Martin Donnelley

Dr Martin Donnelley

Senior Research Fellow

Adelaide Medical School

Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences

I am a Senior Research Fellow and Co-Director of the Cystic Fibrosis Airway Research Group at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide.

My key achievements lie in the area of non-invasive synchrotron imaging of respiratory processes at scales that have not previously been possible in-vivo. I have developed a novel non-invasive airway health assessment method based on using synchrotron imaging to track changes in the mucociliary transit (MCT) behaviour of deposited marker particles following pharmaceutical treatments. In 2016 my collaborators and I published the first demonstration of the use of X-ray based pulmonary function testing for the quantification of lung disease heterogeneity in B-ENaC mice. This unique and world-leading imaging method gathers lung motion information during normal breathing, and has revolutionary potential since it can detect, quantify and follow changes in regional lung function over time.

In 2014 my group published key data to show that our airway conditioning and lentiviral gene vector system produces correction of the CFTR defect in CF mouse nasal airways for at least 12 months. This work was the first to show improved survival in the gene vector treated CF group, supporting the prediction that CF airway gene therapy can produce significant health benefits.

All of this work has built towards a world leading capacity to perform rapid, non-invasive, direct, quantitative measurement of the effects of CFTR gene therapy on airway health and lung function.

Functional Lung Imaging

One area in which my team has had impact is in the commercialisation of an entirely new imaging platform called X-ray velocimetry (XV), by new Australian company 4Dx.

There is growing recognition of the inadequacies of the two methods used for detecting and tracking CF lung disease progression: traditional lung function testing methods and structural imaging methods such as CT. Spirometry is a blunt instrument for measuring lung function, and “lumps” the good, bad and compensating lung regions into a few global numbers (eg FEV1). No accurate location information is available to direct targeted treatments, and spirometry cannot be performed by children under 6. Even with software analyses such as CF-CT and PRAGMA-CT, CT still has poor specificity and does not measure function; structural changes do not always predict function.

Localising and tracking disease and the effectiveness of pharmaceutical and genetic therapies in animal models and patients is essential. 4Dx has developed patented algorithms to calculate local lung function, using a combination of phase contrast X-ray imaging (PCXI) and velocimetry that track lung tissue motion, and detect abnormal airflow. This allows low dose, X-ray based, local airflow analysis, for application to physiology and disease-research questions.

CF is a major disease focus of 4Dx's development, however XV is applicable to ANY respiratory disorder. 4Dx have adult clinical trials underway and expect FDA approval mid 2019 for routine adult human lung function imaging. Subsidiary Notting Hill Devices now produces an animal scanner utilising this technology.

My team’s work was essential for 4Dx and Notting Hill Devices to develop their technology and to maintain a focus on CF. We helped build the foundation of airway imaging research using synchrotron PCXI. Our first paper established the utility of PCXI for airway imaging studies, and is now cited as one of the first in this area. We have provided assistance with the development of the 4Dx AccuVent 200 small animal ventilator.

In 2011 our first XV experiments on B-ENaC mice – a model of CF like lung disease – showed we could locate functional lung deficits correlated with lung function tests and histology. That paper is used by 4Dx as crucial validation of their technology now available commercially for small animals.

XV technology is set to have huge impact on diagnosis and tracking of respiratory disorders. The regional and time-resolved XV functional imaging allows regions of CF disease initiation to be identified early enough to start aggressive targeted treatment. For the first time, people with CF can receive truly preventative interventions, and reliable and accurate therapy assessments.

