Professor Emad El-Omar
Director of the MRC
Professor El-Omar graduated in Medicine from Glasgow University, Scotland, and trained as a gastroenterologist. He worked as a Visiting Scholar and Scientist at Vanderbilt University, Tennessee and National Cancer Institute, Maryland, USA, and was Professor of Gastroenterology at Aberdeen University, Scotland, for 16 years before taking up the Chair of Medicine at St George and Sutherland Clinical School, UNSW, Sydney, Australia. He is the Editor in Chief of the journal, Gut. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Prof El-Omar has 20 years of gut microbiome research as part of his expertise. His other research interests include inflammation-driven gastrointestinal cancer, Helicobacter pylori infection and inflammatory bowel disease.
Professor Michael Grimm
He has a longstanding research interest and productivity in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), linked with clinical leadership in this sub-specialty. He is frequently called upon to review grants and fellowships in IBD-related fields, nationally and internationally, and to contribute roles related to his expertise at local, national and international conferences. He is a former President of the Gastroenterological Society of Australia (GESA) and was a member of its Council for eight years. Professor Grimm is a leader in IBD research with collaboration in both basic science and clinical arenas. He has supervised PhD students and is actively involved with the UNSW Medical Program. He runs an active IBD clinic that uses biologic therapy and brings valuable insight to the MRC.
Dr Fatima El-Assaad
Dr El-Assaad is the Senior Research Associate at the MRC, coordinating all the research activity and strategy within the MRC. She graduated with first class honours in Medical Science and was awarded her PhD from the University of Sydney in 2013 for her research into brain injury in malaria. Her work was the first demonstration that plasma microparticles – previously thought to be inert remnants of cell membrane – are in fact active contributors to the microvascular lesions that cause brain injury in malaria. In 2015, Dr El-Assaad was awarded the UNSW Sydney Vice Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellowship to study host-pathogen interactions in view of identifying drug targets, biomarkers and designing translatable personalised therapy and alternatives to antimicrobials. Her current interests lie in the role of the microbiome in mental health, neuroscience and healthy aging.
Professor Georgina Hold
Prof Hold attained her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry (Toxicology) from Surrey University, United Kingdom, in 1995, followed by PhD at Glasgow University in 1999. She then moved to Aberdeen University, where her research focussed on understanding how microorganisms in the human gastrointestinal tract contribute to disease initiation and progression. She was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship in 2014 and spent a year at Harvard School of Public Health. She was attracted to the MRC’s research programme and was appointed as Professor at UNSW in October 2017. Her research interests include understanding the impact of the gut microbiota on the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease and microbial therapeutics.
Associate Professor Amany Zekry
A/Prof Amany Zekry is a Clinical Academic at St George and Sutherland Clinical School, UNSW Sydney. She is a Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist at St George Hospital. She leads a research group investigating the role of the microbiome in the immunopathogenesis of liver disease and liver cancer in obesity. Her research group has published novel data on the role of adipocytokines in mediating liver injury and impairing the immune response. Her current work aims to define the microbiome signature associated with liver cancer in obesity.
Professor Marissa Lassere
Professor Lassere is a Rheumatologist who in 2002 co-founded the Australian Rheumatology Association Database (ARAD), an on-going long-term safety national database of patients on biologic treatments for rheumatic conditions. She is chief investigator on a 2017 Australian Arthritis & Autoimmune Biobank Collaborative, which adds a biobank arm to ARAD. She has a unique expertise in Clinimetrics – patient-reported measures, clinical measures, and imaging measures. She has been a member of International Biometric Society, International Society for Bayesian Analysis, International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research, Health Informatics Society of Australia, American Medical Informatics Society, and Society for Clinical Trials. She brings extensive statistical expertise to the MRC.
