Research in the Department of Microbiology, Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology

The Department of Microbiology, Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology is recognised nationally and internationally for its research.

Our work focuses on basic biochemical and cellular processes, studies of whole organisms from microbes to humans, and the interactions of these organisms with their environment.

Our research embodies La Trobe University’s strategic priorities of excellence, innovation and international recognition, and is consistently rated at well above world average in Excellence in Research for Australia.

Our contribution aligns with La Trobe University's research themes: Understanding and preventing disease, Healthy people, families and communitiesResilient environments and communities and Sustainable food and agriculture.

To find out more about our individual research groups, please take a look at our research booklet.

Research Areas

The breadth of our research expertise and co-location in world-class facilities has led to new discoveries in cardiovascular biology and disease, neuroscience, developmental biology, musculoskeletal function, host-pathogen interactions and microbial ecology.

Our research is grouped into eight key areas:

Our researchers combine molecular biology, DNA technology, genomics and bioreporter techniques, with traditional microbiological methods and ecological principals, to examine microorganisms in mixed communities, their interactions and effects on ecosystems. These include the spread of antibiotic resistance among bacterial species and how microbial communities can be used in wastewater treatment, corrosion and sustainable soil management.

We are leaders in understanding the influence of the microbiome in animal, plant and human health and are at the forefront of emerging ecological questions, such as how microorganisms survive in some of the harshest environments on earth.

Cardiovascular disease is a group of conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels and can lead to complications such as heart attack, stroke and other circulatory problems. Our researchers are working to understand the causes of hypertension, metabolic syndrome, coronary artery disease, cerebral vascular disease and heart failure, with a view to identifying new therapies to combat these conditions.

Our focus is on the role of the immune system and inflammation, and in understanding the connections between diet, the microbiome and cardiovascular disease risk.

Our researchers examine the molecular, functional and biochemical processes governing how cells behave, both in isolation and within tissues and organ systems. Our researchers use advanced techniques to understand how processes such as cell growth, migration, differentiation, survival and function are regulated during development and in various disease states.

This work is shedding new light on disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, chronic kidney disease, osteoporosis and cleft palate, and has the potential to lead to future therapies to treat these conditions.

Our role as educators is to provide students with an outstanding experience at university. Education research creates evidence-based knowledge that informs teaching practice and promotes student learning.

Our researchers are working on assessment and feedback, employability, the first-year experience, scientific skill development, blended learning, and technology in teaching and learning.

Our researchers study the interactions of viruses, bacteria and parasites with their human and animal hosts, as well as the host immune response to infections. They have expertise in the isolation and culture of microorganisms.

Current projects include understanding how antimicrobial resistance is spread across bacterial species by horizontal gene transfer, the role of bacterial vesicles in infection and disease, and innate immune control of viral infections in humans and animals. A major goal of this work is to develop the next generation of antimicrobial molecules to fight current, emerging and re-emerging infections.

Metabolic and mitochondrial diseases include a range of conditions where the body’s cells have problems producing or using energy. Some metabolic and mitochondrial diseases are genetic, while others may be associated with obesity, ageing, infections and environmental toxins.

Our researchers are working to understand the mechanisms underlying devastating human diseases such as myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes.

Our research focuses on understanding the cellular and biochemical pathways that control skeletal muscle, cartilage and bone function in healthy individuals, and how these are altered by injury and disease.

We hope to develop effective treatments and therapies to improve the quality of life for those affected by musculoskeletal injury and disease.

Our researchers are investigating the molecular basis of neurodevelopmental and neurobehavioural disorders to prevent, diagnose and treat disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and brain injury after stroke.

We are also working to understand the subjective experience of pain during childbirth and the cognitive-evaluative and social determinants of the pain experience.

Graduate research

The Department of Microbiology, Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology delivers high-quality training to our graduate researchers.

We offer Masters and PhD opportunities, where candidates conduct high impact projects under the direction of experts in their field. PhD candidates also have the option of collaborating with an industry organisation from government, private or not-for-profit sector in our industry PhD program.

Our graduate researchers are well supported by teams of at least two supervisors, Progress Committees and a carefully tailored milestone program.

They enjoy a vibrant research culture with writing and skills-based workshops, an annual 3-Minute Thesis competition, a mentoring program, social events and an annual research conference, organised by the Department’s Higher Degree by Research student committee.

Many of our PhD students also undertake casual teaching in the Department, preparing them for careers in academia.

All graduate researchers are part of La Trobe’s Graduate Research School, which upskills researchers through the Research Education and Development (RED) team. The RED team run workshops on topics from preparing literature reviews through to data manipulation and visualisation; and run initiatives including Shut Up and Write!, and 3-Minute Thesis.

Find out more about graduate research opportunities at La Trobe, or contact the Department of Microbiology, Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology’s Graduate Research Coordinators, Associate Professor Bill Vinh and Associate Professor Colleen Thomas.

Research Centre

The Department of Microbiology, Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology is also home to the Centre for Cardiovascular Biology and Disease Research.

Comprising 15 research divisions and more than 75 staff and Higher Degree by Research students, the Centre for Cardiovascular Biology and Disease Research is one of the largest groups of cardiovascular researchers in Australia. Our researchers investigate the mechanisms that cause diseases including hypertension, stroke, atherosclerosis, heart failure, diabetes, vascular dementia and kidney disease. The long-term goal of this research is to develop more effective medicines and diagnostics to reduce the global burden of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Find out more about the Centre.