Study As
Full Time

Principal Supervisor
Associate Professor Cameron Bracken

Main Campus
City West

Applications Close
28 Jan 2023

Study Level

Applications Open To
Domestic Candidate or International Candidate

Tuition Fees:
All domestic students are eligible for a fee waiver. International students who receive a stipend are eligible for a fee waiver. Find out more about fees and conditions.

Project Stipend:
$29,863 p.a.

About This Project 

Re-examine what we know about microRNAs and cancer

If you are seeking to advance your career in molecular biology and interested in contributing to microRNA research, the University of South Australia – Australia’s University of Enterprise – is offering a contemporary project-based PhD in our Centre for Cancer Biology.

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are critical regulators of gene expression. They have been extensively studied in both the normal functioning of cells and in diseases such as cancer. It is a large field of study and a plethora of bioinformatic tools have been created as repositories of miRNA sequence information, expression and target prediction. 

This project questions some fundamental assumptions about how miRNAs are reported to work, as it is possible that many studies are either based upon miRNAs that are mis-annotated in these databases (and might not really exist), or draw conclusions that depend entirely on the over-expression of miRNAs in cell systems in which they are not normally present.

This project will seek to settle the current debate about how many miRNAs we actually have. The current claims range from just over 500 to almost 6,000. We will also seek to determine how much must be expressed in a cell in genuine miRNAs to be of functional consequence. 

You will become part of the Gene Regulatory Networks Laboratory, which is a collegial and friendly working environment, fully equipped with state-of-the-art technologies and staffed by researchers whose skill sets range from cell biology through to the bioinformatic assessment of transcriptomic data that is generated in the lab, and large sequencing datasets that are available publicly. 

What you’ll do

In this project-based research degree, you will generate raw RNA-Seq data and process it into informative miRNA/gene counts. Through these steps, you will gain exposure to bash scripting, the Python programming language, and the use of high-performance computer infrastructure. 

You will interpret these counts data using R, leveraging various packages designed for this type of bioinformatic analysis and production of insightful data visualisations. There is scope to collate the results of this project into an interactive dashboard, likely using the Shiny framework, providing the research community with an easy interface for determining the legitimacy of their miRNAs of interest. The project will equip you with a range of both experimental and bioinformatic skills. 

Molecular techniques you will be involved in include PCR, cell culture, reporter assays, gene expression and inhibition, western blotting, RNA extraction and generating transcriptomic datasets. 

We will encourage to you present your work at several scientific conferences over the course of the project.  

The skills, experience and exposure you will gain through publishing in high impact journals will provide a strong basis for future employment in research science, especially as the project will equip you with both molecular (experimental) and bioinformatic skills.

Where you’ll be based

You’ll be based at the Centre for Cancer Biology on UniSA’s City West campus. CCB is a medical research institute which carries out a world-class program of innovative research, making breakthrough discoveries in the fundamental causes of cancer, and translating these discoveries into new ways to prevent and treat this group of diseases.

The CCB is an alliance between SA Pathology and the University of South Australia and boasts the largest concentration of cancer research in South Australia, currently hosting 22 full-time research group leaders and their teams.

CCB laboratories carry out research in leukaemia, breast cancer, prostate cancer, skin cancer, brain cancer and colon cancer, focussing in the specialised areas of gene regulation, molecular signalling, translational oncology and cancer genomics. In addition to these laboratories, our ACRF cancer Genomics Facility is providing access to state-of-the-art genomics research equipment, computing technology and bioinformatics expertise to Adelaide BioMed Precinct and the wider research community.

Translation of new discoveries into clinical practice is strengthened by the co-localisation of the laboratories within a single Institute, as well as its proximity and close collaboration with the Royal Adelaide Hospital, the University of South Australia, the University of Adelaide and SAHMRI.

The CCB also has alliances with leading pharmaceutical companies to rapidly exploit new discoveries. The Institute aims to be a hub of internationally recognized cancer research excellence, achieving tangible outcomes for cancer patients.

The CCB is a member of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI).

Supervisory Team

Financial Support

This project is funded for reasonable research expenses. Additionally, a living allowance scholarship of $29,863 per annum is available to eligible applicants. Australian Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander applicants will be eligible to receive an increased stipend rate of $46,653 per annum (2023 rates). A fee-offset or waiver for the standard term of the program is also included. For full terms and benefits of the scholarship please refer to our scholarship information for domestic students or international students.

Eligibility and Selection

This project is open to application from both domestic and international applicants.

Applicants must meet the eligibility criteria for entrance into a PhD. 

All applications that meet the eligibility and selection criteria will be considered for this project. A merit selection process will be used to determine the successful candidate.

The successful applicant is expected to study full-time and to be based at our City West campus in the heart of Adelaide.

Essential Dates 

Applicants are expected to start in a timely fashion upon receipt of an offer.  Extended deferral periods are not available. Applications close on Saturday, 28 January, 2023.

How to apply:

Applications must be lodged online, please note UniSA does not accept applications via email.

For further support see our step-by-step guide on how to apply , or contact the Graduate Research team on +61 8 8302 5880, option 1 or email us at You will receive a response within one working day.

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