Professor Maija Kohonen-Corish
Prof Kohonen-Corish has a long track record of discovery in cancer research, including the genetic basis of colon cancer, translational research in colon and lung tumours and the development of mouse models. She completed her PhD in human genetics at John Curtin School of Medical Research in Canberra. She then established a laboratory at the Australian National University to study the genetic basis of Lynch Syndrome. She was the head of colon and lung cancer research at Garvan Institute between 2002 – 2018 and is currently the Director of the Centre for Lung Cancer at the Woolcock Institute. She has joined the MRC to investigate the microbiome in lung cancer and its links to the efficacy of immunotherapy.
Dr Lan Gong
Dr Gong is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the MRC. After completing his PhD in Microbiology and Immunology at UNSW, Dr Gong worked as a Research Fellow at Monash University investigating host-pathogen interactions especially autophagic responses against various human pathogenic bacteria. His current research focuses on understanding the role of the microbiome in liver diseases, including hepatitis, obesity-related non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis.
Dr. Howard Chi Ho Yim
Dr Yim is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the MRC. He completed his PhD in infectious diseases and innate immunity at The University of Hong Kong. He studied the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease, infections and type I diabetes when he worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Monash University, Australia. In 2013, he was awarded the NHMRC Australia-China Exchange Early Career Fellowship. He acts as a Specialist Advisor for the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) of Australian Government. Dr. Yim’s current research focuses on the investigation of the role of gut microbiota in the development of colorectal cancer. He is interested in understanding the pathogenesis of colorectal cancer and identifying the host or microbial factors leading to this disease. He is also interested in studying the role of gut microbiota in regulating other gastrointestinal diseases. The goal of his research is to translate the research outcomes into therapeutic and preventive strategies to tackle or protect against these diseases.
Dr. Xiao-Tao Jiang
Dr. Xiao-Tao Jiang leads the bioinformatics unit at the MRC. He obtained his PhD in 2017 at the University of Hong Kong by studying the microbiome of activated sludge within a large-scale metagenomics cohort. He developed the antibiotic resistant genes analyzing bioinformatics platform ARGs-OAP1.0/2.0 for multi-metagenomics samples to fight antimicrobial resistance. He has extensive experience in next-generation data analysis, bioinformatics and industrial experience at China’s BGI the world’s largest genome sequencing centre. His current research interest lies in using multi-omic technologies and bioinformatics algorithms to study the role of the microbiome in human disease.
Dr Emily McGovern
Dr Emily McGovern is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow working in the bioinformatics unit at the MRC. Her PhD research was conducted between Ireland’s food and agricultural authority (Teagasc) and University College Dublin. Her research focused on microbial genomics, specifically the characterization and variability of the rumen microbiome and its relationship with the phenotype of the host ruminant. During her PhD, she collaborated with members of the Microbial Digestion and Absorption team at Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), Clermont Ferrand undertaking metabolomic analysis on rumen fluid; this was then integrated with a NGS microbiome dataset to gain a multi focal perspective on the complex ruminant ecosystem. This was facilitated through an Irish Research Council Grant she was awarded. Her current research interests lie in archaeal populations and their symbiotic relationship with other domains of life within the gut in relation to human health and disease.
Dr Fan Zhang
Dr Fan Zhang is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the MRC. He obtained his PhD in Bioinformatics in 2017 at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. The research work he has conducted is mainly focus on large-scale data analysis, Bioinformatics and Machine-Learning. He studied the Adenosine-to-inosine (A-to-I) RNA editing when he worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Genome Institute of Singapore. His current research focuses on the data analysis of high-throughput sequencing data.
Naomi Strout RN/RM
Naomi is the Project Manager & Executive Officer for the MothersBabies study at the MRC. She is a dual trained Registered Nurse and Registered Midwife (Distinction), with extensive experience working with children from birth to 18 years of age. Prior to working in research Naomi has nursed in oncology/haematology, neonatal intensive care (NICU) and adolescent health. She comes to the MRC with a strong background in the coordination in paediatric clinical research, assisting investigators and commercial organisations to develop innovative treatment methods and improve healthcare for children. Her passion for the microbiome and how it can impact on the long-term health outcomes stems from her midwifery training – healthy mothers (and fathers) are the key step in making healthy babies and children for the future.
