Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology

Neonatal Physiology and Biology

Further Information

Contact a supervisor for detailed information on student research projects

Professor Jane Pillow  
Professor Jane Pillow

The School of Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology offers a diverse range of student research topics.

Postnatal Steroids and Antenatal Chorioamnionitis in the Ventilated Preterm Lamb - Short Term Outcomes

Project Outline

M Mechanical ventilation induces a local inflammatory response that prolongs the need for mechanical support and increases the risk of systemic infection and inflammation: Duration of mechanical ventilation is an independent risk factor for complications of prematurity including bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) and adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes. Postnatal corticosteroids are given to rescue infants with severe respiratory disease but may also impair neurodevelopmental outcomes. There is a growing awareness that individual patient disease profile, such as a pre-existing pro-inflammatory state may modify the risk of adverse outcomes. For example, the fetus exposed to inflammation has an increased risk of ventilation related brain injury and development of chronic lung disease.  It is unknown how postnatal steroid treatment modulate these risks. This project is offered within the newly established Preclinical Intensive Care Research Unit (PICRU) and offers multiple Honours and PhD student opportunities investigating the impact of mechanical ventilation, inflammation and steroids on the major organs of interest (brain, heart & lungs), or other organ systems including the airways, immune system, gastrointestinal system, eyes, kidneys and gonads amongst others.  Projects may have a functional physiology (in vivo and/or in vitro), or more laboratory (molecular & cell biology) focus depending on the interests of the student and the time available for investigation.    Most of the tissues for this project were collected in 2015, therefore Honours projects for 2016 would focus on tissue analysis.  Projects suitable for Honours are available in one or more of the following groups of investigations, according to student interest. 

  • Neuroimaging – hemispheres of brain are preserved in paraformaldehyde reading for 9.4 T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to assess the impact of antenatal chorioamnionitis and postnatal steroids on volumes and neural connections (via tractography)
  • Ocular vascular development/immunology and evidence of pro-inflammatory changes that may precede development of retinopathy of prematurity (Prof Jane Pillow/Prof Maria Degli-Espoti, Lions Eye Institute)
  •  Effect of chorioamnionitis and postnatal glucocorticoid exposures on:
    1. developmental gene expression in the lung (molecular project)
    2. pulmonary inflammation (histological/immunohistochemistry/ELISA)
    3. ileal and jejunal mucosal integrity and maturation
    4. systemic inflammatory responses
    5. neurological inflammation, injury & apoptosis.

Students will be able to access additional training and development opportunities through the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Improving the Immediate & Longer-Term Outcomes of Preterm Infants (2013-8). The major costs of the project are funded by an NHMRC Research Project Grant.

Project is suitable for

Honours, Masters and PhD

Supervisor

Professor Jane Pillow

Additional supervisors will be involved depending on the student interests and organ system to be studied

Essential qualifications

For Honours: An appropriate undergraduate degree with a biological science emphasis, and a minimum weighted average of 65% in the level 3 subjects that comprise the relevant major from an approved institution. Applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

For Masters or PhD : An appropriate Honours degree with a biological science emphasis or equivalent research experience from an approved institution. Applicants are assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Desirable skills/experience

Preparedness to work with large animals

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Postnatal Steroids and Antenatal Chorioamnionitis in the Ventilated Preterm Lamb - Long Term Outcomes

Project Outline

Mechanical ventilation induces a local inflammatory response that prolongs the need for mechanical support and increases the risk of systemic infection and inflammation: Duration of mechanical ventilation is an independent risk factor for complications of prematurity including bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) and adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes. Postnatal corticosteroids are given to rescue infants with severe respiratory disease but may also impair neurodevelopmental outcomes. There is a growing awareness that individual patient disease profile, such as a pro-inflammatory state may modify the risk of adverse outcomes.   It is unknown how postnatal steroid treatment modulate these risks.

This project is offered within the newly established Preclinical Intensive Care Research Unit (PICRU) and offers multiple Honours and PhD student opportunities investigating the impact of mechanical ventilation, inflammation and steroids on the major organs of interest (brain, heart & lungs), or other organ systems including the airways, immune system, gastrointestinal system, eyes, kidneys and gonads amongst others.  Projects may have a functional physiology (in vivo and/or in vitro), or more laboratory (molecular & cell biology) focus depending on the interests of the student and the time available for investigation.   

