Developing minimally invasive brain health biomarkers

A brighter future for healthy ageing: developing minimally invasive brain health biomarkers (ISLAND Study Linking Ageing and Neurodegenerative Disease)

Degree type


Closing date

22 November 2021



Citizenship requirement

Domestic/International Onshore


$28,597pa for 3.5 years

About the research project

The prevalence of dementia is rapidly rising in Australia, driven primarily by ageing populations. People in rural and remote communities have particularly high risk for developing dementia.  We urgently need cost-effective screening tests to identify high risk individuals because early risk modification could prevent 40% of dementia cases.

Our goal is to develop new “brain health” tests that are accessible to all Australians and would have clinical utility in regional and remote areas. To develop brain health tests we are characterizing a number of biomarkers in the ISLAND cohort, a large population based public health intervention study to reduce the risk of dementia in Australians over the age of 50.

Biomarkers being measured include online measures of functional decline (cognitive, motor, visual, speech, mood), sleep pattern changes, as well as risk genes and brain proteins in the blood that indicate decline in brain health over a 10-20 year pre-clinical period before significant memory symptoms of dementia occur.  In this project we will establish how the biomarker measures correlate with current methods of detecting early-stage dementia: neuropsychological assessments and quantitative MRI brain scan analysis using data obtained from the newly established UTAS ISLAND Cognitive Clinic, one of 50 clinics comprising the Australian Dementia Network (ADNeT). Post-project, we will leverage ADNeT connections for health economic analysis and to scale up adoption of the test nationwide.

PhD projects would suit students from a range of backgrounds including big data analytics/data mining, ICT, neuropsychology or a medical background. There will be the opportunity to gain experience in the analysis and interpretation of MRI data for research purposes. Statistical knowledge in command-based language, such as R, would be preferred, but is not essential. Experience in cross-sectional and biomarker statistical analysis will be gained as part of this project.

Primary Supervisor

Meet Dr Jane Alty


The scholarship supporting this project provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $28,597 per annum (2021 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years;
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000;
  • a tuition fee scholarship for up to 4 years (successful domestic applicants will be awarded an RTP Fees Offset and successful international applicants will be awarded a University of Tasmania Fees Offset)

The scholarship supporting this project is funded by the University of Tasmania and the Australian Government through the Research Training Program.


The project is open to domestic (Australia and New Zealand) and international applicants who are already in Australia (onshore) at the time of submitting their application.

Due to current Australian COVID-19 travel restrictions the University cannot accept applications from International applicants who are currently overseas.

Applicants should review the PhD minimum entry requirements.

Applicants from the following disciplines are encouraged to apply:

  • Big data analytics/data mining
  • Computer science
  • Image analysis
  • Neuropsychology
  • Medicine

Selection Criteria

The project/scholarship is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Application process

There is a three-step application process:

  1. Select your project, and check you meet the eligibility and selection criteria;
  2. Contact the Primary Supervisor, Dr Jane Alty, if you have any questions about the project; and
  3. Click here to submit an application by the closing date listed above.
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • As part of your application you will be required to submit a covering letter, a CV including 2 x referees and your project research proposal.

Following the application closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email by the advertised outcome date.

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