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PhD Research Excellence

Congratulations to the 2021 PhD Research Excellence finalists.

Dr Alicia Byrne

University of South Australia

Stillbirth and newborn death are devastating tragedies that affect more than 2,750 Australian families every year. The wide-ranging psychosocial and economic impacts are felt not only by families, but by caregivers and the community. Precise identification of the cause of death is essential for accurate counselling and to inform strategies to reduce occurrence, however, current standard-of-care investigations are unable to determine the underlying cause in most cases.


Dr Alicia Byrne’s research explored the utility of a ‘genomic autopsy’ approach, examining the DNA of families impacted by perinatal death to identify genetic variation causal of congenital malformations and unexplained deaths. It also looked for the presence of DNA from bacteria and viruses and underlying deaths related to infections. Through this approach, an accurate cause of death was established for 50% of previously undiagnosed families and informed reproductive planning, already facilitating the birth of 8 healthy babies.


Her research generated further understanding of genes critical in development, which has the potential to guide advice given in all pregnancies and was the first globally to demonstrate the feasibility and potential clinical applications of side-by-side analysis of human and microbial DNA. Together, these findings are influencing change to national policy and practice.


Dr Tahlia Perry

The University of Adelaide

Dr Tahlia Perry is a postdoctoral researcher, award-winning scientist and science communicator who is passionate about conserving Australia’s wildlife using innovative methods to engage the public.


In 2017, she launched the Australia-wide citizen science project, EchidnaCSI, which relies on public input to submit echidna sightings and scat samples to better understand wild echidna populations for conservation purposes.


Tahlia has developed molecular techniques to analyse the gut microbiome and diet of echidnas from scats submitted through EchidnaCSI, bringing together areas of genetics, microbiology, and bioinformatics with ecology, public engagement and conservation.


Findings from her research are being used to inform conservation management practices and policies of endangered Australian monotremes, and to build extensive international collaborative networks to further conservation research.

Dr Annabel Sorby-Adams

The University of Adelaide

Dr Annabel Sorby-Adams is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge and Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide whose research seeks to advance the treatment of stroke – a disease which continues to affect one individual every two seconds.


Annabel completed her PhD in 2021, during which she established the efficacy of a new therapy targeting brain swelling – a common yet deleterious consequence of stroke. Her studies provided key scientific evidence to advance this therapy to clinical trials which are currently underway in Australia and the UK, with a US start date pending.


She commenced her role at the University of Cambridge in January of 2021 where she is investigating the mechanisms underlying ‘reperfusion injury’, which is a paradoxical consequence of current stroke treatment. Annabel is also a recent recipient of a Fulbright Postdoctoral Scholarship where she will continue her stroke research endeavours at the Universities of Harvard, Yale and the MIT in the USA to evaluate the efficacy of a ‘low-field’, portable MRI in expediting stroke diagnosis.


Annabel is passionate about advancing the treatment of stroke through forming collaborative research initiatives, with the goal to significantly improve outcomes for individuals who experience stroke.

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