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PhD Projects Available

Available PhD projects

Find out about the PhD projects available at the Bionics Institute.

The Bionics Institute provides the opportunity to complete your PhD on a wide range of projects with real clinical impact.

As a PhD student at the Bionics Institute, you will have access to multidisciplinary experts and world-class facilities within an environment that actively fosters clinical collaboration and encourages innovation. We also have a number of scholarships and stipends available for highly motivated individuals.

To register your interest in completing a PhD or a Masters by Research degree (e.g. MSc, MPhil etc.) at the Bionics Institute please complete the registration form.

PhD students in the below projects can be supported by scholarships awarded by the enrolling university. The affiliated supervisors will assist in the application procedure for these scholarships.

Please click on each PhD title to learn more.

Developing a drug therapy for hearing loss

Optimised closed-loop bioelectrical control over bladder function

Long-Term Bio-Data Collection and Processing for Diagnosis and Management of Neurological Conditions such as Epilepsy

Brain connectivity in cochlear implant users

Exploring the effect of neural dead regions in the cochlea on hearing with a cochlear implant

Hearing but not listening: Using behavioural training in preclinical studies to test the ability to listen to complex sounds

Improving speech understanding of cochlear implant users with neural dead regions in the cochlea

Multisensory processes in patients with hearing loss and/or dementia

Optogenetics for precise neural stimulation

The Bionics Institute supervisors are affiliated with the University of Melbourne. However we welcome collaborative efforts with external supervisors from other enrolling universities.

If you don’t see a project that suits your interests, we are also open to innovative project suggestions from students.

  • Supervisors: Dr Sophie Payne (Bionics Institute, Owen Burns (Bionics Institute), A/Prof Elisa Hill (RMIT)
  • Research theme: Autoimmune and Chronic Condition Research
  • Enrolling university: RMIT
  • Scholarship: $31,885 per annum for three years with a possible extension of six months (full-time).

This project will expand Bionics Institute’s vagus nerve stimulation technology and utilise novel thin-film fabrication techniques to develop a miniaturised peripheral nerve array for abdominal vagus nerve of mice.

The peripheral nervous system has extensive surgically accessible nerve connections with the central nervous system and the body’s organs, in particular the gastrointestinal tract. This provides the opportunity to exploit rapidly advancing methods of electrically stimulating the peripheral nervous system to treat human diseases. At the core of such ‘electric medicine’ research lies the concept of stimulating the vagus nerve, an autonomic nerve that has successfully been used as a clinical treatment of epilepsy, depression, migraines, obesity, and shows promise as a treatment for the immune-mediated diseases inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis. The effects of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) are diverse and has created considerable interest in the clinical community as we are only scratching the surface of what this system is capable of.

At the Bionics Institute, we have previously developed and validated a cuff electrode array designed for long-term implantation onto the abdominal vagus nerve of rats and sheep. This technology was used to valid the efficacy of vagus nerve stimulation to relieve experimental intestinal inflammation and is now entering clinical trials for the treatment of Crohn’s disease. There are numerous mouse genetic models of human diseases, which are an essential tool for understanding mechanisms of disease and discovering new therapies. As such, the overall goal of this project is to expand our vagus nerve stimulation technology and adapt it to awake, freely moving mice. Specifically, the project aims to utilise novel thin-film fabrication techniques to develop a miniaturised peripheral nerve array, designed for safe, long-term implantation onto the abdominal vagus nerve of awake mice. Efficacy of stimulation will be assessed in a mouse disease model.

General methods to be used in the project: Electrode design and development, fabrication of electrodes, chronic in vivo stimulation and recording and electrophysiological testing, histology, intestinal permeability, molecular and microbial assays

Suitable background of students: Bioengineering, Electrical engineering, Neuroscience

To register your interest in completing this PhD at the Bionics Institute please complete the registration form.

Registration form

  • Supervisors: A/Prof James Fallon, Dr Alex Thompson
  • Research theme: Brain Research
  • Enrolling university: The University of Melbourne
  • Scholarship: $32,400 per annum for three years with a possible extension of six months (full-time).

