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STUDENTS

Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre trains and supervises undergraduate and postgraduate students from different disciplines.

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Scroll down, or click on the pictures below to head straight to the list of projects available for each researcher

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Prof Chris Pantelis

Prof Ben Harrison

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Prof Sarah Whittle

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A/Prof Andrew Zalesky

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Dr Vanessa Cropley

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Dr Maria   DiBiase

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Dr Ye Tian

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Dr Tamsyn Van Rheenen

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Cognitive and memory deficits underlie and, in some cases, precede the diagnosis of many neuropsychiatric disorders from depression to autism and schizophrenia. The hippocampus is a key brain region responsible for cognitive and memory processing. The aim of the current project is to model hippocampal functioning in the mouse brain using a combination of histological and biochemical techniques, and to determine whether differences are present between age groups.

Co-supervisor: A/Prof Jess Nithianantharajah (Florey)
PhD or Masters by Research students

Advanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) methods are used to model and investigate microstructure, chemical composition and functional organization of the brain. The proposed project aims to leverage information from multiple MRI modalities, such as structural, diffusion and quantitative susceptibility mapping (QSM), to study neurodevelopment across brain maturation.

Co-supervisor: Dr Warda Syeda
Funded PhD scholarship available for this project                                                     Click here to view advertisement

Prof Christos Pantelis

Funded PhD Scholarships are available across projects for the right candidate. Please contact Chris via email for an interview.

Your email should include your current CV, nominate the project you want to apply for, and provide a general introduction regarding experience and pitch for the project scholarship.

To be eligible you must fulfil    entry requirements for graduate research at the University of Melbourne.

Recent evidence suggests that the cerebellum may be a key site of neuropathology in individuals with Autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and may therefore play a critical role in the symptoms that characterise these disorders. This study will examine cerebellar grey matter and white matter changes during maturation and with the emergence of ASD symptoms.

Co-supervisor: Prof Stan Skafidas
PhD students

The aim of this project is to determine whether impairments in episodic memory, attentional set-shifting, and spatial working memory are related to disrupted brain connectivity (as measured by MRI-derived structural covariance; see Wannan et al, 2019) in key regions associated with performance on these tasks in individuals with first-episode psychosis.

Co-supervisor: Dr Cassie Wannan (Orygen)
PhD, Honours or Masters by Research students

Schizophrenia is a debilitating mental illness that disrupts the functioning of the mind, with onset typically occurring in young adulthood. Impairments in certain cognitive functions, such as working memory, are core features of Sz, which are not addressed for existing drug targets. Our general hypothesis is that schizophrenia is a complex disease resulting from a loss-of-function of key pathways that govern neurodevelopment, neurotransmission, intracellular redox state and synaptic connectivity. Our data indicate that iron is elevated in the orbitofrontal cortex in post mortem brain samples from individuals with schizophrenia relative to age- and sex-matched controls. We propose that a rise of cytosolic iron is upstream of key lesions associated with negative and cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia, including neuronal development (e.g., parvalbumin-interneurons and synaptic pruning), neurotransmission (e.g., GABAergic and glutamatergic pathways), as well as iron homeostasis, antioxidant defence (e.g., haem oxygenases), and ferroptosis (e.g., an iron-dependent pathway for lipid peroxidation recently associated with loss of parvalbumin-interneurons). The project aims to investigate the status of proteins involved in iron metabolim as well as levels of markers of oxidative stress.

Co-supervisors: Prof Ashley Bush and Dr Carlos Opazo (Florey)
PhD, Honours or Masters by Research students

Recent evidence suggests that the cerebellum may be a key site of neuropathology in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This study will examine both the direct effects of cerebellar pathology, and the role of cerebello-cortical circuitry, on the aetiology of ASD symptoms.

Co-supervisor: Prof Stan Skafidas
PhD students

Schizophrenia is a debilitating neuropsychiatric disorder characterised by positive symptoms (delusions, hallucinations), negative symptoms (lack of motivation, poverty of speech), cognitive deficits and impaired social and occupational functioning. The aetiology of schizophrenia remains unknown and the mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of schizophrenia are poorly understood. Previous studies have identified altered brain metabolism as one of the putative mechanisms contributing to schizophrenia, partly due to neuroinflammation and pathological oxidative processes. However, there is a paucity of research investigating oxidative and neuroinflammatory processes in the brain in vivo. Sodium (23Na) MRI is an emerging metabolic imaging technique that employs ultra-high field MRI (7T and above) to characterise tissue sodium content, and together with iron (1H) MRI provides an invaluable tool to investigate brain structure and chemical composition in the living brain. By employing advanced multivariate statistical techniques, this program of work aims to combine complementary information from clinical, cognitive and biological data in order to identify unique patterns of cognition and structural changes associated with schizophrenia.

