Moritz Group - Developmental programming in disease

The aim of our laboratory is to understand how prenatal perturbations contribute to an increased risk of developing adult-onset disease in offspring. This research area provides evidence for a now well-known hypothesis known as the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD). By identifying organs and systems that are affected by prenatal insults, this provides us with a chance to intervene and prevent the burden of many chronic diseases in the Australian population. Our lab uses preclinical models that mimic common prenatal insults, such as stress and alcohol exposure, and conducts detailed analyses of offspring development and adult offspring metabolic, cardiovascular, renal, reproductive and neurological/behavioural function. Specific organs of interest include the kidney, placenta, heart, brain and ovary. We also have clinical projects available with collaborators at the Mater Research Institute/Translational Research Institute and the Child Health Research Centre that specifically look at the implications of maternal insults during pregnancy on placental morphology/function and kidney development.

Long-term intergenerational implications of prenatal perturbations
Developmental Origins of Health and Disease: Long-term intergenerational implications of prenatal perturbations. (From: Cheong et al, 2016 ).


All projects may be available at both Honours and PhD level.

Diagrammatic representation of cycloid arcs test system to estimate lengths of renal tubules
Diagrammatic representation of cycloid arcs test system to estimate lengths of renal tubules (from Walton et al, 2016 ).

Our lab utilises a variety of whole animal/in vivo physiology, in vitro cell culture, molecular biology (protein and mRNA), histology/stereology and behavioural assays. This includes:

  • Quantitative real-time PCR for gene expression analysis
  • Western blot for protein quantification
  • Immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence for protein localisation in tissues
  • Immunofluorescence of cell types within the pre-implantation blastocyst
  • In situ hybridisation of trophoblast cell types within the immature and definitive placenta
  • Pre-clinical animal models
  • Langendorff heart perfusion assays to measure cardiac function in vitro or isolated perfused heart assay to examine cardiac contractile strength and heart rate in vitro.
  • Pressurised myography to measure physiological function and properties of isolated vessels
  • Radiotelemetry measurement of blood pressure, heart rate and activity in freely moving animals
  • In vitro culture to measure trophoblast outgrowth of pre-implantation blastocysts and their differentiation into invasive giant cells
  • Cell culture of trophoblast stem cells to examine differentiation into downstream lineage restricted subtypes
  • Histology and histopathology
  • Microscopy (including confocal)
  • Stereology for assessment of nephron endowment in the kidney, renal tubule length in the kidney, follicle numbers in the ovary and volume measurements for specific cell compartments in the placenta
  • Non-invasive behavioural testing to assess neurological function in rodents, including measures of anxiety, exploratory behaviour and spatial learning/memory
  • Measurement of hormones in plasma by RIA and ELISA
  • Metabolic assessments such as insulin tolerance test (ITT) and glucose tolerance test (GTT) in rodents
  • DEXA for body composition measurement in rodents

NB: All animal experimentation is subject to approval by the University of Queensland Animal Ethics Committee and adheres to the Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes (National Health and Medical Research Council, 8th Edition, 2013).

Our team is also experienced in conducting systematic reviews and meta-analysis of clinical and preclinical studies.  We conform to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses (the PRISMA statement; Moher et al 2009 BMJ 339:b253).

Group Head



  • Sarah Steane (PhD)
  • Sophia Young (PhD)
  • Nykola Kent (PhD)
  • Thomas Mullins (PhD)

Dr David Simmons
School of Biomedical Sciences
Mater Medical Research Institute
Translational Research Institute
The University of Queensland

Dr Marloes Nitert Dekker
School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences
Centre for Clinical Research
The University of Queensland

Dr Oliver Raweshdeh
School of Biomedical Sciences
The University of Queensland

Prof Mary Wlodek
Department of Physiology
The University of Melbourne

Prof Vicki Clifton
Mater Medical Research Institute
Translational Research Institute
The University of Queensland

Find out more about our research environment and how to apply to do a short or long-term research project with us.