Study As
Full Time

Principal Supervisor
Dr Sophie Wiszniak

Main Campus
City West

Applications Close
30 May 2024

Study Level

Applications Open To
Domestic Candidate

Tuition Fees:

All domestic students are eligible for a fee waiver. Find out more about fees and conditions.

Project Stipend:
$32,500 p.a. (2024 rates) available to domestic applicants only

About this project

Help change the future of babies born with congenital heart defects

If you are passionate about developing your career in molecular biology and motivated to help develop new methods of treating heart defects, the University of South Australia – Australia’s University of Enterprise – is offering a hands-on project-based PhD with life-changing impacts in the Centre for Cancer Biology (CCB). 

Congenital heart defects are the most common birth abnormality, affecting 1 in 100 births. They are also the leading cause of death in Australian babies. While some cases of congenital heart defects can be attributed to a known cause, in the vast majority (80%) of cases, the cause is unknown.  

We must understand the causes of heart defects during embryonic development. If we understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms, we may in future develop targeted interventional therapies to reduce the severity or even prevent disease developing in utero. Understanding the molecular aetiology of congenital heart defects is an essential first step towards new treatments for these highly prevalent disorders. 
Our project is based on our novel hypothesis and extensive data indicating a crucial role for an embryonic cell population, neural crest cells, in signalling to other cardiac progenitor cells to orchestrate correct heart and cardiovascular development. The molecular mechanisms of these signalling events are currently unknown and will form the basis of our project. 
Our project will use genetic mouse models with disrupted neural crest cells that exhibit clinically relevant heart and vascular defects to examine embryos at various stages of development. Molecular pathways will be interrogated using single cell RNA sequencing approaches, advanced confocal microscopy, and cell cultures and tissue explants to interrogate the molecular interactions between neural crest cells and other cell types involved in cardiovascular development.  

The ultimate goal is to use this knowledge to modulate cell signalling pathways in utero and assess the outcomes on heart and cardiovascular development. 

You will be based in the CCB and become part of the Angioscience and Cardiovascular Development team. You will join a close-knit group of peers and senior researchers and participate in weekly lab meetings to discuss your work and receive feedback. You will be encouraged to formulate your own scientific hypotheses and research directions.  

Our laboratory is a friendly and supportive working environment with passionate researchers skilled in multiple animal models, cell culture and molecular biology. There will be opportunities for you to also interact and potentially collaborate with other student and staff members of the Centre, who are co-located in shared laboratory spaces that are equipped with state-of-the art technologies.  

What you’ll do 

In this project-based research degree, you will undertake laboratory-based work under the guidance of the supervisory team. This will involve a variety of mouse embryo collection and analysis, confocal microscopy, tissue sectioning, cell culturing, molecular biology techniques (PCR, western blotting), as well as single cell RNAseq data analysis.  

You will keep up-to-date with the scientific literature by searching for and critically reading relevant primary research papers. Data analyses will involve basic image processing in Photoshop, assembling multiple datasets into figures, 3D image processing in advanced software packages, statistical analyses in Prism software, and some basic bioinformatics analysis using programming pipelines with assistance from in-house bioinformaticians.  

You will graduate with an enviable suite of hard and soft skills and abilities, and hands-on experience with a range of equipment and processes. You will be well positioned to pursue a successful career in academia, industry or government.  

There may be opportunities to travel to collaborating laboratories to undertake specific aspects of the project. 

Where you’ll be based 

You’ll be based at the Centre for Cancer Biology (CCB) 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 $32,500 per annum is available to Australian and New Zealand citizens, and permanent residents of Australia, including permanent humanitarian visa holders.  Australian Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander applicants will be eligible to receive an increased stipend rate of $50,291 per annum (2024 rate maximum RTP rate). 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. International applicants are not invited to apply at this time.

Eligibility and Selection

This project is open to applications from Australian or New Zealand citizens, and Australian permanent residents or permanent humanitarian visa holders. International applicants are not invited to apply at this time.

Applicants must meet the eligibility criteria for entrance into a PhD. Additionally, applicants must address the following criteria:
  • an honours degree or equivalent research lab experience in molecular/cellular biology or a related discipline. 
  • willing to work with animal models.
  • a keen interest in developmental biology.
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 Thursday, 30 May, 2024.

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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