Alexandra Whittaker

Dr Alexandra Whittaker

Senior Lecturer

School of Animal and Veterinary Science

Faculty of Sciences

Eligible to supervise Masters and PhD - email supervisor to discuss availability.


Alexandra Whittaker is a veterinary scientist and behavioural neuroscientist who researches the impact of neuroimmune alterations on emotion and cognitive processing. She is a European Veterinary Specialist in Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law, by virtue of holding diplomate status in this discipline. Alex has significant research expertise in applied animal behaviour and welfare assessment of animals, and leads an independent research group working on multiple projects in these areas. Alex also has an interest in animal law and is developing projects in this domain.

A link has recently been established within patients with general functional gut disorders and decreases in their cognition, with 70% of these patients experiencing psychological comorbidities. Dr Whittaker's research focusses on the effects of inflammatory processes in the gut on patient emotion and cognitive processing, and the neuroimmune mechanisms which contribute to this effect. This work is aimed at identifying ways in which gut-brain axis mechanisms can be targeted in gastrointestinal disease in order to prevent cognitive decline. One specific area where this will have application is in the prevention of 'chemobrain' ; a condition that affects cancer patients treated with chemotherapy agents, and cancer survivors many years after treatment cessation. Cognitive changes in chemobrain may manifest as impairment of patient’s learning and memory, reasoning and visuo-spatial skills amongst others. As a result activities of daily life become more challenging with patients’ ability to work and maintain relationships impacted. This profoundly affects quality of life.

Dr Whittaker also has an interest in animal cognition, affective state and animal welfare, and conducts research investigating these concepts in an applied fashion. Specific areas of research include:

  • The neuroimmunological consequences of chemotherapy-induced mucositis in development of 'chemobrain'
  • Validation and refinement of novel behavioural assessment tools
  • Assessment of positive welfare outcomes
  • Pain assessment in animals and comparison of therapeutics
  • The legal status of animals- effects on attitudes towards them and their treatment
  • The use of online technologies in promoting student learning

For further information please see our lab webpage: 

Characteristic Histological Changes in the Chemotherapy-Damaged Gut
    

 
Available Research Projects

Project 1 - Understanding the Acute and Chronic Effects of Paediatric Chemotherapy on Cognitive Function in the Developing Brain

Project description: For children who survive childhood cancer, the burden continues, with up to 70% of survivors experiencing chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment (CICI). CICI impairs attention, and memory, which profoundly impacts academic and social performance, as well as quality of life. To date, the brain changes that give rise to these impairments are unknown. In this study we will analyse banked tissue using lab techniques such as western blotting and immunohistochemistry to determine the timecourse of expression of neuroimmune markers.  The results will facilitate development of targeted therapies for prevention of CICI, in addition to informing clinical assessment protocols and survivorship care plans.

Projects available for: Honours / HDR / Masters / Mphil
Location: Helen Mayo Building
Research project start: Semester 1, Semester 2, Semester 1 and 2
Special requirements: Nil

 

Project 2 - Can differential expression of microRNA’s distinguish valence of emotional state?

Project description: MicroRNAs (miRNAs) have recently been proposed as novel biomarkers for animal welfare or in major depressive disorder.  MiRNA’s are small non-coding molecules that perform post-transcriptional regulation and control many developmental and cellular processes. Studies in humans and animals have demonstrated different expression patterns of miRNAs as a result of both acute and chronic stress. Furthermore, whilst they are particularly prevalent in brain sites, they can be detected in components of the blood. We propose a novel hypothesis that  miRNA assessment may differentiate valence, or direction of emotion ie positive or negative state. This is a preliminary study to determine expression patterns of microRNAs in the blood and amygdala, from banked tissue samples. Techniques employed will include RNA extraction, and miRNA analysis by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), and affymetrix gene microarray technology.   

Projects available for: Honours / HDR
Location: Helen Mayo Building
Research project start: Semester 1
Special requirements: Nil

 

Project 3 -  Development and validation of behavioural tests in sheep

Project description: Sheep are widely used as animal models of disease and there is continuing attention into assessment of their welfare state. However, in comparison to other species there has been relatively little development and validation of tests to ascertain emotional states, such as anxiety and generalised affective state. In this project we will design and validate simple, ethologically relevant tests of emotion in sheep with a focus on measures of anxiety and social cognition.

Projects available for: Honours
Location: Roseworthy Campus/Turretfield
Research project start: Semester 1, Semester 2, Semester 1 and 2
Special requirements: Nil

 

Project 4 - Sex Differences in Chemobrain Incidence? A systematic review +/-meta-analysis 

Project description: Chemobrain is a common side effect experienced by cancer patients after administration of chemotherapy. A perusal of the literature on this condition suggests that the condition tends to occur more commonly in females. Whilst a number of factors have been identified which may lead to an increased incidence and severity of the condition in females, it remains unclear whether there actually is a specific gender predisposition.  Instead there may be a reporting bias in the literature as a result of disproportions in funding for different cancer types, or access to patient populations. Students on this project will learn about and conduct a systematic review +/- meta-analysis of the literature on this topic following the format of an incidence review. Students will be assisted to develop a search strategy, select studies for inclusion, appraise studies, extract data and synthesise the information narratively. A protocol will be developed and published prior to study start.

