Developing an olfactory cell therapy for spinal cord injury

The Chief Investigators

A/Prof James St John


James St John is Head of the Clem Jones Centre for Neurobiology and Stem Cell Research at Griffith University. He is a leading expert in the use of olfactory cells for nerve repair and has 20 years’ research experience in this field and over 70 publications. His research focus is to improve the purification of olfactory glia, identify natural products that promote neural regeneration, and to grow cells in three-dimensions to produce nerve bridges.

A/Prof Jenny Ekberg


Jenny Ekberg is an Associate Professor in

neurophysiology and has published 30 papers since 2010 on the development, regeneration, and therapeutic potential of the olfactory cells. Her particular expertise is in electrophysiology, and in

identifying how glial cells interact with and regulate the recruitment of immune cells to improve their therapeutic potential. Jenny heads up her own team: The Glial Immunity & Phagocytosis/Cleaning Up the Injury site team.

A/Prof Rohan Davis


Rohan Davis is an accomplished natural products chemist and has authored 144 peer-reviewed publications  in international chemistry/biology journals, and currently holds two patents. His research focuses on identifying biologically active molecules from Australian plants and marine invertebrates that display anti-cancer or anti-infective properties and as part of SIP, molecules that stimulate neural regeneration. Rohan is the Academic Lead for NatureBank, a unique biodiscovery resource that is housed at GRIDD. 

The staff

Dr Andrew Rayfield


Andrew Rayfield is the Research Manager for the Spinal Injury Project. He is a molecular neuroscientist with six years’ experience in industry and over ten year's experience in academia. Andrew's role is varied and involves organising and running the research, the lab, the HDR students, budgets, publication output, grants and funding, ethics, clinical trial development, quality control, marketing and design, external stakeholder management, and social media.  

Dr Marie-Laure Vial


Marie-Laure Vial studied Agronomy and Plant Biotechnology in France before moving to Australia to undertake a PhD at the interface between neuroscience and chemistry, focusing on the chemical biology of natural products on Parkinson’s disease. Marie leads the 3D Nerve Bridge and Drug Discovery teams in SIP. The teams focus on the development of hydrogels to promote cell survival post transplantation and the identification of small molecules that stimulate glial cells. 

Dr Todd Shelper


Todd Shelper leads the Transplantation team. Todd previously worked in the varying fields of anti-infective & anti-parasitic drug discovery and in the development of in vitro 3D cancer models.  In SIP his research focuses on pre-clinical surgeries, functional outcomes and the visualisation of spinal injury therapies. His team are currently focused on the cellular interactions within the complex microenvironment of damaged spinal cords and functional outcomes following transplantation surgery. 

Dr Mariyam Murtaza


 Mariyam Murtaza is the team leader of the Cell Purification Team. Mariyam has a a background in neurobiology and stem cell research. She is an expert in the purification of human cells and the use of stem cells. Mariyam's role in the team is to improve the purification of olfactory cells (OECs etc) and determine what combination of cells provides the best therapeutic benefit for our spinal cord injury therapy.  

Dr Anu Chacko


 Anu Chacko has has extensive experience in infectious disease research. She works in the Glial Immunity and Phagocytosis/Cleaning up the Injury Site team and the primary focus of her work is to understand how OECs remove cell debris and bacteria in the spinal cord injury (SCI) site, and discover how this activity can be utilised and stimulated by novel natural compounds. In addition to her work in SCI, her work aids in the development of therapies targeting CNS infections, nerve injury and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. 

Dr Peppermint Lee


 Peppermint Lee's research background is in neuroimmunology and neurodegenerative diseases such as motor neuron disease (MND/ALS) and the testing of novel compounds in pre-clinical rodent pain models. Peppermint is in the Transplantation team where she is working to investigate the efficacy of our OEC transplantation therapy in rodent spinal cord injury models.  

Dr Megha Shah


 Megha Shah is a medical doctor and pathologist from India. Megha works in the Transplantation team where she primarily works on histology, examining the spinal cord injury site on a cellular level, looking for evidence of cellular regeneration after treatment with OECs. 