The expansion of criteria for cochlear implantation to include patients with substantial residual hearing has focused interest on the benefits of combined electro-acoustic stimulation (EAS). Although such stimulation via a hybrid cochlear implant (CI) and hearing aid in the same ear has been shown to improve speech understanding, particularly in noise, and to increase the aesthetic quality of sound, almost nothing is known about the physiological mechanisms underlying these benefits. A number of pre-clinical studies have been performed, but they have been based on normal hearing and used simple acoustic and electrical stimulation that are not representative of complex electrical and acoustic information that represent speech and have limited clinical relevance. This project will address this deficiency by investigating EAS in an appropriate model with clinically relevant acoustic and electrical stimuli.

General methods to be used in the project: Electrophysiology, behavioural training, and electrical stimulation.

Suitable background of students: Science, Biomedicine, or Engineering (e.g., Biomedical, Electrical).

To register your interest in completing this PhD at the Bionics Institute please complete the registration form.

Registration form

  • Supervisor: A/Prof Andrew Wise, Dr Niliksha Gunewardene
  • Research theme: Hearing and Vision Research
  • Enrolling university: The University of Melbourne*

Hair cells, the receptor cells for sound, are a highly susceptible part of the auditory system. Hair cell loss is the leading cause of deafness, occurring in almost half a billion people worldwide.

Despite the prevalence, there are no biological treatments available for deafness. The current standards of care are restricted to palliative devices including hearing aids or cochlear implants that provide only partial hearing restoration for a limited patient population. As such, there is a significant demand for the development of a pharmacological treatment for hearing loss.

Manipulating specific cell developmental pathways in cochlear stem cells is a potential approach to activate hair cell regeneration and reverse hearing loss. This project aims to test small molecules or drugs that regulate pathways required for hair cell development for the treatment of hearing loss. The available projects fall into two categories and can be modified to suit individual background/strengths.

  1. In vitro: Developing a drug screening platform to test the efficacy of small molecules or drugs in promoting hair cell differentiation
  2. In vivo: Investigating the potential of specific drug treatments in promoting hair cell regeneration and restoring hearing function in pre-clinical deafness models

Internal funding may be available to support a stipend for competitive and highly motivated students working in this project.

General methods to be used in the project: application of cell culture, next-generation sequencing, standard molecular biology, surgery, histology, and hearing physiology techniques to assess the efficacy of drug treatments in experimental models.

Suitable background of students: Cell or molecular biology, physiology, biomedicine, genetics or neuroscience.

To register your interest in completing this PhD at the Bionics Institute please complete the registration form.

Registration form

  • Supervisors: A/Professor James Fallon, Dr Sophie Payne
  • Research theme: Autoimmune and Chronic Condition Research
  • Enrolling university: The University of Melbourne*

The urine produced by the kidneys is stored in the bladder prior to being voided from the body at behaviourally appropriate times (micturition).

However, a number of conditions including spinal cord injury or damage during prostectomy or colorectal resection surgery can lead to urinary incontinence or retention.

Controlling urination with a bionic device implanted onto nerves that innervate the bladder is a novel technique for the treatment of bladder incontinence/retention.

The Bionics Institute have developed a novel method of monitoring activity in the pelvic nerve. Combining this technology with stimulation to activate or inhibit neural signals in order to trigger or prevent urination could form the basis of a closed-loop bioelectric bladder control device.

This project will use the rodent urogenital system to further develop neural recording and stimulation technology to be able to selectively record and active different neural fibre types so that this technology can be utilized to develop closed-loop control over bladder function.

General methods to be used in the project: Electrophysiology; Electrical Stimulation; Physiology; Control Engineering; Histology

Suitable background of students: Neuroscience; endocrinology; bioengineering; physiology; biomedical science.

To register your interest in completing this PhD at the Bionics Institute please complete the registration form.

Registration form

  • Supervisor: Dr Yuri Benovitski
  • Research theme: Brain Research
  • Enrolling university: The University of Melbourne*

We are developing tools for long-term biomedical recordings for better diagnosis and management of Epilepsy and other neurological conditions. Currently diagnosis is heavily reliant on patient self-reporting.