Mr. Andrew Gia
Mr Gia is a research assistant at the MRC. A recent graduate from the University of Sydney with a first class honours in Bachelor of Science (Advanced), Andrew has extensive experience in microbiology as well as cell and molecular biology. His Honours thesis involved optimising CRISPR/Cas9 system for vaccinia virus genome editing. In addition to assisting the MRC team, he is optimising standardised sample collection and storage protocols to facilitate high quality, reproducible microbiome downstream analysis. He has a keen interest in the role of the microbiome in neuroscience and mental health. He aims to use the microbiome to better understand the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Dr Daniella Susic
Dr Susic is a clinical research fellow in the field of obstetrics and a PhD candidate at the MRC. She has undertaken speciality training through the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG). Under the supervision of Dr Amanda Henry and Prof Emad El-Omar, she is working on the Microbiome Understanding in Maternity Study (MUMS) trying to establish if there are causal links or associations between the action and composition of microbiome during pregnancy and adverse pregnancy outcomes. She will study each woman and her baby for a year following birth. She is an enthusiastic team member and very passionate about the potential impact that this important scientific research will have on the clinical practice of obstetrics.
Dr Jason Behary
Dr Jason Behary is a Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist who works at St George Hospital in Sydney and a PhD candidate at the MRC. After completing his fellowship at Liverpool Hospital in Sydney, he commenced his research into the role of the intestinal microbiome in gastrointestinal and liver cancer under the supervision of A/Prof Amany Zekry and Prof Emad El-Omar. Jason is also passionate about the education and training of junior doctors. He is a Conjoint Associate Lecturer at the University of New South Wales and the current Network Director of Physician Education and Training, St George and Sutherland Hospital Basic Physician Training Network.
Dr Betty Wu
Dr Wu is a gastroenterologist with interest in inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). She graduated from the University of New South Wales in 2011 with first class honours. She completed her specialist training at St George, Sutherland and Liverpool hospitals. In 2019, she joined the MRC family to commence post-graduate research looking into role of microbiome in IBD. She has received the prestigious Crohn’s and Colitis Australia scholarship to undertake this project.
Ms Tavakoli (BA, BS, MS) is a PhD scholar at the MRC. She graduated with a Master of Human Genetics from The University of Sydney in 2015. She has a broad range of experience, from medical research through her work in the Department of Gastroenterology, St Vincent Hospital Sydney and St George Hospital to business development and consulting through her senior positions at the Australian Trade Commission and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. She is currently investigating the possible interrelationship between the physiologic, autonomic, microbiome, immune and psychological factors that contribute to relapse in inflammatory bowel disease under the supervision of Prof Michael Grimm, Prof Ute Vollmer-Conna, Mr Dusan Hadzi-Pavlovic and Prof Georgina Hold
Ms Stanford is a PhD scholar at the University of Wollongong and a visiting researcher at the MRC. She is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and graduated with first class honours in Nutrition and Dietetics. She has a broad range of experience in nutrition and health service delivery research as well as having worked in clinical health, public health and private industry settings. She is currently undertaking research investigating nutrition-based therapies and the microbiome in pre-dialysis adults with chronic kidney disease designed to elicit beneficial gut microbiome alterations and improved clinical outcomes. She hopes to support projects of MRC through her skills in designing and conducting food, nutrition and health research using rigorous dietary methodologies and clinical dietary trials.
Dr Hojabr Kakavand
Dr. Kakavand is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Woolcock Centre for Lung Cancer Research, a visiting fellow of the Microbiome Research Centre, UNSW and visiting scientist at the Garvan Institute. He completed a Biomedical Science (BSc) degree at the University of Adelaide in 2009, subsequently receiving first class honours in 2010 assessing therapies for colorectal cancer at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. He completed his PhD at the Melanoma Institute Australia in 2017 assessing the efficacy of targeted therapies and immune checkpoint inhibitors in patients with metastatic melanoma. Dr. Kakavand’s current research focus is the interaction of the gut and lung microbiome with lung cancer development and response to immune checkpoint inhibitors.