Lamb studies for this project will extend from Oct 2015 until November 2016.  Some groups may be complete by August 2016.  Lambs will be studied until 4 months of age, hence studies requiring access to tissues are only suitable for PhD students or Honours projects commencing mid-year.

Honours projects will relate primarily to functional/physiological studies permitting involvement of Honours as well as PhD students.

Functional Assessments (suitable for Honours or as part of a PhD) will include:

  • Neuroimaging – MRI studies on preterm lambs at 2-4 weeks corrected postnatal age to assess cerebral vascular networks, brain volumes and tractography
  • Imaging of ocular vascular development relevant to retinopathy of prematurity using RETCam, optical coherence tomography and fluorescent ophthalmoscopy  (Prof Jane Pillow/Prof Maria Degli-Espoti, Lions Eye Institute)
  • Comparison of ventilator requirements and assessments of shunt/shift derangements (Prof Jane Pillow)
  • Longitudinal measurements of lung volume and ventilation inhomogeneity and oscillatory mechanics  (Prof Jane Pillow/Prof Raffaele Dellaca - Italy)
  • Respiratory polysomnography/control of breathing (Assoc Prof Jane Pillow / Prof Raffaele Dellaca – Italy)
  • Neurodevelopmental assessments of memory, executive function, motor activity, stress-responses (Assoc/Prof Dominique Blache)
  • Echocardiographic function  (Prof Jane Pillow/Clin Assoc Prof Andy Gill)
  • Immunological development/innate & adaptive immunity (Prof Jane Pillow/Dr Andrew Currie)
  • Neurobehavioural and neurodevelopmental function including assessment of emotion/temperament, movement/gait, neuroendocrine responses to stress, memory and executive function.  

A wide range of options also exist for tissue assessments as for the previous project.  Students are encouraged to discuss their specific area of interest with the Project Co-ordinator – Prof Jane Pillow

Students will be able to access additional training and development opportunities through the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Improving the Immediate & Longer-Term Outcomes of Preterm Infants (2013-8).  The major costs of the project are funded by an NHMRC Research Project Grant  

Project is suitable for

Honours/PhD

Supervisor

Professor Jane Pillow

Additional supervisors will be involved depending on the student interests and organ system to be studied

Essential qualifications

For Honours: An appropriate undergraduate degree with a biological science emphasis, and a minimum weighted average of 65% in the level 3 subjects that comprise the relevant major from an approved institution. Applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

For Masters or PhD : An appropriate Honours degree with a biological science emphasis or equivalent research experience from an approved institution. Applicants are assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Desirable skills/experience

Preparedness to work with large animals

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Absorption of Colostrum from the Gastrointestinal Tract in the Preterm Lamb

Project Outline

Colostrum is a nutrient and immunoglobulin rich fluid produced by the ewe shortly before parturition.  Colostum is a rich source of energy, facilitating homeostasis and immediate survival after birth.  Also, the maternally derived antibodies are critical to help lambs fight off infection whilst they build their own stable immune system.  Lambs are also critically reliant on the absorption of colostrum from the gastrointestinal tract in the first 24 hours after birth for protection against infection.

The premature subject will have an immature gastrointestinal system at birth.  It is unclear whether preterm lambs are able to absorb colostrum from the gastrointestinal tract as efficiently as the more mature term lamb. 

Further, the nutritional composition and immunoglobulin content of the colostrum produced by the ewe giving birth prior to full gestation is unknown.

The project aims to evaluate the increase in plasma immunoglobulin level over the 48 hours after birth in term lambs and preterm lambs of different gestations and to analyse samples of colostrum for potential nutritional and immunological benefit.  The information will assist future management of preterm lambs in the PICRU.

Students will be able to access additional training and development opportunities through the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Improving the Immediate & Longer-Term Outcomes of Preterm Infants (2013-8).  The major costs of the project are funded by an NHMRC Research Project Grant

Project is suitable for

Honours

Supervisor

Professor Jane Pillow

Additional supervisors will be involved depending on the student interests and organ system to be studied

Essential qualifications

For Honours: An appropriate undergraduate degree with a biological science emphasis, and a minimum weighted average of 65% in the level 3 subjects that comprise the relevant major from an approved institution. Applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Desirable skills/experience

Preparedness to work with large animals

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