More objective measures and consistent long-term monitoring are essential. Clinical recordings are mostly conducted for no longer than 7 days and require hospitalisation, this can be significantly improved by implantable technology currently being developed at the Bionics Institute.

You will have a unique opportunity to work within a multidisciplinary team of scientists and engineers who developed the cochlear implant, access Bionics Institute R&D state of the art facilities and clinical experts.

General methods to be used in the project: Electrophysiology; Signal processing Physiology

Suitable background of students: Familiarity with the current state of implantable devices such as the Cochlear implant; excellent grasp of at least one established software development platform.

To register your interest in completing this PhD at the Bionics Institute please complete the registration form.

Registration form

  • Supervisors: Dr Maureen Shader, Prof Colette McKay
  • Research theme: Hearing and Vision Research
  • Enrolling university: The University of Melbourne*

This PhD project will develop and apply new fNIRS signal processing methods to investigate connectivity in cortical language networks in both cochlear implant candidates (for prognosis) and new cochlear implant users (for diagnosis).

The project extends the current work of the Translational Hearing Research team in developing new individualised diagnosis and clinical management to address the poor outcomes of up to a third of new adult cochlear implant recipients.

So far, the current projects have only looked at the response patterns in particular regions of interest in these populations, but it is highly likely that the plastic changes of interest that affect outcomes are related to connectivity between different multisensory language areas.

This PhD project will address this gap in our current research, as well as developing signal processing techniques that can be applied to other applications such as EarGenie™.

General methods to be used in the project:fNIRS imaging, language assessments, and signal processing.

Suitable background of students: Engineer graduate or data scientist with high-level signal processing skills.

To register your interest in completing this PhD at the Bionics Institute please complete the registration form.

Registration form

  • Supervisors: Prof Colette McKay, Dr Maureen Shader
  • Research theme: Hearing and Vision Research
  • Enrolling university: The University of Melbourne*

In a deaf person, neural dead regions in the cochlea are regions where there is poor survival of auditory nerve cells. Such regions are difficult to identify and are not suitable for electrical stimulation with a cochlear implant.

The presence of these regions is one main reason that some cochlear implant users do not understand speech well. This project, undertaken with cochlear implant users, will develop an objective method for identifying these dead regions in individuals.

Currently we have psychophysical methods that provide clues to the presence of dead regions, but these methods are not suitable for clinical use, or in young children.

The project will use electrophysiological methods combined with psychophysical methods to both develop an objective diagnostic tool and to understand more fully what the impact of dead regions are on hearing ability with a cochlear implant.

This project will potentially lead to new clinical procedures to optimise the programming of cochlear implants for individual people.

General methods to be used in the project: psychophysics, electrophysiology, and speech understanding assessment.

Suitable background of students: audiology, neuroscience, engineering, experimental psychology, or related disciplines. EEG experience and strong skills in data analysis would be an advantage. Strong interpersonal skills are required as the student will be working directly with deaf individuals with a cochlear implant.

To register your interest in completing this PhD at the Bionics Institute please complete the registration form.

Registration form

  • Supervisors: A/Prof James Fallon, Dr Alex Thompson
  • Research theme: Hearing and Vision Research
  • Enrolling university: The University of Melbourne*

Behavioural training in pre-clinical models allows the testing of perception of complex sounds. When applied to models with cochlear implants or treated with hearing therapeutics, this provides important information on the performance of the intervention.

This can provide more clinically relevant information than is obtained with traditional functional measurements or from histology. This added information is important, as many treatments or stimulation techniques look promising in pre-clinical models but fail in the clinic. Using behavioural training, we aim to reduce the gap between pre-clinical and clinical studies.

This project will develop new techniques for behavioural training in pre-clinical models and test the response to complex stimuli. Results will be compared against traditional electrophysiological recordings and histology.

General methods to be used in the project: behavioural training, signal processing, electrical engineering, electrophysiology.

Suitable background of students: science (e.g. biomedical) or engineering (biomedical, electrical).

To register your interest in completing this PhD at the Bionics Institute please complete the registration form.