Dr Nadia Amorim
Dr Nadia Amorim joined the Microbiome Research Centre in 2019, bringing her clinical expertise as a dietitian and scientist to investigate the role of the microbiome in liver disease and liver cancer. Nadia has over 15 years of clinical experience and extensive training in gastrointestinal cancer nutritional care and clinical research in Brazil. Dr Nadia worked as senior dietitian on obesity and metabolic surgery, while developing educational programs for outpatients. She did her masters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, studying hypertension in obese patients while also involved in teaching and supervision in Clinical Nutrition. During her Doctoral studies at UNSW (2014-18), Nadia extensively worked with a mouse model of obesity, investigating the effects of radiation on muscle metabolism and markers of inflammatory response. Nadia was also able to investigate metabolic alterations in primary isolated muscle stem cells. Dr Amorim has given several oral and poster presentations at international and local conferences. Throughout her career, she has developed a unique skill set including patient care, clinical and experimental research, cellular and molecular biology techniques, from bed to bench.
Ms Raposo is a research assistant at the MRC. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science with first class honours from Western Sydney University in 2015 and will be awarded her PhD from the same university in 2019 for her research characterising protein arginine methylation in glioblastoma. Her work found differences in the expression levels of the enzymes responsible for arginine methylation (PRMTs) between cancerous and non-cancerous cells and identified PRMTs as potential therapeutic targets in glioblastoma. Ms Raposo’s current research focuses on understanding the role of the microbiome in liver diseases, including hepatitis, obesity-related non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis.
Isabelle Ibrahim RN
Having attained a Bachelor of Nursing at the University of Notre Dame – Australia, Isabelle Ibrahim is a Registered Nurse who completed clinical training at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney with a focus on Acute Geriatrics/Psychogeriatrics, as well as Critical Care. Isabelle trained in the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit which deals with immediate post-operative care of Heart and Lung Transplant recipients within the Tertiary Centre for Respiratory and Cardiology medicine, and remains active in her clinical nursing practice in Intensive Care. Isabelle’s fascination with the importance of the microbiome began when she was a Research Assistant for a medical research & development facility focused on bacterial/probiotic therapy for treatment and prevention of chronic disease. Having worked in various research coordinator/Nurse roles, she has developed a strong interest in integrative and holistic medicine, and on improving evidence-based disease prevention especially in relation to the microbiome, a passion strengthened during her hospital training when she noticed how routinely the significance of its impact is overlooked in the acute clinical setting. Isabelle is working on clinical trials within the MRC focused on several domains, including Women & Children’s Health, Inflammation, Infection and Immunity, Mental Health & Neuroscience, and Critical Care.
Ms Hicks is an Honours student studying at the MRC. She recently completed a Bachelor of Medical Science at the University of NSW, majoring in Human Pathology. She has knowledge on a broad range of topics, including biochemistry, microbiology and physiology. She is currently working on a honours project under the supervision of Professor El-Omar and Dr El-Assaad. This project involves investigating the role of the microbiome in endometriosis. They hope to discover a link that may have potential use in diagnostics, or as a novel therapeutic. After completing Honours, she aims to complete a Doctor of Medicine.
Miss Sanjna Kalasabail is a fourth-year medical student at the University of New South Wales, Australia. Sanjna is currently completing her ILP (Independent Learning Program) research year with the Microbiome Research Centre under the supervision of Dr Howard Yim. Her ILP project is examining the composition of the gut microbiome and its role in colorectal cancer. Miss Kalasabail’s current interests are in the microbiome and its role in disease as well as gastroenterology and oncology.