Co-supervisors: Dr Warda Syeda and A/Prof Mahesh Jayaram
PhD, Honours or Masters by Research students

Children with neurodevelopmental disorders often have worse outcomes than typically developing children on a range of measures, including education, mental health, social dysfunction, vocational achievement, and conduct problems. Furthermore, overlap between the symptoms of many neurodevelopmental disorders, along with intra-illness heterogeneity, results in frequent misdiagnosis, ineffective treatment, and increased disability in affected children. There is therefore an urgent need to identify biopsychosocial markers that characterise specific neurodevelopmental disorders and impact on illness severity and outcomes. The key aims of our research are therefore to (1) map the developmental trajectories of cognition, behaviour, and brain structure and function in autism-spectrum disorder (ASD) and schizotypal disorder of childhood (SDC) over critical periods of brain development, and (2) identify the candidate biopsychosocial risk/resilience markers that might impact these trajectories and illness outcomes. Our work will consider a range of biopsychosocial markers, including genetics, inflammation, clinical profiles, early life stress and physiological stress reactivity, and psychosocial indices such as socioeconomic status and parenting styles.

Co-supervisor: Dr Cassie Wannan (Orygen)
PhD, Honours or Masters by Research students

The ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) is a master regulator of neural development and the maintenance of brain structure and function. It influences neurogenesis, synaptogenesis and neurotransmission by determining the localization, interaction and turnover of scaffolding, presynaptic and postsynaptic proteins. Moreover, UPS signalling transduces epigenetic changes in neurons independent of protein degradation and as such dysfunction of components and/or substrates of this system have been linked to a broad range of brain conditions. Although links between UPS dysfunction and neurodegenerative disorders have been known for some time, only recently have similar links emerged for neurodevelopmental disorders, such as schizophrenia. We and others have found that diffeerent components of the UPS are dysregulated in schizophrenia. The project aims to investigate whether specific poly-ubiquitin changes are altered in brain samples from individuals with schizhophrenia.

Co-supervisors: Prof Ashley Bush and Dr Carlos Opazo (Florey)

PhD, Honours or Masters by Research students

Multiple neuropsychiatric disorders from autism to depression and schizophrenia are characterised by altered brain connectivity and synaptic functioning. Key players in the development of synaptic connections are the brain’s immune cells, the microglia. The aim of this project is to utilise a mouse model to identify specific neurodevelopmental stages when the brain is most vulnerable to microglial activity.

Co-supervisor: A/Prof Jess Nithianantharajah (Florey)

PhD or Masters by Research students

Chris Pantelis
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We are seeking an enthusiastic and academically high performing student for a study seeking to understand how sleep shapes brain development and  mental health. The ‘Imaging in the Circadian Light in Adolescence, Sleep, and School’ (iCLASS) study is a funded study examining how changes in sleep and circadian rhythms in adolescence impacts brain development and later mental health. We will test whether changes in comprehensive measures of sleep-wake patterns and circadian phase predict brain development and in turn, later psychopathology.

Candidates are welcome to apply through either The University of Melbourne or Monash University

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Vanessa Cropley

Dr Vanessa Cropley

Please contact Vanessa via email for an interview.

Your email should include your current CV, nominate the project you want to apply for, and provide a general introduction regarding experience and pitch for the project scholarship.

To be eligible you must fulfil    entry requirements for graduate research at the University of Melbourne.

PIPs Study: Proteins of the Immune System in Psychosis

The human brain continuous to develop well into young adulthood. This development is characterised by white matter growth and the elimination and refinement of synaptic connections (called synaptic pruning). Research has demonstrated that the immune system and the environment shape brain developmental processes. Alteration in brain development may also confer risk for psychiatric illness, including psychosis. The ‘Proteins of the Immune system in Psychosis’ (PIPs) study combines multimodal neuroimaging, blood and cerebrospinal fluid, and phenotypic assessment in young adults in the general community to understand factors that impact individual differences in brain development and risk for psychosis. PhD students will have the opportunity to develop a project examining independent or interactive associations between the environment, immune proteins, subclinical psychosis and brain development (as inferred from neuroimaging). Students will have the opportunity to be involved in participant recruitment and assessment. This project is suitable for applicants with an undergraduate degree in biomedicine, biological science, psychology, neuroscience, health sciences or related discipline.