Registration form

  • Supervisors: Prof Colette McKay, Dr Maureen Shader
  • Research theme: Hearing and Vision Research
  • Enrolling university: The University of Melbourne*

Many cochlear implant users do not understand speech very well. One reason for this is the presence of neural ‘dead regions’ in the cochlea. These dead regions affect speech understanding by making it difficult for each component frequency in a speech signal to be independently heard. Thus, implant users experience a ‘scrambled’ speech signal.

In this project, conducted with adult cochlear implant users, we will use a psychophysical method to determine which parts of the cochlear contain neural dead regions in each individual.

Then we will construct an individualised program for each individual that avoids using intra-cochlear electrodes that are near those dead regions. We will then evaluate whether this new individualised program improves their speech understanding. This project is a major opportunity to actually improve the quality of life of cochlear implantees and contribute to novel clinical management techniques.

General methods to be used in the project: psychophysics, electrophysiology, and cochlear implant programming.

Suitable background of students: audiology, neuroscience, engineering, experimental psychology or related disciplines. Strong interpersonal skills are required as the student will be working directly with deaf individuals with a cochlear implant.

To register your interest in completing this PhD at the Bionics Institute please complete the registration form.

Registration form

  • Supervisor: Professor Gérard Loquet
  • Research theme: Hearing and Vision Research
  • Enrolling university: The University of Melbourne*

According to a recent report on dementia (Lancet Commission, 2020), hearing loss is ranked as the highest modifiable risk factor in dementia prevalence. However, we do not know why this link exists and how it manifests itself neurologically.

Nevertheless, as we age, sensory information degrades and integrative mechanisms at the cortical level take on a bigger role, for example to maintain an adequate ability to identify speech in noise (e.g., through lipreading).

In mild cognitive impaired people, audio-visual integration processes are altered, and we believe that a combined behavioral and neurophysiological approach will allow us to identify an early biomarker of cognitive decline.

To achieve that, we will examine changes in brain function in patients with hearing loss and/or early Alzheimer’s disease by using two non-invasive neuroimaging techniques (electroencephalography and functional near-infrared spectroscopy), from which cortical connectivity measures will be derived.

We expect to generate specific hypothesis for the association between hearing loss and cognitive decline, and to propose new tools for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.

General methods to be used in the project: In this project, we will use McGurk-type speech stimuli to test behavioral deficits of multisensory integration in both hearing impaired and mild cognitive impaired people. Those patterns will be further assisted by brain neuroimaging studies (high-density electroencephalography and functional near-infrared spectroscopy) to investigate whether the connectivity between regions of interest related to multisensory integration (i.e. superior temporal gyrus and sensory cortices) is reduced.

Suitable background of students: Audiology, Neuroscience, Biomedical, Medical Sciences

To register your interest in completing this PhD at the Bionics Institute please complete the registration form.

Registration form

  • Supervisors: A/Prof Rachael Richardson, A/Prof James Fallon, A/Prof Andrew Wise, Dr Alex Thompson
  • Research theme: Hearing and Vision Research and Brain Research
  • Enrolling university: The University of Melbourne*

The aim of this project is to develop the next generation of neural stimulation devices that use optical stimulation or combined optical/electrical stimulation in order to improve the precision of neural activation. The project will use cutting edge optogenetic techniques to express a light sensitive ion channel in neurons so that they can be activated with low-powered blue micro-LEDs.

Electrophysiological recordings will be used to examine whether optical stimulation strategies can improve the spatial precision of neural activation. A significant advantage of improved precision of stimulation of the auditory nerve, for example, would be the ability to stimulate independent channels that would greatly enrich the auditory percept from a cochlear implant, such as the ability to perceive music.

General methods to be used in the project: electrophysiology, viral gene therapy, surgical device implantation, optical/electrical stimulation, optical modelling, cell culture, histology, immunohistochemistry, behavioural testing.

Suitable background of students: first class honours or equivalent in any of the following disciplines: neuroscience, physiology, biomedical engineering, or similar degrees. Electrophysiology and cell culture skills are desirable.

To register your interest in completing this PhD at the Bionics Institute please complete the registration form.

Registration form

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