IRTG PhD program
The International Research Training Group (IRTG)
IRTG student wins the Hudson early-career best poster presentation award at the Australian Society for Reproductive Biology meeting in Adelaide, 2018.
IRTG student Anastasia Christine Kauerhof receiving her award from Prof Kate Loveland
Molecular Pathogenesis of Male Reproductive Disorders
The Monash-JLU IRTG fosters an intellectual environment that is building local and international research capacity, by creating innovation and knowledge through investment in leading edge research and in PhD student training.
Senior Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Professor Zlatko Skrbiš receiving the Justus Liebig Medal by Justus Liebig University Giessen (JLU), Germany, from Professor Joybrato Mukherjee, President of Justus-Liebig University. Professor Skrbiš received the award in recognition of his outstanding contribution to JLU’s partnership with Monash University, including his support of the renewal of the first International Research Training Group (IRTG) collaboration between Australia and Germany.
A collaborative research program into male reproductive health disorders
According to the World Health Organisation, reproductive and sexual health issues account for 14% of the global burden of ill-health in men. This research program brings together basic and clinical scientists in different fields of reproductive medicine to focus on a bench-to-bedside approach to diagnose and treat men’s reproductive health disorders. The research focusses on innovative research that will drive discovery of new therapies for the diagnosis and treatment of male infertility, testicular and prostate cancers and inflammatory disorders of the male reproductive tract.
Male reproductive tract disorders are common, with infertility and prostate disease being particularly prevalent. Whilst infertility and testicular cancer are of major importance in younger men of ‘reproductive age’, prostate disease, such as benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH), prostate cancer, lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS), and chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CP/CPPS) occur most frequently in older men. The male reproductive organs are also susceptible to inflammatory diseases mediated by the immune system: these can impact on fertility and/or prostate function, causing disorders such as orchitis (inflammation of the testis), epididymitis (inflammation of the epididymis) and CP/CPPS. All projects in this program investigate clinically relevant aspects of these disorders of male reproductive functions, including pathogenesis, treatment and/or diagnosis.
This research program is incorporated into an International Research Training Group (IRTG) that facilitates collaboration and student training between researchers at Monash University and Justus-Liebig University (JLU) in Giessen, Germany. The unique collaboration brings together a large team of international experts in male reproductive medicine, including basic research scientists and clinicians treating men with a range of reproductive disorders. The IRTG also faciliates the training of PhD students in male reproductive health, with students having the opportunity to undertake a joint PhD (Please refer to "The joint PhD program " link below).
Teams of researchers and postgraduate students work on 11 projects, each tackling different aspects of male reproductive health issues and the biology that underpins testis function. These teams consist of experts in testis, epididymal and prostate biology, epigenetics, immunology, cell biology, endocrinology and andrology. The teams are enhanced by close collaborations with other research institutions, including the University of Newcastle and the Burnet Institute.
Collaborative research projects involve chief investigators/supervisors from both Monash and JLU, working together with students who spend time in labs in both countries. The IRTG has created a unique combination of research resources including experimental models, platform technologies and an exceptional catalogue of well-described human clinical samples.
For more information, click on the links below
Training the next generation of researchers in male reproductive health
An international team of scientists and clinicians is training the next generation of PhD scientists, equipping them with the skills, knowledge and collaborations to tackle critical global health issues in the area of male reproductive health. This research doctoral training program was established in 2013 between Monash University in Melbourne, Australia and Justus-Liebig University (JLU) in Giessen, Germany, and is now funded through 2022. Our PhD candidates are enrolled into an International Research Training Group (IRTG), funded by the German government and supported by Monash University.
Students are trained within two world-leading Reproductive Biology research centres and may obtain a joint PhD from both Universities upon completion. They receive specialised training in Infertility/Fertility, Immunology and Inflammation, Reproductive Hormones and Local Factors, and TGFβ/Activin Superfamily Biology.
Our students, scientists and clinicians work together to develop new diagnostic tools and therapies for men’s reproductive health issues including:
- Male Infertility
- Inflammatory Disorders of the Male Reproductive Tract
- Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia
- Prostate and Testicular cancer
PhD students work on a project that is an ongoing collaboration between Australian and German partners. Students are co-supervised by researchers in both universities; most supervisory teams include scientists and clinicians.
