Study As
Full Time

Principal Supervisor
Professor Janna Morrison

Main Campus
City West

Applications Close
26 Sep 2023

Study Level

Applications Open To
Domestic Candidate or International 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. (Domestic only)

About this project

Advance knowledge on brain metabolism and growth in the fetus 

If you are motivated to develop a career in the biomedicine industry and keen to develop innovative exploratory techniques in this field, the University of South Australia – Australia’s University of Enterprise – is offering a hands-on project-based PhD within Health and Biomedical Innovation (HBI), in partnership with King’s College London and SickKids Hospital. 

How does the brain, an exquisitely sensitive sensor of oxygen, develop, grow and function normally despite the fetus being in an environment of physiological hypoxemia (low oxygen) and hypoglycemia (low glucose) relative to the mother?  

Remarkably, this oxygen-rich blood does not mix with blood returning from the lower body of the fetus but instead is directed to the left posterior side of the inferior vena cava in a phenomenon known as streaming. This process is important to ensure normal brain metabolism, development, and growth. 

Current lab work is investigating this mechanism and its impact on cerebral metabolism in pregnancies complicated by fetal growth restriction and preterm birth, where oxygen delivery to the brain may be compromised.  

The impact of this compromise on the abundance of molecules involved in metabolism is not known. However, it is possible to non-invasively measure these metabolites with magnetic resonance imaging, as we intend to do in our project. We hope that the knowledge we gain can be translated to managing compromised pregnancies and enable us to understand adaptation and compensation in the face of substrate deficiency that leads to fetal growth restriction.  

This project will provide the first link between non-invasive measures of oxygen content in fetal blood, vessel blood flow, fetal brain oxygen delivery, and brain oxygen consumption and metabolism and relate these findings to brain morphometry and histology.  

It is novel in its intent to relate the abundance of molecules involved in brain metabolism to non-invasive MRI measures of brain development (tractography and metabolites) and invasive histological measures of neuron and glial cell density. This is also coupled with our ability to measure oxygen delivery to, and consumption by, the brain. 

You will join a world-class cohort within Health and Biomedical Innovation (HBI). You will have access to an established laboratory with all the equipment required for analyses (realtime PCR, Western blotting, LC-MS/MS, histology) and trained by a team of experts in each of the procedures you’ll be undertaking. 

We partner with SAHMRI in the Preclinical Imaging and Research laboratories where the animal studies will be performed. No other facility in Australia allows access to surgical theatres, long term animal housing, CT and MRI facilities so your experience and knowledge will be in demand upon graduation. 

What you’ll do 

In this project-based research degree, you will participate in fetal surgery, postoperative care, blood pressure studies and tissue collection. You will perform histology to quantitate neurons in the fetal brain and analyse MRI data of the brain using Excel and Prism.  

There are opportunities to use realtime PRC and Western blotting to study gene and protein expression in brain regions as well as immunohistochemistry. LC/MS-MS assays will be used to measure fetal plasma hormones involved in fetal metabolism as well as metabolic molecules in different brain regions.  

You will be fully trained and mentored by an experienced team. This project will provide you with the unique opportunity to work with human placenta samples while also gaining experience with a large animal model of pregnancy. You will also have access to an extensive BioBank of fixed and frozen tissue with extensive clinical records and in vivo physiological data to support your studies. 

You will be encouraged to share your work and gain constructive feedback via several conferences virtually (e.g., Fetal and Neonatal Physiological Society), locally (e.g., HBI Trainee Symposia), nationally (e.g., CSANZ, FNWANZ) and internationally (e.g., SRI, FNPS). You could also potentially travel to collaborator laboratories in Australia or overseas. 

Where you’ll be based 

You will be based within the Health and Biomedical Innovation concentration. We study the complex workings of the body and its interaction with environment. Our goal is to address fundamental questions about how the body and its environment work and to integrate this knowledge to increase our understanding of the human body as a whole, in both health and disease. This approach involves measuring changes in the body with disease and the impact of interventions and allows us to discover biomedical pathways to improve health while providing the foundational knowledge required for translation into clinical practice. We achieve this through initiating, and being sought for engagement with, strong partnerships with other national and international thought leaders in academia, clinical practice, industry, government and our community.  

Our work is disseminated through production of high-quality publications, engagement with end-users and the community at conferences and with public presentations. Our fundamental approach to science provides a strong basis for student engagement across all health science programs, integrating our research into our teaching practices to develop industry ready graduates and engage them in our research endeavours. 

Our research pillars represent a new direction in health and chronic disease research, focusing on strong engagement with government, industry, regulatory bodies, policy-makers and the community.

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, permanent residents of Australia. 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 this group.  For full terms and benefits of the scholarship please refer to our scholarship information.  International applicants will not be eligible to receive the scholarship.

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 Masters of Research or 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 Tuesday, 26 September, 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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