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PhD Projects Available

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.

Stipend scholarships are available for two of the PhD projects listed below and Bionics Institute Innovate for Life Scholarships are available for high-achieving students seeking to undertake the other PhD projects listed.

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 found in the project description.

If you don’t see a project that suits your interests, we are also open to innovative project suggestions from students. Please enquire using the same registration form.

Supplementary Information

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

High-achieving students are encouraged to apply for a Bionics Institute Innovate for Life Scholarship, which provides a stipend of $35,000 per annum for up to four years.

PhD students in these projects who do not receive a Bionics Institute Innovate for Life Scholarship can be supported by scholarships awarded by the enrolling university. Affiliated supervisors can assist in the application procedure for these scholarships.

PhD Projects with scholarships from RMIT and the University of Melbourne

Please click on each PhD title to learn more.

Developing miniaturised peripheral nerve interface technology for abdominal vagus nerve stimulation

This project is associated with a scholarship from RMIT for $31,885 per annum for three years.

Understanding how the brain processes combined electrical and acoustic stimulation

This project is associated with a scholarship from the University of Melbourne for $32,400 per annum for three years.

PhD Project Information

Click on the + to expand the PhD project you’re interested in

  • 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

  • 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: 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: 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: Niki Gunewardene, Andrew Wise
  • Research theme: Hearing and Vision Research
  • Enrolling university: The University of Melbourne*

While the cochlear implant (CI) has been remarkably effective at restoring hearing, some CI recipients have variable outcomes with the device and their perception of sound is drastically altered.

For example, some patients are unable to recognise male/female speakers or even familiar melodies like happy birthday. It is well-established that CI recipients with some remaining (residual) acoustic hearing have far superior hearing outcomes with a CI. Unfortunately, ~30% of CI recipients lose their residual hearing immediately or over several months post-implantation due to hair cell loss in the cochlea.

The overall aim of this project is to develop a gene therapy approach to improve residual hearing and the functionality of the CI. If successful, this approach could significantly enhance the quality of life for CI recipients by improving their communication, musical and environmental awareness.

General methods to be used in the project: bGene therapy (AAV based), transgenic mouse models, surgical implantation of cochlear implants, histology

Suitable background of students: neuroscience, molecular biology, biomedicine

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: 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: J Villalobos, S Payne, S Andrikopoulos, T Hyakumura
  • Research theme: Autoimmune and Chronic Condition Research
  • Enrolling university: University of Melbourne

We have established that directional vagus nerve stimulation combining different frequencies can regulate blood glucose levels in diabetic animal models. In particular, efferent stimulation has an anti-hyperglycaemic effect. The abdominal anterior vagal branch innervates primarily the stomach, pancreas, liver and duodenum; but early evidence indicates that glycaemia changes might be linked to differential regulation of glucagon and insulin secretion from the pancreas.

The PhD project will study specific aspects on the physiological effects of vagal stimulation:

What are the contributions to glucose regulation from the vagus target organs? Is there a component of incretin effect from gut innervation? Are there direct liver effects? Are there changes to the rate of stomach emptying?

Does the glucose regulation effect depend on glycaemic levels? Does vagus stimulation better address high baseline or post-prandial glycaemic levels? Does vagus stimulation cause hypoglycaemia?

Are there long-term changes (3 month+) to hormonal secretions with vagus stimulation?

General methods to be used in the project: Diabetes rodent models; electrode and catheter implantation surgery; metabolic studies; histology; colorimetric assays.

Suitable background of students: Physiology science graduate or related field, with interest in a combination of physiology, endocrinology, biochemistry, 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

  • 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

  • Supervisors: Mehrnaz Shoushtarian, James Fallon
  • Research theme: Autoimmune and Chronic Condition Research
  • Enrolling university: University of Melbourne

Gait disturbances in Parkinson’s disease (PD) are very common and result in increased falls, injury, and reduced quality of life. Despite the prominence of these symptoms, few therapeutic options are available and often do not return walking to normal.

This project plans to explore a novel treatment for gait disturbances in PD using different forms of electrical and vibrotactile stimulation applied to the feet.

Effects of stimulation will be assessed on brain activity and gait patterns by recording brain electrical activity using EEG and performing gait analysis.

General methods to be used in the project:EEG, signal processing, gait analysis, electrical/ vibrotactile stimulation

Suitable background of students: Science (e.g. biomedical), engineering (biomedical, electrical), physiotherapy

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

Registration form

  • Supervisors: Rachael Richardson, Sophie Payne
  • Research theme: Autoimmune and Chronic Condition Research
  • Enrolling university: University of Melbourne

Electrical stimulation of peripheral nerves can treat an expanding range of conditions, including bladder dysfunction, paralysis, epilepsy, and chronic pain. Unfortunately, electrical stimulation does not discriminate between the numerous nerve fibre subtypes of the peripheral nervous system, and while it is efficient in stimulating neural activity, inhibition of activity is difficult to achieve safely. The ability to safely and selectively control (i.e. stimulate AND inhibit) nerve fibres is critical to developing effective treatments for a range of conditions.

Optogenetics is a biological technique to control nerve activity with light requiring a genetic modification with light-sensitive ion channels. Optogenetics enables selective control of nerve fibres in mixed nerve bundles, and excitatory or inhibitory modulation, providing extraordinary control of neural activity.

In this project we aim to develop technology for unprecedented control over peripheral nerve activity enabling drug-free solutions for conditions such as chronic pain.

General methods to be used in the project: electrophysiology, gene therapy (AAV based), mouse models, device development, surgical implantation of devices, Histology

Suitable background of students: Neuroscience, biomedical engineering, biomedicine, biotechnology

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

  • Supervisors: J Villalobos, S Payne, J Fallon
  • Research theme: Autoimmune and Chronic Condition Research
  • Enrolling university: University of Melbourne

We have established that directional vagus nerve stimulation combining different frequencies can regulate blood glucose levels in diabetic animal models. In particular, efferent stimulation has an anti-hyperglycaemic effect. The stimulation paradigms for directional stimulation typically require combination of a focal nerve block with activation pulses at sufficient distance. It is however unknown how the pulsing parameters relate to selectivity of nerve fibre recruitment and the composition of the abdominal vagus nerve.

This PhD project will therefore study aspects of the electrical stimulus specific to directional vagal stimulation:

What is the relationship between electrode shape/configuration and ability to block or activate the vagus nerve? Do different nerves or branches benefit from varied electrode configurations?

What stimulation parameters are most effective at regulating blood glucose levels? Are different parameters necessary according to metabolic state (postprandial vs postabsorption)? What is the duration of stimulation needed for sustained blood glucose reduction through the day?

General methods to be used in the project: Electrophysiology; diabetes rodent models; electrode implantation surgery.

Suitable background of students: Neuroscience or biomedical engineering graduate with interest in electrophysiology.

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

Registration form

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