Students enrolled in the IRTG program at Monash must spend at least 12 months at JLU, and vice versa, in order to be awarded a joint PhD from both universities.
While at each Institution, students attend unique and specialised training activities designed to strengthen their knowledge and skills in male reproductive health research. These include lectures and workshops from world-leading scientists, round table discussions with clinicians and other health experts, visits to hospitals and technology facilities and training in science communication. While based at Monash, students may work in laboratories at Monash Clayton campus in the Biomedical Discovery Institute and School of Biological Sciences, at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research located at Monash Health, or at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the Monash Parkville campus, depending on their project.
Our students work in two partner laboratories within two scientific teams in different countries, and they are immersed in a training program involving many other students working in related, but distinct areas. Each student is offered to a breadth of opportunities, both scientifically and personally. PhD students regularly meet with their home and overseas supervisors and research team members via video conference and email. Students who have completed our program report that their projects and personal experience were enhanced by their interactions with multiple supervisors, gaining from their individual areas of knowledge and technical expertise.
Students are expected to write original research publications and review articles. They are encouraged to work independently within their host laboratories, and to utilise the strengths of each partner team and of the IRTG team. Our students regularly present their work at international conferences; they have collectively won more than 30 prizes and awards and co-authored more than 40 manuscripts. This unique training program is tailored to individual student needs, providing exposure and the potential to employ the latest techniques, technologies and research findings across the broad field of male reproductive health.
Our first cohort of PhD students are nearing completion and four students have graduated from the IRTG, receiving the highest possible honour (summa cum laude) from JLU University.
Please note: as of 11 December 2020 we are no longer accepting applications from prospective students
The program is organised into 11 projects, each managed by a team of both Monash and JLU researchers. Each project includes up to 3 PhD students working on different project aspects simultaneously. Project availability varies depending on the number of students that have been recruited to each project, and whether the current students are close to completion.
Due to the renewal of our program in 2017, and the fact that many of our first round students are nearing completion, we are now actively seeking students to enrol.
PhD students enrolling at Monash receive a scholarship that pays them a salary for 3 years of their project, with the possibility to extend for a further 6 months during thesis writing, subject to progress. Students are also offered support to attend relevant conferences and IRTG milestone meetings.
Students will participate in world-leading research into men’s reproductive health. Certain projects include an opportunity to undergo training in Bioinformatics, to equip students with the skills needed to analyse large datasets relevant to their project and to give them an important tool for their future capacity to contribute to biomedical research.
Please note: as of 11 December 2020 we are no longer accepting applications from prospective students
Local and international students are encouraged to apply. Sound English language skills are required for postgraduate enrolment at Monash University; students must provide evidence of English Language Proficiency (ELP).
For more information on English language requirements click here.
Students also need to satisfy rigorous academic standards for entry into our exceptional and competitive program. For information on general admission criteria to a PhD at Monash click here.
Once you determine you are eligible, interested students are required to submit an application, including CV, for consideration. Students are welcome to contact lead investigators for individual projects (see below) to determine availability and suitability. For further information and advice on how to apply, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Collaborative research projects are summarised below.