Dr Michael Todorovic


 Michael Todorovic works in the Sustained Functional Therapy team in SIP. Michael is a Senior Lecturer at Griffith University and his research focuses on molecular and cellular biology, and Spinal Cord Injury Education. Along with Dr Matthew Barton, Michael specialises in science communication and education, and drives community engagement in science. Michael and Matthew have a Youtube channel, an internationally recognised podcast and a weekly ABC radio segment. 

Dr Matthew Barton


 Matthew Barton works in the Sustained Functional Therapy team in SIP.  Matthew, like Dr Michael Todorovic, is a Senior Lecturer at Griffith University. Matthew's personal research interests are in neuronal injury and regeneration, particularly in peripheral nerves. He, along with Michael specialise in science communication and education. They drive community engagement to ensure that the project remains relevant to the end-user and consumer. Also, along with Michael, Matthew has an internationally-recognised podcast, a Youtube channel and weekly ABC radio segment. 

Dr Tanja Eindorf


Tanja Eindorf is a veterinary surgeon who originally hails from Germany, but has lived in Australia for more than a decade. Tanja has many years' experience conducting biomedical research using various animal models for translation in to human applications. Tanja is a Research Fellow and part of the Transplantation team in SIP and her work focuses on the surgical delivery of treatments for Spinal Cord Injuries and the processes occurring at the  actual injury site.

Dr Aaron Gilmour


Aaron Gilmour is a Research Fellow from New Zealand who's role is to develop cell culture models of the spinal cord to enable rapid protoytping and analysis of novel treatments for spinal cord injury. Aaron's inspiration for his work stems from having a number of family and friends afflicted by various neurological injuries or diseases. Aaron wants to understand these issues and help contribute towards improving treatment options and quality of life for these patients.

Dr Ali Delbaz


Ali Delbaz completed both his Bachelor and Master's degrees in Microbiology in Iran. He came to Australia in 2014 to undertake his PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology. After completing his PhD, Ali continued working with SIP as a Research Fellow within the Glial Immunity and Phagocytosis/Cleaning up the Injury Site team. His research involves understanding the connection between pathogens and diseases of the brain and spinal cord, particularly during times of injury.

Dr Megha Mohan


  Megha Mohan completed her PhD at Griffith University in 2017 where she studied the cellular and molecular biology of Parkinson’s disease. Megha is a Research Assistant in SIP and is part of the Cell Purification Team. She applies her cell biology knowledge to purify cells from the olfactory system for use in transplantation studies.

Mr Graham Smyth


Hailing from Ottawa, Canada, Graham Smyth is a Research Assistant in the Transplantation team in SIP. Graham holds a Bachelor's in Biology from the University of Ottawa and a Master's in Zoology from the University of British Columbia. The focus of his Master's research was to understand how visual information is encoded in the brains of birds specialised for different modes of locomotion. He is exited to still be researching the nervous system in SIP, but in a more translational setting.

Ms Edith Miller


Edith Miller obtained a Diploma of Laboratory Technologies in 2009 and in 2008, while still studying, started work in a Gold Coast histology lab where she acquired a great deal of knowledge in all things related to histology and cytology. Edith has joined SIP working in both the Cleaning Up The Injury Site and Transplantation teams where she is able to utilise her knowledge and experience in histology to undertake cryosectioning and immunofluorescence duties.


Mr Mo Chen


 Mo Chen originally hails from China but has lived Australia for 8 years. He did his  Bachelor's and Honours degree at Griffith University. Mo is part of the 3D Nerve Bridge and Drug Discovery teams in SIP.  Mo's PhD project focuses on identifying natural products that enhance the growth and health of OECs and developing 3D cell culture techniques that advance cell-based spinal cord therapies. Mo has helped develop two patents centring around 3D cell culture techniques including the 'Naked Liquid Marble' technique.

Dr Ronak Reshamwala


Ronak Reshamwala is a Medical Doctor who received his basic training in India. He is in his final year of his PhD project where he is developing newer and better ways to transplant OECs into an injured spinal cord. His project aims to improve cell survival and integration after cell transplantation so that we can achieve better recovery with minimal adverse effects. Ronak is part of the Transplantation team.