Understanding sleep and psychosis

Sleep and circadian problems are common in people with psychotic disorders. This project will investigate sleep problems in the development, maintenance and management of psychosis. Specific projects might include: i) mapping short-term changes in sleep, psychotic-like experiences, psychopathology and cognition using ecological momentary assessment in young people from the community; ii) comprehensively assess the extent of sleep problems in individuals with psychosis and their experience of these problems (called phenomenology); iii) assess the association between specific sleep problems and worsening of specific symptoms or cognitive functions. This project is suitable for applicants with an undergraduate degree in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, neuroscience, health sciences or related discipline, with an interest in clinical work. The project will involve collaboration with researchers at the University of Melbourne and Swinburne University. 

Mapping brain metabolites across the brain

The PIPs study will acquire brain imaging scans called magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) that measure the level of small metabolites in brain tissue. Unlike previous MRS studies that measure brain metabolites in single voxels or brain slices based on a priori regions, the current study will acquire the brain metabolites at every voxel of the brain. This will allow various brain metabolites, including those indexing neuropil contraction and expansion, oxidative stress and energy metabolism, to be mapped across the entire cortical surface. This is important as the timing and level of brain metabolites varies across brain regions. We are seeking an enthusiastic student to work on advanced methods to quantify the MRS spectra to generate the metabolite maps across the cortex. This work will be done in collaboration with researchers within the Department of Radiology and the University of Geneva. This project is suitable for students with a background in engineering, computation, neuroimaging or related discipline.

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This project aims to comprehensively characterize patterns of aging in various human biological systems including the brain and other organ systems such as the cardiovascular, respiratory and skeleton systems, and to understand the relationship between the brain and the body with respect to the aging trajectory and health outcomes.

Co-supervisors: A/Prof Andrew Zalesky and Dr Vanessa Cropley
Honours or Masters by Research students

Dr Ye Tian

Please contact Ye via email for an interview.

Your email should include your current CV, nominate the project you want to apply for, and provide a general introduction regarding experience and pitch for the project scholarship.

To be eligible you must fulfil entry requirements for graduate research at the University of Melbourne.

This project aims to understand the neural mechanisms underpinning higher-order cognitive function in humans. This student will be guided in using state-of-the-art neuroimaging techniques and machine learning to decipher the complex network of brain circuits that give rise to individual variation in cognition in healthy adults as well as abnormal brain changes associated with cognitive decline in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment.

Co-supervisors: A/Prof Andrew Zalesky and Dr Vanessa Cropley
Honours or Masters by Research students

Ye Tian
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A/Prof Andrew Zalesky

Please contact Andrew via email for an interview.

Your email should include your current CV, nominate the project you want to apply for, and provide a general introduction regarding experience and pitch for the project scholarship.

To be eligible you must fulfil    entry requirements for graduate research at the University of Melbourne.

Map innovative atlases of the human brain that incorporate multiple topographic features. This project is about developing brain atlases that represent multiple topographic features, including discrete boundaries between regions, smooth gradients from one region to another, as well as more complex topographic structures. Current brain atlases invariably indicate only one feature—sharp regional boundaries—but we know that the brain exhibits a much richer set of topographic features. Topographic maps of land surfaces wouldn't be particularly useful if they only indicated one feature (e.g. waterways), but not landforms, vegetation and manmade structures!

Co-supervisor: Dr Ye Tian

Develop innovative brain stimulation therapies for depression and other psychiatric disorders based on new knowledge of aberrant brain circuits and systems. 

The overarching goals of this project are to establish transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) protocols to:

  • Translate neuroimaging findings of our broader group to the clinic and into better clinical outcomes.

  • Provide a means to move our research from correlation to causation.


Co-supervisor: Dr Robin Cash

Simulate a person's brain activity based on their connectome and develop models to grow brain networks in silico. This research theme aims to use cutting-edge network models of large-scale brain activity to gain fundamental insight into brain function in both health and psychiatric disorders. Several projects are available.


