School of Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology


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Our research can be classified into broad discipline areas that reflect our teaching activities; the harmony between research and teaching rests on the synergistic properties of these areas.

Research students contribute strongly to our activities through the high quality of their work, their ideas and diverse collaborations. A wide range of student research projects is available.

The School's intellectual interests can, for heuristic purposes, be grouped into four broad components:

  • cell and molecular biology
  • gross anatomy, histology and function
  • physiology
  • biological anthropology

Our research areas reflect the School's strengths, which encompass a holistic view of the biology of human populations and individuals, systems, organs and tissues, cells and molecules.

Biological anthropology

Biological anthropology is concerned with the nature of variation and the ways in which the biology and behaviour of humans are influenced by genetic, developmental, ecological and cultural factors.

We focus on evolutionary principles as applied to human evolution, the emergence of adaptations during the process of gene environment interaction during development, and the interplay of cultural and biological factors in human behaviour.

Video: Assistant Professor Cyril Grueter, "Uncovering the Roots of human social organisation"

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Cancer and Cancer Targeted Therapies

Dr Blancafort's lab studies cancer epigenetics and develops novel therapeutic interventions to alter the cancer cell epigenome to reprogram the tumor phenotype in a hereditable, normal-like state. Dr. Blancafort's laboratory develops engineered DNA-binding proteins, peptides and small molecules, for the treatment of poorly differentiated, highly metastatic cancers, such as breast and ovarian cancers, for which no cure is available.

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Cardiovascular electrophysiology

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in Australia and the western world. The Cardiovascular Electrophysiology Laboratory specializes in original research into the mechanisms that lead to hypertrophy and heart failure. The Cardiovascular Electrophysiology Laboratory derives its funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council and National Heart Foundation of Australia.

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Cell Biology

Dr. Archa Fox’s lab is interested in the control of gene expression in normal and disease states. Her lab focuses on structures within the cell nucleus called ‘paraspeckles', as well as long noncoding RNA molecules, both of which, individually and combined, ultimately act to control gene expression. These mechanisms are emerging as important in a variety of stress conditions and diseases states including cancer and neurodegeneration.

Professor Dharmarajan's research group is interested in the role of signalling molecules, in particular Wnt signalling molecules in cancer. His group was the first to show a role for secreted frizzled related protein-4 (sFRP4) in ovarian, breast, prostate and mesothelioma cancers and proposed an application for this protein as an early diagnostic marker. More recently his group discovered a novel anti-angiogenic protein which also has important clinical implications in cancer diagnosis and treatment.

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Education and teaching research

Education and teaching research examines teaching methods and outcomes relating to science communication and science education.

Research areas include the analysis of examination results for statistical correlations with examination methods and the creation of virtual environments and educational animations for image intensive disciplines.


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Forensic science

The Centre for Forensic Anatomy and Biological Sciences (CFABS) offers teaching and training both within UWA and externally, and supports Master and PhD research programs that are focused around our key research areas.

These key areas include:

  • The application of modern, state-of-the-art analytical equipment and methods to forensic science.
  • The development of a new generation of morphometric tools and standards for application in forensic identification in Australia and South Africa.
  • The integration of morphological computer-based (geometric morphometric) analytical approaches and multivariate isotopic and elemental chemical methods for the identification of unknown human remains.
  • Continuing development of the 'Human Identification Package' (HIP) for specific application within Western Australian forensic casework and Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) – this involves the formulation of population-specific anthropological standards (for example, biological profiling).
  • Forensic archaeology: the search, recovery, documentation and reporting of results.

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Functional and clinical anatomy

This research explores human functional anatomy in relation to biomechanics and the constraints and opportunities provided by the human vertebrate heritage.

To extend and deepen understanding of human morphology, research examines aspects of human anatomy in great depth, helping to integrate the understanding of other regions.

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Hearing, deafness & sensory neuroscience

Deafness is one of the most common sensory deficits. The Auditory Laboratory specialises in original research into the physiology of hearing and deafness and associated aspects of neurophysiology and membrane transport. It is one of Australia's leading research institutions in auditory physiology, and has established a worldwide reputation over the past 30 years. The Auditory Laboratory derives its funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council, Royal National Institute for Deaf People and from the Australian Research Council.

The Auditory Laboratory hosts the UWA Master of Clinical Audiology course (

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Our research interests are in cellular immunology and bone research, using a variety of morphological, cellular and molecular methods and addressing basic, but clinically relevant questions.

