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Control of tissue growth and cancer by the Hippo pathway

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  • Full or part time
    Dr K. Harvey
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

In the Harvey laboratory, we study mechanisms that control organ size during development and how deregulation of these processes contributes to human cancer. More specifically we: investigate developmental organ size control in the vinegar fly Drosophila; characterise the function of the Hippo pathway in Drosophila; and investigate the role of the Hippo pathway in human cancer.

We utilise the model organism, Drosophila melanogaster (vinegar fly), mouse models and mammalian cell culture to discover and investigate genes involved in tissue growth and cancer. Our approach is to identify genes involved in cancerous-like growth in flies and then use human and mouse models to determine whether the human counterparts of these fly cancer genes have a role in human cancer. Approximately 70% of human disease genes are conserved in flies, making it an excellent model for these studies.

One newly identified signaling pathway that our laboratory helped to discover and actively studies is the Salvador-Warts-Hippo (Hippo) pathway, which controls organ size during development. This pathway controls organ size by restricting cells from growing and dividing excessively, properties central to the formation of cancer. The Hippo pathway is conserved in humans and several studies from our laboratory and others have implicated this pathway in the genesis of human cancer (eg. Reference 4, below). By studying various aspects of this pathway we aim to understand how organ size is correctly specified during development, and how deregulation of this pathway contributes to human cancer.

This project will study the mechanism by which the Hippo pathway controls organ size and cancer, using an array of genetic, cell biological and biochemical techniques. The project aims include to:
(1) Understand how the Hippo pathway controls organ size during development.
(2) Define the role of Hippo pathway in human cancers.
(3) Develop drugs to target the Hippo pathway for therapeutic benefit.

A broad range of cutting-edge techniques will be used, including confocal microscopy, immunohistochemistry, Drosophila genetics, molecular biology, cell biology. All techniques are routinely used by the laboratory and training will be provided.

Our laboratory is looking for intelligent, motivated students to join our team. You should have a willingness to learn a number of different biological techniques, and be able to integrate into a close team environment.

Funding Notes

All PhD students at Peter Mac must have a scholarship from The University of Melbourne or through another government, trust or philanthropic organisation. Before applying for a scholarship, you must have agreed on a project with an institute supervisor.

For further information about the university application process, see:

For further information regarding scholarships (both local and international), see:
Closing dates for applications for scholarships to commence in 2017: Round 1 -31 October 2016; Round 2 - 18 Dec 2016.


1. C. Poon et al., (2012) Current Biology. 17, 1587-1594.
2. C. Poon et al., (2011) Developmental Cell. 5, 896-906.
3. F. Grusche et al. (2011). Developmental Biology. 3550, 255-266.
4. X. Zhang et al. (2011). Oncogene. 30, 2810-2822.
5 F. Grusche et al. (2010). Current Biology. 20, r574-582.
6. C. Milton et al. (2010). Development. 137, 735-43. 7. X. Zhang et al. (2009). Cancer Research. 69, 6033-6041.
8. F. Bennett and K.F. Harvey (2006). Current Biol. 16, 2101-2110.
9. K.F. Harvey et al. (2003). Cell 114, 457-467.
10. N. Tapon et al. (2002). Cell 110, 467-478.

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