such Metacam®, Baytril® etc are poorly absorbed and rapidly eliminated by koalas. We suspect this is probably the case with analgesic drugs and want to test this hypothesis. In the first instance we will select two to three commonly used analgesics used in koalas and will work up the liquid chromatography assays for each of these drugs to detect their concentration in biological fluids. Then will test these agents with in vitro models to ascertain the extent of oral absorption (an everted sac model) and extent of metabolism (by the microsome assay which is a model of phase 1 hepatic metabolism). Finally we will investigate the in vivo pharmacokinetics of these agents in koalas to formulate a more effective dose rate of these drugs in this species. There is also a requirement to develop a pain scale and / or optimize a currently available diagnostic test for koalas to measure the effectiveness of these drugs in this generally regarded ‘stoic’ species.   

Additional Information

We are looking for a veterinarian or an animal/biological science graduate with a first class honours (Hons I) or equivalent. Graduates with Hons I degrees are eligible for Australian Postgraduate Awards (APA), which currently pays a tax exempt stipend of approximately $23,000 pa for 3.5 years. For a candidate to be successful for an APA for semester 1, 2012, applications for an APA must be submitted to the University Research Office by October 28, 2011.  Candidates will have their travel and accommodation expenses covered to attend koala facilities to obtain and collect samples such as the Koala Preservation Society at Port Macquarie NSW and Australia Zoo, Beerwah QLD.  Candidates will be expected to contribute to the koala post-mortem service provided by the Faculty for deceased koalas sent by the KPS Hospital. If you are interested in a career in veterinary pharmacology, the skills you will learn in this project will assist you to obtain positions in veterinary pharmaceutical companies and give you a deeper understanding of drug pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics used in veterinary practice.  

Want to find out more?

Contact us to find out what’s involved in applying for a PhD.

Contact Research Expert to find out more about participating in this opportunity.

Browse for other opportunities within the Faculty of Veterinary Science .


Koalas, therapeutic drugs, plasma concentrations; analgesics

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 1384