Projects available for: 3rd year
Location: Helen Mayo
Research project start: Semester 1 and 2
Max. Number of students: 2
Special requirements: Nil
 

 

Project 5 -  Neuroimmune expression in preclinical models of ‘chemobrain’: a systematic review

Project description: Chemobrain is a common side effect experienced by cancer patients after administration of chemotherapy. A body of literature suggests a role for neuroinflammation in the pathogenesis of this condition but the specific pathways remain unclear. In this project we will conduct a scoping systematic review of the literature to determine expression patterns of neuroimmune expression in rodent models of chemobrain. Students will be assisted to develop a search strategy, select studies for inclusion, appraise studies using the SYRCLE risk of bias tool, extract data and synthesis the information narratively. A protocol will be developed and published prior to study start. The results of this review will inform future preclinical research targeting the mechanistic pathways elucidated.

Projects available for: 3rd year

Location: Helen Mayo
Research project start: Semester 1 and 2
Max. Number of students: 2
Special requirements: Nil

 

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  • Appointments

    Date Position Institution name
    2017 Senior Lecturer The University of Adelaide
    2008 - 2016 Lecturer The University of Adelaide
    2006 - 2008 Laboratory Manager Curtin University of Technology
  • Awards and Achievements

    Date Type Title Institution Name Country Amount
    2018 Award ISAE New Investigator Award International Society for Applied Ethology United Kingdom
    2017 Teaching Award Excellence in Teaching Award Faculty of Sciences, The University of Adelaide Australia
    2016 Research Award Edith Dornwell Medal for Early Career Research Excellence Faculty of Sciences, The University of Adelaide Australia
    2016 Nomination Harold Woolhouse Prize for Best Thesis in Faculty of Sciences The University of Adelaide Australia
    2016 Award Certificate of Scientific Accomplishment as an Early Stage Investigator American Gastroenterological Association
    2016 Achievement Dean's Commendation for Doctoral Thesis Excellence The University of Adelaide Australia
    2015 Award Prize for greatest number of publications in research theme School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, The University of Adelaide Australia
    2014 Award Prize for greatest number of publications in research theme School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, The University of Adelaide Australia
    2014 Award Prize for greatest quality publication in research theme School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, The University of Adelaide Australia
  • Education

    Date Institution name Country Title
    2020 University of Manchester United Kingdom Masters in Evidence-Based Healthcare
    2017 Supreme Court of South Australia Australia Barrister and Solicitor
    2016 - 2017 The University of Adelaide Australia Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (GDLP)
    2012 - 2015 University of New England Australia LLB (Hons)
    2011 - 2016 The University of Adelaide Australia PhD
    2011 - 2012 The University of Adelaide Australia Graduate Certificate in Online Learning (GCOL)
    2010 - 2012 Charles Sturt University Australia MBA
    2002 University of Cambridge United Kingdom MA
    1998 - 2001 University of Cambridge United Kingdom VetMB
    1995 - 1998 University of Cambridge United Kingdom BA
  • Postgraduate Training

    Date Title Institution Country
    2018 - 2021 Peter Doherty Biomedical Fellow The University of Adelaide Australia
  • Certifications

    Date Title Institution name Country
    2015 Diplomate of the European College of Animal Welfar European College of Veterinary Surgeons
    2011 Diploma in Laboratory Animal Science Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
    2009 Diploma in Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
    2008 Membership in Animal Welfare Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists
  • Research Interests

Date Title Investigators Funding Body Amount
2019 Inflaming the Brain: Understanding the Acute and Chronic Effects of Paediatric Chemotherapy on Cognitive Function in the Developing Brain Whittaker, A. George R, Collins- Praino L NeuroSurgical Research Foundation $29,615
2018 Validation of real-time use of the Mouse Grimace Scale in a murine colon cancer model Chartier L, Whittaker AL, Mashtoub S AVA Animal Welfare Trust $8,231
2018

Validation of MicroRNA's as a Novel Laboratory Animal Welfare Assessment Tool

Whittaker AL, Cameron R, Tilbrook A, Hiendleder S American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine $39,288
2018 'Navigating' the Court Room Experience in an Online Environment  Whittaker AL, Hewitt A, Nosworthy B, Elms P, Henderson S, Franceschilli T University of Adelaide, Learning Enhancement and Innovation Grants $2,200
2018 'Chemobrain': a Culmination of Central Nervous System Inflammatory Events? Whittaker AL Australian Federation of University Women $4,891
2017 ‘Chemobrain’: Neuroimmunological Consequences of Chemotherapy-induced Mucositis and Opioid Palliation in Development of the Condition Whittaker AL National Health and Medical Research Council, Early Career Fellowships $318,768
2017

