PhD in Motor Neuron Disease

St Lucia, Brisbane, Australia
21 Mar 2017
End of advertisement period
07 Apr 2017
Contract Type
Fixed Term
Full Time

Queensland Brain Institute

Established in 2003, QBI ( is housed on the St Lucia campus of UQ. It is home to more than 450 staff and students, including 41 group leaders, working across a range of disciplines, who are focused on discovering the fundamental mechanisms that regulate brain development and function in health and disease. 

Over the past decade QBI has become known as one of the world's leading neuroscience research institutes. It played a key role in contributing to UQ attaining the highest possible score of 5 for neuroscience, in the 2010, 2012 and 2015 Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) reviews, one of only two universities in Australia to achieve this.

The Sah laboratory uses electrophysiology and molecular techniques, in conjunction with behavioural studies, to understand the neural circuitry that underpins learning and memory formation. Using animal models, the laboratory focusses on the part of the brain called the amygdala, and a Pavlovian learning paradigm called fear conditioning. The group uses viruses to deliver optogenetic constructs to neurons in defined regions, and then records the electrical activity in acute brain slices to study the neural circuits and the properties of these connections. In collaboration with Professor Joe Lynch at QBI, the group is exploring the molecular identity of receptors at inhibitory connections in the amygdala.

The animal studies are complemented by electrophysiological recordings in humans. For these studies, Professor Sah collaborates with Professor Peter Silburn and Dr Terry Coyne who together are part of QBI's Asia–Pacific Centre for Neuromodulation (APCN), to study neural activity in the human brain in patients undergoing neurosurgery for deep brain stimulation. These recordings are revealing the activity in the human brain in a range of movement disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, essential tremor and Tourette syndrome. From 2016, the group will be involved in a clinical trial for the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder.

PhD–motor neuron disease

We are looking for a person to undertake a PhD in motor neuron disease (MND) research. MND is a group of fatal adult-onset neurodegenerative diseases characterized by a progressive and selective loss of motor neurons in the cortex, brainstem, and spinal cord. MND initially presents itself with muscle weakness and slurring of speech but progresses to general paralysis of motor function and most patients die from respiratory failure within 3 years of diagnosis. Currently there is no cure for MND.

The successful candidate will be testing interventions for MND that have the potential to be developed into treatment for MND. The PhD student will be using genetic techniques to prevent spinal motor neuron death in a mouse line that develops motor neuron disease.

The role

The successful candidate will be testing interventions for motor neuron disease (MND) that have the potential to be developed into treatment for MND as a full-time PhD student. The PhD student will be using viral vectors to insert novel receptors into spinal cord motor neurons to prevent neuron death in a mouse line that develops motor neuron disease.

To determine the success of our MND interventions, the PhD student will perform a selection of behavioural tasks to determine motor strength in treated and untreated MND mice. On a cellular level the student will use electrophysiological, immunohistochemical and microscopic techniques to determine spinal motor neuron changes and survival in treated and untreated MND mice.

The person

Expressions of Interest are invited from outstanding Australian science graduates ideally with a background in biomedical sciences, neuroscience, medical/clinical science or other relevant scientific disciplines. Candidates must meet the minimum requirements for entry into the PhD program, and should be eligible for UQ scholarship consideration. Previous experience in MND research, animal work, patch-clamp electrophysiology, biochemical skills are desirable but not essential. Candidates will have strong communication skills, be an excellent team player and be highly committed to developing their skills as a researcher. Applicants must be Australian citizens or permanent residents.

Commencement of the PhD program is fixed to a specific period within the Research Quarter.  Successful applicants should be available to commence within 4 months of the closing date, ie. Research Quarter 3 (July) 2017.


The selected prospective domestic student will receive assistance to apply for University living allowance and tuition fee scholarships.  The current base stipend rate is AUD $26,682 per annum (2017 rate, indexed annually) tax-free for three years plus two possible extensions of up to 6 months each in approved circumstances (conditions apply). A top-up scholarship ($5,000 per annum) may be available to the successful candidate.  For further information on scholarships refer to:


To discuss this role and for further information, please contact Dr Margreet Ridder at

To apply for this role, use the Apply button below. All applicants must supply the following documents:

  • A cover letter that addresses how you meet the requirements for the PhD program to start in RQ3, 2017;
  • A curriculum vitae detailing education, professional experience, research experience, publications (and impact factors), and relevant competencies;
  • Complete Tertiary Academic Record/s (with grades/GPA scores, and official grading scale details), and award certificate/s; and
  • The name and contact details of three referees.

Expression of Interest Closing Date

7 April 2017 for consideration in relation to commencement in Research Quarter 3 (July) 2017.

For information on completing the application process click here.

Important: please do not send your application directly to the person listed in the enquiries section of the advertisement.  Applications not received via UQ Jobs online system will not be considered.

For information on completing the application process click here.

The University of Queensland is committed to equity, diversity and inclusion.

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