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Muscle, regeneration, ageing and dystrophies

Skeletal muscles constitute approximately 40 per cent of the mass of the human body and are essential for all aspects of movement such as breathing, eating, posture, walking and reflexes as well as heat generation and metabolism.

To develop appropriate interventions to reduce muscle-wasting we need to understand the key factors responsible for sarcopenia.

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Neuroscience, development and regeneration

There is a major emphasis on designing novel effective therapeutic strategies for the treatment of neurotrauma and neurodegenerative diseases, and there are also in vivo and in vitro molecular and cell biological studies examining neural development. In vivo techniques include cell and tissue transplantation, pharmacotherapy and gene therapy, emphasizing protection and repair of the visual system and spinal cord.

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Oral sciences, social inequality and big data
(International Research Collaborative - Oral Health and Equity)

The internationally recognised research team is a multinational collaborative focused on developing innovative solutions in education, research and service to address the global challenges associated with social inequities. The teams 15 year experience with poverty and marginalisation in Australian oral health is the platform on-which its expansion is based.

The primary focus of the team is to undertake cutting-edge research and develop strategies to address the significant unmet needs of marginalised communities. Research programs are targeted at facilitating improved health (with a particular focus on oral health) in societies across the globe. Key issues currently under research include: oral health policy and strategy, accessibility, workforce skills mix, education and distribution; and prevention.  The teams collaborative network of about 100 researchers extends across the Asia-pacific region and around the Indian ocean (

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Reproductive biology, endocrinology

Research in reproduction examines the impact and interaction of stress and nutritional factors on male and female fertility, placental function, fetal growth, pregnancy outcome and fetal programming of the adult phenotype. Human studies centre on the use of assisted reproductive technology, particularly psychosocial and lifestyle factors influencing treatment outcome and issues surrounding the use of donated gametes and embryos. The role of apoptosis and signalling molecules in the development and progression of reproductive cancers (prostate, breast and ovary) is also an area of focus.

Video: Asst/Prof Caitlin Wyrwoll, "Looking for the origins of adult health and disease"

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Respiratory physiology

The respiratory group has had a long-standing interest in the control and function of conducting bronchi. The trachea, bronchi and other airways conduct air into and out of the lung. During an asthma attack contraction of airway smooth muscle (ASM) narrows the conducting bronchi and obstructs airflow. Airway obstruction also occurs in several other respiratory disease including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The focus of our research has been in understanding the detailed mechanisms involved in the control of airway diameter and airway obstruction. Professor Jane Pillow has a particular interest in neonatal respiratory physiology .


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Skeletal muscle physiology

The group’s research deals with the physiology of skeletal muscle. They are particularly interested in the molecular mechanisms underlying muscle contraction and the evaluation of medical treatments for muscular diseases, such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Research also focuses on muscle damage as a result of exercise.

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Sleep science

Sleep science research is undertaken at the University's purpose-built sleep training and research facility in collaboration with the West Australian Sleep Disorders Research Institute at the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, and is funded by a range of competitive national and state-based grants. Areas of research include the pathogenesis of sleep apnoea, sleep and neurocognitive function and depression, and the effects of sleep and travel on performance of elite athletes.

Video: Winthrop Professor Peter Eastwood on sleep disorder research at the University

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The art science interface (SymbioticA)

SymbioticA is the first research laboratory of its kind, enabling artists and researchers to engage in wet biology practices in a biological science department. It also hosts residents, workshops, exhibitions and symposiums.

The Centre offers a new means of artistic inquiry where artists actively use the tools and technologies of science, not just to comment about them but also to explore their possibilities.

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Thermal and comparative physiology

The Thermal and Comparative Physiology Laboratory specialises in original research into the mechanisms and ecological consequences of temperature regulation and the physiological adaptation of mammals and birds to different environments. Because all known biological processes are affected by temperature, the maintenance – or not – and the costs of a constant body temperature in mammals and birds are important determinants of evolutionary success. Our research has implications for native animal conservation, production animal systems, and the ability of humans to maintain active lifestyles. The Thermal Physiology Laboratory derives its funding from the Australian Research Council and Industrial partners like Meat and Livestock Australia.

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Tissue engineering, stem cells, transplantation

A variety of approaches are being used in attempts to effectively reconstitute degenerate or injured tissues such as muscle, skin, bone, brain, retina and spinal cord. These tissue engineering approaches include the use of stem cells, cell and tissue transplantation, gene therapy, nanotechnology and design of biocompatible polymer substrates.

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Last updated:
Friday, 20 November, 2015 1:50 PM