Ms Alison Wright


Alison Wright is a final year PhD student working as part of the Glial Immunity and Phagocytosis/Cleaning up the Injury Site team. She finished her undergraduate degree in Biomedical Sciences in 2015 which focused on anatomy, physiology and psychology. Her PhD research examins the interactions between OECs and the cells of the immune system to determine how we can better incorporate OECs into the injury site following transplantation into spinal cord injury patients. 

Ms Lynn Nazareth


Lynn Nazareath is PhD candidate in the Glial Immunity and Phagocytosis/Cleaning Up the Injury Site team studying phagocytosis i.e. how cells eat things. Understanding this function in OECs and other glia is extremely important, as eating and cleaning up dead and damaged nerves and cells are the first challenge that these cells face. Lynn is passionate about encouraging younger generations to explore the wonderful world of science and making a difference in the world through a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Ms Heidi Walkden


Heidi Walkden completed a Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Hons) at Queensland University of Technology before moving to Griffith University to undertake a PhD. She has a background in pharmacy, neurophysiology, and sleep science. Heidi’s research focuses on the nerves found within the nose. These nerves give you the ability to smell, feel touch, and sense pain. She has found that bacteria can use these nerves as pathways to sneak directly into the brain and spinal cord! Heidi works in the Glial Immunity and Phagocytosis/Cleaning Up The Injury Site team.

Ms Rebecca Yao


Rebecca Yao is a 3rd year PhD candidate and part of the Cell Purification team where she is working on a method to identify and purify cells from the olfactory system to use in our spinal cord injury therapy. Rebecca works with Dr Brent McMonagle - an ear, nose, and throat surgeon, who collects olfactory mucosa biopsies from brave volunteers, without which her research would not be as successful. Rebecca is driven by the desire to positively impact the lives those people living with a spinal cord injury today and in the future.  

Mr Lachlan Beckingham


Lachlan Beckingham is a PhD candidate working at GRIDD. He is part of the 3D Nerve Bridge team. Lachlan's research project focuses on the profiling and use of biomaterials as a scaffold in our cell transplantation therapy for spinal cord injury, with the aim of improving cell survival to promote functional recovery. Lachlan's work combines cell biology with biomaterials science and incorporates elements of physics and mathematics, which he enjoys studying. 

Mr Matthew Barker


Matthew Barker is a final year PhD candidate working at GRIDD in Brisbane. Matthew obtained undergraduate degrees from Griffith University in Biochemistry and Applied Mathematics. His current research examines the role of fibroblasts in olfactory regeneration. Scientifically speaking his main interests are in stem cell differentiation and mathematical model of disease. 

Dr Souptik Basu


Souptik Basu is a PhD candidate from India who developed a keen intrest in neuroscience when he had the opportunity to  work for therapeutics in spinal cord injury. Prior to joining SIP, Souptik worked on lung cancer where he assessed spectral fingerprint regions in patient sera for early diagnosis. His focus in SIP is to develop and optimise a combination growth factor therapy to facilitate spinal cord injury healing and to provide an suitable environment for OECs during transplantation.

Dr Indra Choudhury


  Indra Choudhury is a Medical Doctor from West Bengal, India, with a Master's of Science in Orthopaedics and Rehabilitative Technology from University Of Dundee and a Master's degree in Medical Science and Technology from Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. 

Indra's PhD investigates the therapeutic potential of OECs and how they can be enhanced in spinal cord injury patients. In particular he is looking at the phagocytic ability of OECs. He is part of the Cleaning Up The Injury Site team in SIP.

Ms Kah Yean Lum


Kah Yean works in the laboratory of A/Prof Rohan Davis at GRIDD. Her PhD project focuses on identifying small molecules from natural sources such as plant and marine invertebrates that are able to enhance the therapeutic properties of OECs for the cell transplantation therapy.

previous lab members

Mr Sasdekumar Loganathan


Sasdekumar Loganathan or Sas, has a research background in the development of drug-discovery assays. Working as a Research Assistant in SIP, Sas developed an assay to to quantify phagocytosis in human OECs in order to detect the differential compartmentalisation properties of OECs. Sas is now undertaking a PhD at The University of Queensland, Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) in the laboratory of A/Prof Jessica Mar, where he is using computational tools to better understand the reasons for ageing. This research will increase our knowledge of age-related diseases such as Alzheimer's Disease and certain cancers.

