Doctoral study in Pharmacology

Why study with us?

  • When you join us for your doctorate in Pharmacology, you'll join a high-calibre research community.
  • Pharmacy and Pharmacology at the University of Auckland continues to be ranked in the top 30 worldwide, and 3rd in Australasia (QS World University Rankings).
  • The Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences is New Zealand’s leading provider of tertiary education in the health field and the country’s largest centre for medical and biomedical research.
  • You will have access to high-quality modern research and laboratory facilities.
  • As well as undertaking high quality research in a well-supported environment, the Department provides opportunities to publish papers, attend international conferences, and develop your networks in academia and industry.

Research opportunities

Areas of research interest range from fundamental research on diseases to identify potential drug targets, through computer modelling for hit discovery, preclinical models for drug activity and toxicity, to work with patients.

  • Molecular basis of disease (Poulsen) and human neurodegeneration (Dragunow)
  • Neural reprogramming and repair (Young)
  • Protein structure and the molecular basis of drug action (Flanagan, Grimsey)
  • New therapies for brain diseases (Connor, Dragunow, Young, Park, McCaughey-Chapman)
  • Receptor signalling and disease (Grimsey)
  • Preclinical pharmacology for anticancer drugs (Flanagan, Jamieson, Tingle, Park)
  • Drug metabolism and toxicology (Tingle)
  • Clinical pharmacology including cancer clinical trials, paediatric pharmacology and drugs used during surgery (Hannam, Holford, McKeage, Tingle)
  • Disease progression and drug action (Hannam, Holford)
  • Neurodegenerative blood biomarkers (Cawston) 

Our supervisors

Pursue your topic with us and benefit from exceptional standards of support and supervision from internationally recognised researchers.


Dr Natasha Grimsey, Senior Research Fellow

Receptor-drug interactions, signalling, and downstream cellular responses in both normal and disease states to develop new therapeutic strategies

Dr Thomas Park, Senior Research Fellow

Biology and treatment of brain tumours; how microenvironment affects brain tumour growth and migration; development of novel therapeutics and diagnostic tools.

Dr Erin Cawston, Research Fellow

Fluid biomarkers for the diagnosis and prognosis of Alzheimer’s disease and other Neurodegenerative Diseases.

Dr Amy McCaughey-Chapman, Research Fellow

Utilising direct cell reprogramming to understand and develop novel therapies for treating neurological diseases, in particular demyelinating disorders.

Dr Raewyn Poulsen, Senior Lecturer

Molecular mechanisms leading to aberrant cell activity in degenerative diseases such as arthritis, and identification of novel drug targets for treating disease.

Dr Jacqueline Hannam, Senior Lecturer

Pharmacometrics and developing models that facilitate the safe and rationale use of medicines in paediatrics, especially in anaesthesiology.

Dr Stephen Jamieson, Senior Lecturer

Preclinical development of novel anticancer drugs using clinically-relevant models; identification of biomarkers and therapeutic targets using CRISPR/Cas9 functional genomics screens.

Associate Professor Jack Flanagan

Molecular basis of drug action and the application of protein structure and computer based methods in discovering new chemical tools.

Associate Professor Malcolm Tingle, Head of Department

The role of metabolism in drug toxicity and development of in vitro and in vivo models to assess toxicity.

Associate Professor Deborah Young

Development of new therapeutic strategies for neurodegenerative diseases using gene therapy and immunotherapeutic approaches.

Professor Michael Dragunow

Molecular mechanisms of human brain neurodegeneration and repair, developing treatments for brain diseases.

Professor Bronwen Connor

Novel therapies for neurodevelopmental and neurological disease using cell reprogramming, gene delivery and cell replacement strategies.

Professor Nick Holford

Dose individualisation using the principles of target concentration intervention.

Past research topics

  • “Clinical Trial Simulation – Disease Progression and Treatment Modifications in Parkinson’s Disease”, supervised by Professor Nick Holford
  • “Investigating Ligand-Induced Anterograde Trafficking of Cannabinoid Receptor 2”, supervised by Dr Natasha Grimsey
  • “Clozapine-associated myocarditis and cardiomyopathy: investigating a metabolic basis of toxicity”, supervised by Associate Professor Malcolm Tingle
  • “Pharmacological determinants of oxaliplatin neurotoxicity in patients undergoing cancer chemotherapy”, supervised by Professor Mark McKeage
  • “Optimising the derivation of mature neurons from adult human induced neural precursor cells using in vitro and ex vivo systems”, supervised by Professor Bronwen Connor
  • “New chemistry for probing the interface of GPCR and PI3K signalling systems and design of inhibitors”, supervised by Dr Jack Flanagan
  • “Diverse effects of anti-GluN1 antibodies in hippocampal excitatory synapses”, supervised by Associate Professor Deborah Young

Experience doctoral study

Conor O’Hanlon BSc Pharmacology (2016), BSc(Hons) Pharmacology (2017)

My research focuses on antibiotics in critically ill children and the influence of kidney function. Many drugs are eliminated by the kidney and so changes to renal function can have a large impact on antibiotic effectiveness. Too much antibiotic can be toxic and too little can fail to treat or prevent an infection. Kids in intensive care or having cardiac surgery supported by cardiopulmonary bypass (heart-lung machine) may be affected more due to physiological changes caused by critical illness. My aim is to identify patient factors that can predict if the antibiotics will be effective and ultimately improve dosing.

James Morse BSc Pharmacology (2016), BSc(Hons) Pharmacology (2017)

I am interested in the clinical pharmacology of anaesthetic drugs in children and adults. My current project aims to investigate the impact of body composition on propofol pharmacokinetics in children. This involves taking perioperative blood samples, measures of drug effect and body size measurements. These data will be used to develop a pharmacokinetic pharmacodynamic model to guide propofol dosing in children undergoing surgery.

Meet a graduate

Dr Catherine Han

Catherine is a clinician-scientist who was awarded a PhD in 2018 for her work on actionable pharmacological determinants of oxaliplatin-induced neurotoxicity in cancer patients, contributing to a change in clinical practice globally. She now has dual positions as a practicing clinical medical oncologist and a senior lecturer in Clinical Pharmacology. She continues her clinical research in the field of oncology and co-ordinates the clinical pharmacology module for the medical program at the University of Auckland.

Scholarships and awards

Contact us

Please contact Student Hubs for any general queries about the programme.  

General postgraduate enquiries:

In New Zealand: 0800 61 62 65
International: +64 9 923 1535

Apply for doctoral study