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Centre for Precision Health - ECU Strategic Research Centre

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Graduate research opportunities

The ongoing recruitment, training and completion of successful HDR students and their associated projects is fundamental to the realisation of both the Centre’s long-term vision and the growth and development of the next generation of biomedical researchers. HDR students are an integral part of fostering an innovative and collaborative research culture within the Centre and with its collaborators.

Joining the Centre as an HDR student will see you embed in a thriving research culture and give you the opportunity to be supervised by researchers with proven track records in producing high-calibre HDR graduates with timely completions and excellent outcomes. With ongoing collaborations with clinicians through existing funded research programs, and well-established participant recruitment pipelines or access to large cohort studies, the feasibility and timely completion of HDR projects is assured. You will be provided with extensive supervisory mentorship, cutting-edge research projects with significant academic/industry networking opportunities and professional development.

In addition to the wealth of training provided by ECU's Graduate Research School, the Centre will offer specific workshops and writing retreats, and open access publication, data management, analysis and conference travel support. Frequent research stream specific meetings and individual candidate/supervisor meetings will be held to manage and support your HDR progress, and SRCPH research showcases will offer HDR students the opportunity to present their work.

Hear from one of our PhD Candidates - Aaron Beasley:

Current research programs actively recruiting HDR students:

Neurobiology stream

Understanding genetic contributions to disease progression in Alzheimer's disease

Predicting rates of cognitive decline and the rate of accumulation of the pathological features in Alzheimer's disease are fundamental to understanding the origins of the disease. This research program will leverage extensive existing genome wide genetic and longitudinal clinical phenotype (brain imaging, cognition) data to understand the genetic contributions to Alzheimer's disease development and progression.

Identifying DNA methylation patterns as biomarkers for Alzheimer's disease

Identification of biological markers (Biomarkers) that track with cognitive decline and the rate of Alzheimer's disease progression will be fundamental to developing early diagnostics and disease monitoring capabilities. This research program will leverage extensive longitudinal epigenetic (genome wide methylation) and clinical phenotype (brain imaging, cognition) to understand the genetic contributions to Alzheimer’s disease development and progression.

Exploring gene-lifestyle interactions to allow for the personalisation of intervention approaches in Alzheimer's disease

Understanding gene-lifestyle interactions (Lifestyle Genomics (LGx)) can help ascertain what genetic factors underpin lifestyle associations, as well as providing the initial steps towards individualised implementation of lifestyle interventions. Leveraging extensive genetic, epigenetic and longitudinal phenotype data this research program investigates the impact of the interaction of genetics and lifestyle factors (sleep, physical activity, diet, and metabolic factors) on the risk for Alzheimer's Disease.

Cancer Biology stream

Autoantibodies as melanoma biomarkers

Autoantibodies can provide diagnostic and prognostic information and therefore serve as melanoma biomarkers. This study will exploit high-throughput protein microarray data and highly annotated clinical data to derive specific biomarkers. In-housed bead-based immunoassays will be developed for validation and translation of the findings. Further studies include interrogation of the B-cell compartment to understand the regulation and production of these autoantibodies. Understanding uveal melanoma metastases.

Understanding uveal melanoma metastases

Uveal melanoma (UM) is the second most common subtype of melanoma. Distant metastasis develops in the liver in up to 95% of cases. The mechanisms for the development of metastases in the liver remain unclear. Using single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) of UM tumours, we have identified potential communication networks between cancer cells and other cells within the tumour microenvironment. The project aims to validate these cell-to-cell communication networks using in vitro and in vivo models.

Improving circulating tumour DNA analysis for detection and monitoring of melanoma

Circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) carries the genetic footprint of existing tumours in the body and is a potential biomarker for monitoring patients during clinical course. Improvement in methods for the analysis of this blood-based biomarkers must be prioritised to fully realise its biomarker potential. This study aims to leverage cutting-edge sequencing technologies and novel bioinformatics pipeline to improve ctDNA analysis. Such methods will then be utilised for early detection of disease relapse in melanoma patients.

Identifying blood biomarkers predictive of therapeutic response to immunotherapy

The overarching aim of this study is to assess the clinical utility of blood derived biomarkers such as circulating tumour cells (CTCs), circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) and extracellular vesicles for predicting and monitoring response to immune checkpoint blockade in melanoma and lung cancer.

Suboptimal Health stream

Towards personalised medicine via population-based study of variability of the human IgG glycome

N-glycosylation is a form of epigenetic regulation known as a post-translational modification. Biomedical research focused on N-glycosylation arose following the Human Genome Project and highlighted the ubiquity of the previously side-lined N-glycans. It was found that more than half of plasma proteins are N-glycosylated. The N-glycome is hypothesised to quantify the interaction between genetic predisposition and environmental exposure over the life-course, termed an ‘intermediate phenotype’. The group has ongoing research projects into the development of precise screening and diagnostic N-glycan biomarker panels, over multiple complex phenotypes, and the investigation of their inter- and intra-population validity.

Profiling IgG N-glycans as biomarkers of the ageing process: The Busselton Healthy Ageing Study

The group are founding members of the Human Glycome Project; a consortium conducting research into how the N-glycans associate with numerous complex phenotypes, including biological and chronological age. Consortium members have developed a clinical testing kit assessing biological age, which has been marketed and available in Europe and Asia for a few years and has greater precision than telomere length. Through identifying individuals who have discordant biological and chronological age, which is often attributed to unfavourable lifestyle behaviours, the N-glycome may be able to stratify individuals who are at risk of developing more serious chronic diseases, during a window where changed behaviours may have the greatest impact.

Suboptimal health: A new instrument for chronic disease assessment

Suboptimal Health Status (SHS) is defined as a physical state whereby no specific diagnosable condition is present’, and focuses on identifying a decline in vitality, physiological function and capacity for adaptation. SHS recognises a persons' perception of health complaints, general weakness, chronic fatigue and low energy, which may elucidate suboptimal or less-than-ideal components of health status requiring intervention [1]. Early intervention is consistently regarded as the most effective method of preventing chronic disease and can be achieved through prescribing modified health behaviours or treating mild complaints. The group has ongoing research focusing on SHS in diverse populations differing in age range, socioeconomic status, ethnicity and lifestyle behaviours.

For any opportunities please contact the Director, Professor Simon Laws.

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