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The Judith and David Coffey Life Lab

Confronting the challenges of lifestyle-related health problems

Our work aims to better understand the complexity of the environment-food-health nexus. We conduct world-first research that shifts the focus from treating the symptoms of lifestyle-related diseases to their prevention.

Our ambitious vision is to create an innovation hub where researchers from disciplines spanning physical, life and social and economic sciences will interact with business, government and agency leaders.

We’ll develop integrated approaches to the challenges that threaten societal wellbeing and we’ll equip the next generation of experts with the multidisciplinary skills required to find solutions.

In 2012, the Charles Perkins Centre received a generous $2 million donation from Judith and David Coffey to create the Judith and David Coffey Life Lab. In 2014 they donated a further $3 million.

Our research confronts the significant challenges we face from societal and lifestyle related health problems. Instead of treating the symptoms of lifestyle related diseases, we seek to have a better understanding of the complexity of the environment-food-health nexus so we can work towards prevention.

Ours is a new kind of graduate and postgraduate training environment. An environment that’s at the interface between life, social, health, economic, environmental, engineering, and physical sciences.

Our trans-disciplinary approach develops research that aims to prevent lifestyle-related diseases instead of simply treating the symptoms.

By crossing conventional disciplinary boundaries, we’re challenging existing paradigms and university models to create a unique research training environment.

The evolution of nutritional strategies

Dr Alistair Senior

Biologists typically think about the evolution of diet in terms of a single dimension – energy. We aim to change this paradigm by thinking about diet evolution as part of a multi-nutrient framework. This will offer a more holistic understanding of health, physiology and adaptation.

Our research is focused on understanding the evolutionary basis of diet and the strategies organisms use to meet their nutritional needs. We use computational simulations, meta-analysis of published data and studies on captive and wild populations of organisms.

Little is known about how an animal’s physiology, behaviour and nutritional preferences interact with the nutritional environment over evolutionary time. Our research aims to fill this gap providing new insights into the ultimate causes of nutrition-related diseases.

Modelling the population and evolutionary dynamics of disease

Dr Jemma Geoghegan

Emerging diseases are a major challenge to public health. Crucial to discovering the drivers of these diseases is understanding the evolutionary processes that allow novel pathogens to adapt to new host species as well as the population-level barriers these pathogens must overcome. 

Mathematical modelling is a great tool for projecting how disease is likely to progress and spread. By modelling these dynamics we’ll gain a better understanding of how to control and prevent disease.

Constructing a biochemical insulin signalling circuit

Martin Wong

We’re constructing a biochemical circuit for insulin signalling in a computer. We will use this circuit to verify and expand on what is known by comparing it against what we see in real-life experiments. 

By learning how to build virtual cells, we can personalise these cells for each patient and disease. This lets us identify exactly what’s causing the disease and establish the most effective treatment plan for a cure.

Replicating biology in computers opens up huge possibilities for biological research. We can now run low-cost virtual experiments and make predictions about general cellular outcomes that can revolutionise research.

Associate Professor Zdenka Kuncic [Project lead]

Postgraduate Program

  • Jiapeng Chen
  • Vinita Deshpande
  • Westa Domanova
  • Anastasios Papaioannou
  • Martin Wong

Postdoctoral Research Fellows

Research group leader

Professor Jean Yang
Professor Jean Yang
View Jean Yang's profile