Neuroimmunological Consequences of Chemotherapy-induced Mucositis and Opioid Palliation in the Development of ‘Chemobrain’

Whittaker AL, Howarth GS, George RP School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences Seed Grant, The University of Adelaide $3,000
2015 The utility of cognitive bias testing to assess therapeutic improvements in emotional state in a rat model of chemotherapy-induced mucositis Whittaker AL, Barker T, Howarth GS School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences Seed Grant, The University of Adelaide $4,000
2012 Funding for night vision animal surveillance cameras Howarth G, Stott P, Whittaker AL Faculty of Sciences, University of Adelaide, Minor Equipment Round $8,700 $8,700
2011-2012 Novel Strategies to enhance creep attractiveness and reduce piglet mortality
 
Whittaker AL, Van Wettere W, Kirkwood, R. Pork CRC innovation grant $15,665
2010

Evaluation of space requirements for breeding pigs at different parities

Whittaker AL

AVA Animal Welfare Trust

$9,000
2009-2010 Evaluation of space requirements for breeding pigs at different parities Van Wettere W, Hughes P, Whittaker AL Australian Pork Limited (APL) $11,820

 

Major Teaching Responsibilities

The majority of my teaching is in the Bachelor of Science (Animal Science) program into:

ANIMLSC 3250RW - Animals and the Law (course founder and coordinator 2012-)

ANIMLSC 3100RW - Laboratory Animal Science

Minor Teaching Responsibilities

I also have teaching roles in:

ANIMLSC 3016RW - Animal Health

AN BEHAV 2000RW- Foundations in Animal Behaviour

VET SC 2500RW - Professional Skills in Veterinary Bioscience II

VET SC 3500RW - Professional Skills in Veterinary Bioscience III (Course coordinator 2013-14)

VET SC 3516RW - Veterinary Epidemiology, Biosecurity, & Evidence-Based Med III

VET SC 7223RW - Veterinary Public Health

VET SC 7005RW - Clinical Research Project

 

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  • Current Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2019 Principal Supervisor Investigation of the Enforcement Gap in Animal Law Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Rochelle Morton
    2018 Principal Supervisor Novel biomarkers of animal welfare in Pigs: MicroRNA, Immunology and on farm application Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Laura Emma Latimer-Marsh
    2016 Co-Supervisor The role of opioids in modulating inflammation in chemotherapy-induced mucositis Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Rebecca Peta George
  • Past Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2015 - 2018 Co-Supervisor Analysis of the Judgement Bias Test for Welfare Assessment in Rats Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Timothy Hugh Barker
  • Other Supervision Activities

    Date Role Research Topic Location Program Supervision Type Student Load Student Name
    2019 - ongoing Principal Supervisor The long-term effects of cancer chemotherapy administration on cognition The University of Adelaide Honours Full Time Ines Semendric
    2019 - ongoing Principal Supervisor Are there gender difference in predisposition to Chemotherapy-induced Cognitive Impairment The University of Adelaide Honours Full Time Carolyn Mitchell
    2019 - ongoing Principal Supervisor The utility of MicroRNA’s as indicators of valence of affective state The University of Adelaide Honours Full Time Jason Cutler
    2018 - 2018 Principal Supervisor Speciesism in Animal Law: Does animal species impact penalties given for cruelty offences? The University of Adelaide Honours Full Time Rochelle Morton
    2018 - 2018 Principal Supervisor Validation of an Attention Bias Model of Affective State in Mice The University of Adelaide Honours Full Time Sheryn Thomas
    2017 - 2017 Principal Supervisor The role of empathy in influencing cognitive biasing The University of Adelaide Honours Full Time Peta Groves
    2017 - 2017 Co-Supervisor Providing peri-parturient sows with alternative nesting material to improve welfare The University of Adelaide Honours Full Time Alice Rainsford
    2015 - 2015 Principal Supervisor The effects of metabolic cage housing on cognitive bias expression in mice The University of Adelaide Honours Full Time Rebecca George
    2014 - 2014 Principal Supervisor The effects of metabolic cage housing and sex on cognitive bias expression in rats The University of Adelaide Honours Full Time Timothy Barker
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  • Memberships

    Date Role Membership Country
    2017 - ongoing Member Australasian Cognitive Neuroscience Society
    2016 - ongoing Member American Society for Nutrition
    2016 - ongoing Member The Law Society of South Australia
    2013 - ongoing Member International Society for Applied Ethology
  • Editorial Boards

    Date Role Editorial Board Name Institution Country
    2019 - ongoing Board Member Veterinary Sciences and One Health Hapres United Kingdom
    2014 - ongoing Board Member Australian Animal Protection Law Journal Australia
  • Position: Senior Lecturer
  • Phone: 83137868
  • Email: alexandra.whittaker@adelaide.edu.au
  • Fax: 8313 7956
  • Campus: Roseworthy
  • Building: Corridor Block, floor G
  • Room: G 04
  • Org Unit: School of Animal and Veterinary Science

Connect With Me
External Profiles