  • Appointments

    Date Position Institution name
    2019 Research Leader Robinson Research Institute
    2018 Senior Research Fellow University of Adelaide
    2018 Career Development Fellow Robinson Research Institute
    2016 - 2017 Affiliate Senior Lecturer University of Adelaide
    2007 - 2017 Senior Medical Scientist Women's and Children's Hospital
  • Awards and Achievements

    Date Type Title Institution Name Country Amount
    2018 Fellowship Robinson Research Institute Career Development Fellowship University of Adelaide Australia
    2017 Award Translational Research Award Women's and Children's Health Network Service Excellence Awards Australia
    2013 Fellowship MS McLeod Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Women's and Children's Hospital Australia
    2009 Award Semi-finalist for Young Investigator Award Women's and Children's Hospital Australia
  • Education

    Date Institution name Country Title
    2002 - 2007 Flinders University Australia PhD
    1997 - 2000 Flinders University Australia BSc
    1997 - 2001 Flinders University Australia BEng (Biomedical) with Honours (First Class)
  • Research Interests

As CF Airway Research Group Co-Director, I worked with A/Prof David Parsons to grow my team from 1 RA in 2007 to 5 Postdocs, 2 RA’s and 4 PhD students in 2019. David retains his SA Health clinical role, managing the Women's and Children's Hospital lung function lab. We have a successful partnership with me as the lead full-time researcher driving the research programme.

I have had success with Cat 1, small grant, and philanthropic funding over the last 10 years, with $2.6 M awarded in the last 2 years (2.5x the previous 2), demonstrating rapid growth in research status and success enabling substantial team growth. My large grants include:

2019 N. Farrow, M. Donnelley, A. Jaffe, D. Parsons, S. Waters, Orphan Disease Center Pilot Grant: “Airway Cell Therapy for Cystic Fibrosis Nonsense Mutations”, $73,000

2019-22 D. Parsons, M. Donnelley, K. Morgan, R. Boucher, T. Kuchel, NHMRC Project Grant: “Translating cystic fibrosis gene-addition therapy for use in human lungs: Demonstrating efficacy, safety and scalability”, $861,345

2019 N. Rout-Pitt, N. Farrow, J. Delhove, D. Parsons, M. Donnelley, WCH Foundation Grant: “Cell plasticity of the airways: Understanding the stem cell niche to optimise gene therapy and stem cell targeting”, $75,000

2019 J. Delhove, M. Donnelley, N. Farrow, D. Parsons, WCH Foundation Grant: “Designing immune-stealth, antiphagocytic targeting vectors for cystic fibrosis lentiviral gene therapy”, $75,000

2019 N. Farrow, M. Donnelley, P. Cmielewski, J. Delhove, D. Parsons, Channel 7 Childrens Research Foundation Grant: “Can neonatal exposure improve the effectiveness of cystic fibrosis gene therapy re-dosing?”, $34,625

2018-19 D. Parsons, M. Donnelley, M. Kitchen, K. Morgan, G. Zosky, J. Breen, USA CF Foundation Grant: “Lentiviral CFTR gene-addition in CF rat lungs: Effect of PA infection, safety and efficacy”, $282,491

2018-19 M. Donnelley, D. Parsons, Gandel Philanthropy Major Grant (via the Cure 4 CF Foundation): “An Australian gene therapy designed to cure CF lung disease: pre-clinical development of an essential, game-changing new lung health measurement technique”, $166,000

2018 M. Donnelley, Robinson Research Institute Career Development Fellowship, $50,000

2018 M. Donnelley, N. Farrow, P. Cmielewski, A. McCarron, D. Parsons, WCH Foundation Grant: “Effective re-dosing protocols for lasting cystic fibrosis lentiviral airway gene therapy”, $75,000

2017–18 D. Parsons, M. Donnelley, Fay Fuller Discovery Project Grant (via the Cure 4 CF Foundation): “Can in vivo delivery of the Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator (CFTR) gene soon after birth prevent the establishment and / or progression of Cystic Fibrosis (CF) lung disease?”, $670,292

2017 N. Farrow, M. Donnelley, P. Cmielewski, D. Parsons, WCH Foundation Grant: “Quantifying lentiviral mediated gene expression for cystic fibrosis lung disease in normal rat lungs”, $72,975

2017 C. McIntyre, D. Parsons, M. Donnelley, P. Cmielewski, Channel 7 Childrens Research Foundation Grant: “Gene therapy for cystic fibrosis”, $34,412

