Study level

  • PhD
  • Master of Philosophy
  • Honours


Topic status

We're looking for students to study this topic.

Research centre


Professor Kirsten Spann
Division / Faculty
Faculty of Health
Associate Professor Yi-Chin Toh
Associate Professor
Division / Faculty
Faculty of Engineering


Respiratory infections such as influenza, SARS-COV-2, , and MERS are increasingly prevalent. Complications and related deaths arising from these infections are often the result of a “cytokine storm”, whereby there is an over production of proinflammatory soluble factors by immune cells, which dictates symptoms severity and mortality risk [1]. Recent works showed that immunomodulatory therapy with or without antiviral agents may improve recovery outcome. However, the screening of suitable immune-modulatory and antiviral agents relies heavily on animal models which cannot capture all aspects of human immune and respiratory systems’ reaction during infection and therapy. Microfluidic Organ-on-Chips (OOC) have shown great promise in mimicking human tissue microenvironment while utilizing smaller sample amount and improving scale and throughput of drug screenings. The goal of the project is to develop a compartmenalised microfluidic device hosting lung / nasal epithelium and immune cells, which can recapitulate cellular processes involved in the crosstalk between airway epithelium and the immune system. We can then infect this system with respiratory viruses and characterize the immune cellular response.

Approaches/skills and techniques

  • Fabrication of a microfluidic coculture chip
  • Culture and differentiation of primary nasal or airway epithelial cells
  • Characterisation of nasal or airway epithelial cells by immuno-fluorescence / confocal microscopy, RT-PCR, ELISA
  • Characterisation of immune cell functions by live-cell imaging (track cell migration) and ELISA
  • Drug testing


This project will establish an Airway Epithelium-Immune Cell Chip, which can measure immune cell recruitment and activation following infection of the airway epithelium, for screening immunomodulatory drugs used to treat respiratory infections.

Required skills and experience

  • Experience in mammalian cell culture is beneficial but not necessary. However, student should have an interest to acquire these technical skills
  • Some working knowledge of tissue engineering