Co-supervisor: Dr Caio Seguin

Your brain and other organs may be older (or younger) than your chronological age! Why?This project aims to develop cutting-edge machine learning models to predict the age of an individual's brain and other organ systems. Individuals participating in the UK Biobank (n>30,000) will be used to establish population norms and train the model.divdivbrdivdivThe project also aims to investigate the extent to which environmental factors can modify the pre-determined genetic impact on ageing and whether interactions between genetic and environmental effects on ageing act differently across different organ systems.

Co-supervisor: Dr Ye Tian

Use network science to understand how information is communicated in nervous systems. Cutting-edge brain imaging techniques can be used to map the human connectome – the complex network of nerve fibres that interlinks all brain regions and supports their communication. It is easy to see that, for any pair of communicating regions, there exist an astounding number of paths through which signalling can take place. What propagation and routing strategies are used to navigate the brain’s complex wiring and establish communication between regions?

Co-supervisor: Dr Caio Seguin

Andrew Zalesky

PROFESSOR BEN HARRISON IS LEADING A JOINT PhD SCHOLARSHIP WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE AND KU LEUVEN (BELGIUM) - 

"THE NEURAL CIRCUITRY OF THREAT, SAFETY AND AVOIDANCE LEARNING PROCESSES".

APPLICATIONS OPEN NOW - CONTACT PROF HARRISON FOR DETAILS.

PhD SCHOLARSHIP OPPORTUNITY

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Ben Harrison
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This study aims to characterise the neurobiology of fear learning (a key mechanism in anxiety) in children, adolescents and adults, and investigate the role of pubertal hormones. Knowledge gained will have implications for understanding the etiology and treatment of anxiety disorders.

Professor Sarah Whittle

Please contact Sarah via email for an interview.

Your email should include your current CV, nominate the project you want to apply for, and provide a general introduction regarding experience and pitch for the project scholarship.

To be eligible you must fulfil entry requirements for graduate research at the University of Melbourne.

Sarah Whittle
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The human brain is a profoundly complex system composed of robust and efficient connections, eloquently arranged to buffer against targeted attack. This project brings together network science (graph theory) and cutting-edge stem cell technologies to uncover the mechanisms that actively counteract risk (i.e., maximise resilience) and preserve brain function following targeted attack. This project is suited to an individual with a strong computationalengineering background. Experience in either developmental neurobiology or application of high-end microscopy is desired but not essential.

Dr Maria DiBiase

Please contact Maria via email for an interview.

Your email should include your current CV, nominate the project you want to apply for, and provide a general introduction regarding experience and pitch for the project scholarship.

To be eligible you must fulfil entry requirements for graduate research at the University of Melbourne.

Maria DiBiase
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Dr Tamsyn Van Rheenen

Please contact Tamsyn via email for an interview.

Your email should include your current CV, nominate the project you want to apply for, and provide a general introduction regarding experience and pitch for the project scholarship.

To be eligible you must fulfil    entry requirements for graduate research at the University of Melbourne.

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Tamsyn Van Rheenen
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Melbourne Neurospychiatry Centre trains and supervises  undergraduate and postgraduate students from different disciplines:

  • Clinical Psychiatry Training

  • Neuropsychology

  • Research Higher Degrees including AMS, Honours, Masters and PhD

 

Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre is involved in the teaching in psychiatry to undergraduate students from the University of Melbourne's MBBS degree, as part of their rotations in psychiatry. This training is implemented through the Clinical Units at the Adult Mental Health Rehabilitation Unit at Sunshine Hospial and the Neuropsychiatry Unit at The Royal Melbourne Hospital. This historically has been in the fifth year of training, where students are involved in inpatient and outpatient patient review, and ward meetings, to gain clinical exposure and experience in the presentation, diagnosis and management of neuropsychiatric illness. With the move to a new medical course, NU will have a continuing role as chief specialist Neuropsychiatry Unit within Victoria in providing education and training to society's future doctors.

In addition, the unit takes medical trainees in their Advanced Medical Science (AMS) year, where individuals undertake research to gain a Bachelor of Medical Science degree (BMedSci), now a compulsory part of the University of Melbourne medical degree. Past and current students have been involved in examining the performance of normal controls on the NUCOG, a cognitive assessment tool developed in the NU, and aspects of genetic testing for Huntington's disease. Current medical students who are interested in a research placement within the unit should visit this University of Melbourne web site to find out more about the NU's offered placements.

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