- P1: Sperm morphology and motility in mice and men: Investigations of defective male germ cell differentiation. Supervisors: Germany: D. Fietz and M. Bergmann (JLU); Australia: M. O’Bryan (Monash), M. Baker (collaborator)
- P2: Human testis cancer and spermatogenesis control by immune cells. Supervisors: Germany: M. Bergmann, H.-Chr. Schuppe and F. Wagenlehner (JLU), Australia: K. Loveland, M. Hedger and R. Hobbs (Monash), B.E. Loveland (collaborator)
- P3: Formation of the testicular immunological barrier through immune modulation by somatic cells. Supervisors: Germany: L. Konrad, G. Scheiner-Bobis (JLU), Australia: K. Loveland and P.G. Stanton (Monash), B. Loveland and M. Baker (collaborators) (project based at Hudson Institute, Clayton)
- P4: Proteomics in seminal plasma and testicular interstitial fluid as predictor of successful sperm retrieval in infertile azoospermic men. Supervisors: Germany: T. Diemer, D. Fietz and A. Pilatz (JLU), Australia: P.G. Stanton, L. O’Donnell and R.I. McLachlan (Monash)
- P5: Systemic and local inflammatory gene regulation and redox-signalling in chronic prostatitis – studies in patients’ blood and ejaculates towards individualized disease profiling. Supervisors: Germany: F. Wagenlehner and U. Schagdarsurengin (JLU), Australia: B Extintaris and G. Risbridger (Monash)
- P6: Hormonal regulation of cGMP pathways and spontaneous contractility in the prostate. Supervisors: Germany: R. Middendorff (JLU), Australia: G. Risbridger and B. Exintaris (Monash) (project based at Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Parkville)
- P7: The role of activins and MCP-1/CCL2 in the development of CD4+CD8+ T cells and fibrotic responses during chronic testicular inflammation in mice. Supervisors: Germany: M. Fijak and S. Bhushan (JLU), Australia: M. Hedger and K. Loveland (Monash) (project based at Hudson Institute, Clayton)
- P9: Targeting the TGFβ superfamily to prevent fibrosis of the epididymis and preserve fertility following bacterial infection. Supervisors: Germany: A. Meinhardt and R. Middendorff (JLU), Australia: M. Hedger and K. Loveland (Monash)
- P10: Regulation of immune responses in the normal and infected testis: role of Sertoli cell-derived activins. Supervisors: Germany: A. Meinhardt and S. Bhushan (JLU), Australia: M. Hedger and K. Loveland (Monash)
- P11: Impacts of epigenetic interactions between TET1 and PRC2 in spermatogenesis and fertility. Supervisors: Germany: U. Schagdarsurengin and K. Steger (JLU), Australia: P. Western (Monash) (project based at Hudson Institute, Clayton)
- P12: Role of oxytocin in the contractility of the male reproductive tract: implications for the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia. Supervisors: Germany: R. Middendorff, T. Linn and F. Wagenlehner (JLU), Australia: B. Exintaris and G. Risbridger (Monash), M. Whittaker (collaborator) (project based at Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Parkville)
Beginning in 2013 and funded until 2022, this collaborative program evolved from a long standing cooperation between Monash scientists and Professor Andreas Meinhardt, who completed postdoctoral training at Monash in the mid-1990s. Prof Dr Meinhardt, now Director of the Institute of Anatomy and Cell Biology at JLU, has worked with several Monash researchers over the years and now oversees teams of scientists at JLU working on multiple male reproductive health disorders.
In 2012, Prof Kate Loveland, an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow who is now head of the Centre of Reproductive Health at the Hudson Institute and of Postgraduate Studies at the School of Clinical Sciences, and Prof Dr Meinhardt led a plan to draw together specialists in male reproductive health at both Universities. Researchers from both countries came together to identify a series of strategic goals and developed projects that leverage their special skills and research tools to tackle the diagnosis and treatment of important men’s reproductive health disorders.
The program also draws together researchers with common interests and a long history of collaboration from different sites across Monash University. Researchers based at many sites across Monash participate in collaborative research and contribute their individual areas of expertise to the doctoral training program. Research groups are based at the:
- Hudson Institute of Medical Research (School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health)
- Biomedical Discovery Research Institute (Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences)
- School of Biological Sciences (Faculty of Science)
- Australian Medical Research Institute (ARMI)
- Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences
The first program, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), with further support from Justus-Liebig University (JLU) and Monash University, facilitated 9 collaborative research projects. The program was highly successful, resulting in more than 25 joint publications and training of more than 15 postgraduate students, many of whom received awards for their work from scientific societies and other organisations.
Following the success of the first IRTG program, the global team applied for a renewal to the DFG in 2016, to support a total of 11 research projects and 22 postgraduate students. The program was rated very highly by the DFG and funding was renewed in May 2017. This renewal funding will provide more than € 4.15 million ($6.24 million AUD) for the research partnership to allow continuation of the program until 2022. JLU provides additional funds to support various aspects of the research, including access for JLU students to the world-class research platforms for biomedical research at Monash.
Monash University has also provided extensive financial support for the IRTG. Monash and the Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences have committed more than $500,000, along with 11 tuition and living stipend scholarships that will be used to support students enrolled through Monash in the 2017-2022 funding period.