Dr Johana Tello Velasquez


Johana Tello Velasquez  completed a Bachelors Degree with Honours in Marine Biology in Colombia. She went on to complete a PhD in Neuroscience at Griffith University where she worked on identifying natural compounds that regulate glial cell proliferation and migration for Spinal Cord Injury therapy.  Johana continued her research as a Research Fellow in SIP where she was part of the Cell Purification team optimising OECs prior to transplantation. Johana will soon start a new Research Fellow position with the Downer group at Trinity College, Dublin, where she aims to develop a T-effective cannabinoid based therapy for neuro-inflammatory conditions using patient immune cells. 

Ms Stephanie Weber


  Stephanie Weber grew up with a love of science that lead her to pursue biomedical studies. In her Honours degree at The University of Queensland, Stephanie researched Motor Neuron Disease (MND).  Her project specifically looked at how a reduction in inflammation in the Central Nervous System can possibly slow the progression of MND. Stephanie was part of the Transplantation team, working in histology. 

Dr Ramya Mandyam


Ramya Mandyam is a Research Fellow that worked at GRIDD in Brisbane as part of the Drug Discovery team in SIP. Ramya obtained her PhD in Biochemistry from Macquarie University and has worked in drug discovery labs in both industry and academia. Her project in SIP looked at the effects thousands of chemical compound 'hit's on OECs in order to find chemicals that stimulate their growth, migration and cellular health, pre-transplantation. Ramya worked closely with our industry partner Compounds Australia which is based at GRIDD at the Griffith University, Nathan Campus in Brisbane.

Dr Denver Surrao


Denver Surrao is an engineer by training with an expertise in biomaterials, tissue engineering, bioprocess systems and drug delivery. Denver's prior research focused on developing 3D biomimetic scaffolds to replace damaged ligaments. Denver was part of the 3D Nerve Bridge team in SIP and his research focused on designing and developing 3D nerve bridges that can fill the injury site, support cell attachment and proliferation, and eventually support formation of de novo tissue at the injury site.

Dr Susitha Premarathne


Susitha Premarathne obtained his PhD in developmental neurobiology studying hippocampal neural stem cells. Susitha was part of the Cell Purification Team in SIP and utilised his expertise in cell and molecular biology to develop a novel protocol to purify OECs using Fluorescent Activated Cell Sorting (FACS). He also worked to identify sub-populations that exist within olfactory cultures and the inherent differences within these sub-populations.  Susitha is now working as a post-doc in the George Mellick/Stephen Wood's lab at GRIDD in Brisbane where he is investigating pathophysiological mechanisms in QLD Parkinson's patients.

Mr Lindsay Gee


Lindsay Gee was a Research Assistant and was part of the Transplantation team in SIP.

Lindsay has been passionate about science since he was very young. He enjoyed being part of a translational research team that has the potential to convert academic scientific discovery into large scale benefit for society. Lindsay has gone back to study a Bachelor of Biomedical Science at Griffith University.

Ms Brianna Thompson


Brianna Thompson was a Research Assistant with SIP in the Drug Discovery team and worked at GRIDD. Brianna graduated with distinction from Bachelor of Medical Science majoring in Biotechnology and her Honours degree specialised in Molecular Cell Biology. Her expertise lies in cell culture, functional assays and fluorescent microscopy. Brianna performed and analysed functional assays on cells (OECs) activated by hits or chemicals sourced from Compounds Australia based at GRIDD. These hits are selected on their ability to increase the health and number of OECs prior to transplantation.

Ms Yanushia Arasu


Yanushia Arasu was a student from the University of Southern Denmark, who originally came to join SIP on an internship, but stayed back to her undertake a Master's degree at Griffith University. Yanushia was particularly interested in developing cell transplantation methods that would ensure cell viability, while not altering cell functionality. She was a member of the 3D Nerve Bridge team. Yanushia graduated from her Master's degree in 2019 with the highest marks possible. Yanushia has since moved back to Denmark.