Key Principal Investigators
Professor Beng Chong
Prof Chong is a Professor of Haematology with over 30 years of experience as a medical researcher and an educator. He is known particularly for his research and expertise in the field of thrombosis and hemostasis. Currently the Director of the Department of Haematology, St George Hospital, Prof Chong is also a Professor of Medicine (conjoint) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). He served as the Professor of Medicine and Head of Department of Medicine at St George Clinical School at UNSW in Sydney from 2001 to March, 2012. Prof Chong leads an active research team ranging from basic science, translational and clinical studies at the St George Hospital/UNSW. The team’s aims are: (1) to investigate the pathogenesis, to improve the diagnosis and to develop novel treatments of immune thrombocytopenia including heparin-induced thrombocytopenia, (2) to improve prevention and treatment of venous thromboembolism, and (3) to study molecular regulation of platelet production. He has served as a member or the chair of several national and international bodies, including Australia and New Zealand Venous Thromboembolism Working Party and New South Wales State Government Clinical Excellence Commission Working Committees on Venous Thrombo-embolism Prevention and on Venous Thromboembolism. Within the MRC Prof Chong is a principal investigator on microbiota dysbiosis in thrombocytopenia and thrombosis.
Professor Ute Vollmer-Conna
Professor Vollmer-Conna is an internationally recognised leader in multi-disciplinary research examining the sickness response to infection, inflammation and injury, and post-infective syndromes of fatigue and depression. Her research leading to genetic discoveries enabling prediction of the severity of symptoms during acute sickness to diverse infections has become the basis for a diagnostic patent. Dr Vollmer-Conna’s recent work has provided novel insights in the role of vagus nerve activity in sleep and the response to stressors, including immunological challenges. Prof Vollmer-Conna is frequently invited to present her work at specialist meetings and conferences in Germany, the US, and most recently the UK. She is a Research Fellow at the Black Dog Institute, and maintains a longstanding research affiliation with Prof Lloyd, the Head of the Viral Immunology Systems Program at the Kirby Institute. Together, they lead the Dubbo/Sydney Infection Outcome Studies; a large, collaborative research program of prospective viral cohorts to study pathophysiological mechanisms of post-infective neuropsychiatric syndromes. Within the MRC Prof Vollmer-Conna is a principal investigator on the inflammatory bowel disease projects and advisor on the mental health research theme.
Dr Amanda Henry
Dr Henry is Senior Lecturer in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and an Obstetrician at St George Public Hospital and the Royal Hospital for Women, Sydney and NHMRC Early Career Fellow, who combines research, teaching and clinical responsibilities. She is an active researcher and research supervisor in the areas of high-risk pregnancy, obstetric ultrasound, and clinical trials, teaches pregnancy care to both undergraduate and postgraduate students, and works as a high-risk Obstetrician at St George Hospital where she has also established a multidisciplinary Fetal Medicine service. Prior to commencing her academic career at UNSW in 2011, Dr Henry completed her specialist training in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at teaching hospitals both within Australia and overseas, focussing on high-risk pregnancy care. Within the MRC, Dr Henry is a principal investigator on the studies looking into the role of the gut and urogenital microbiome in pregnancy and pregnancy-related complications.
Dr Bill Giannakopoulos
Dr Giannakopoulos is a Senior Lecturer in Clinical Medicine at the St George and Sutherland Clinical School, UNSW Sydney, Co-Director of the St George Hospital Immunology Research Laboratory (with Professor Steven Krilis) and is a Clinical Rheumatologist practising at the St George Public Hospital. He has a strong interest in the Antiphospholipid Syndrome (APS), specifically in understanding the biology of the main autoantigen β2GPI, and the mechanisms by which antiphospholipid antibodies predispose to thrombosis and foetal loss. Within the MRC, Dr Giannakopoulos is a principal investigator on the role of the microbiome in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and antiphospholipid syndrome.
Dr Peter Wu
Dr Wu is a gastroenterologist at St George Hospital. He completed his specialist training in adult gastroenterology in 2014. He is currently in the final year of his PhD candidature, supported in part by a St George and Sutherland Medical Research Foundation Scholarship studying the clinical utility of pharyngeal and oesophageal compliance measurement in the management of dysphagia disorders. Within the MRC Dr Wu is the principal investigator on the role of the oral microbiome in chemo-radio therapy for head and neck cancer.