2017 M. Donnelley, C. McIntyre, N. Rout-Pitt, A. McCarron, D. Parsons, Channel 7 Childrens Research Foundation Grant: “Improving the efficiency of cystic fibrosis airway gene therapy”, $74,213

2016–18 D. Parsons, I. Bertoncello, M. Donnelley, R.Boucher, T. Kuchel, NHMRC Project Grant 1098127: “Identifying the role of airway stem cells in maintaining lentiviral mediated gene expression for cystic fibrosis lung disease”, $814,272

2015 M.Donnelley, K. Morgan, D. Parsons, A. Fouras, I. Lee, WCH Foundation Grant: “Next generation non-invasive airway surface health assessment: Combined surface hydration and mucus clearance analysis for CF treatment development”, $67,824

2015–17 D. Parsons, A. Fouras, J. Li, K. Siu, R. Boucher, K. Morgan, M. Donnelley, M. Kitchen, NHMRC Project Grant 1079712: “Revolutionising the diagnosis and monitoring of CF lung disease”, $792,778

2014 M.Donnelley, D. Parsons, A. Juhasz, E. Smith, K. Morgan, K. Siu, WCH Foundation Grant: “Lead air-pollution in children: Airway surface behaviour of inhaled particles and influence on blood levels”, $69,687

2013–16 M. Donnelley, MS McLeod Postdoctoral Fellowship: “Uptake of inhaled lead: Description and modelling of deposition, and determinants of vascular uptake”, $310,000

2012 M.Donnelley, D. Parsons, K. Siu, A. Fouras, K. Morgan, WCH Foundation Grant: “Understanding the clearance of inhaled lead dust in the conducting airways using synchrotron imaging”, $43,754

2011 D. Parsons, A. Fouras, K. Siu, S. Hooper, M. Donnelley, Australian Cystic Fibrosis Research Trust Grant: “Localised detection of early stage CF disease via quantitative imaging of lung motion”, $110,749

2010–12 D. Parsons, K. Siu, M. Donnelley, W. Skinner, NHMRC Project Grant 626863: “Synchrotron X-ray assessment of airway surface physiology for cystic fibrosis”, $765,702 (Score of 7)

2009 D. Parsons, M.Donnelley, K. Siu, N. Yagi, M. Kitchen, WCH Foundation Grant: “Dynamic synchrotron x-ray detection of individual pollutant particle behaviour after deposition onto live airways”, $54,360

I am passionate about ensuring students and ECR’s get the best start to their research career. I co-coordinate the Robinson Research Institute (RRI) mentoring program.

In my team I drive targeted EMCR career mentoring, providing regular encouragement, support, and direction that is often overlooked, particularly in the current uncertain medical research funding environment. I connect them to leading groups, providing travel to labs at: JASRI (Japan); UNC, UPenn and Cedars-Sinai (USA); Imperial College (UK); Monash and the IMBL.

As a primary/secondary supervisor, I encourage active student involvement in grant and paper writing, and submission processes, with one student (A McCarron) listed as a CI on two recent grants, as well receiving the 2019 CFA Anne Maree Bosch ECF. I encourage my students to be involved in the 3 min thesis competition; one (H Padmanabhan) represented UofA at the national level. Four of my Honours students have published their work and gone on to PhD’s, and 1 is now an MD (J Penny-Dimri) continuing to publish in CF.

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

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2018 Co-Supervisor Lentiviral Mediated Airway Gene Therapy: Is Iysophosphatidylcholine required for safe and effective gene transfer in a cystic fibrosis lung? Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Chantelle Lee Carpentieri
    2016 Co-Supervisor Development of up-scaled lentiviral production and purification methods for large animal and human use in cystic fibrosis airway gene therapy. Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Alexandra Sarah Ann Mc Carron
  • Position: Senior Research Fellow
  • Phone: 81619181
  • Email:
  • Fax: 8161 9192
  • Campus: Womens & Childrens Hospital
  • Building: WCH - Gilbert Building, floor G
  • Room: G6 026
  • Org Unit: Paediatrics and Reproductive Health

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