Centre for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Sciences (BioDeakin)

BioDeakin staff profiles

Prof Kevin Nicholas

Position: Chair in Biosciences (Research)
Phone: +61 3 522 71174
Campus: G


Research interests:

Our research program in comparative functional genomics and bioinformatics focuses on gene and bioactives discovery in the mammary gland exploiting the unique lactation strategies of the tammar wallaby, fur seal, echidna and platypus as model systems to better understand mammary gland development and function. We are particularly interested in the central role of milk in early postnatal nutrition as a critical factor that impacts not only on the immediate wellbeing and growth of the newborn but has subsequent and significant influence on adult health, particularly the incidence of mature onset disease (diabetes, hypertension, obesity etc) in adult life. The signals for these developmental clocks are delivered at specific times during the early stages of development and any perturbation of this process can have substantial flow on effects for immediate and long term health. The research program underpins the development of the Geelong Human Milk Bank and Research Centre. The function of the milk bank will be collection, treatment and dispensing of human milk for either premature babies, babies born small for age or any baby at risk where the mother cannot provide enough breastmilk. The research program will identify milk factors that regulate growth and development of the baby and procedures for processing the milk to ensure retention of these factors. This program will broaden to examine the effects of disease on breastfeeding, and in the longer term will include a breastfeeding clinic for consultation and research on clinical problems associated with breastfeeding. The milk bank will have a regional focus in delivering a service to the Geelong hospital but have a national and international focus with the research programs.

The research platform is comprised of microarray, bioinformatics, proteomics, metabolomics, molecular and cell biology, and captive colonies of tammar wallabies and opossums. The milk bank will have a processing laboratory for treatment of milk prior to dispensing to the hospital.

Specific research targets include regulation of mammary cell fate by milk factors and non-coding RNA, endocrine and autocrine control of milk protein gene expression, the role of milk in regulating growth and development of the young, mature onset disease, stem cells in milk and milk proteins with the potential to regulate human breast cancer growth and metastasis.


  • Bachelor of Science (Hons I, Biochemistry), University of Western Australia, 1972
  • PhD (Biochemistry), University of Western Australia, 1978

Relevant employment history:

July 2008 - present: Professor of Bioscience, Institute for Technology Research and Innovation, Deakin University.
2001-2008: Principal Research Fellow, CRC for Innovative Dairy Products, Dept of Zoology, University of Melbourne
1995-2001: Principal Scientist, Victorian Institute of Animal Science
1983-1995: Research Scientist/Senior Research Scientist/Principal Research Scientist CSIRO, Division of Wildlife and Ecology, Canberra, ACT
1981-83: Visiting Associate, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA
1978-1981: Visiting Fellow, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA.

A list of the ten most significant relevant publications for the last five years:

  1. Lefevre,C.M., Digby.M.R, Mailer, S., Whitley,J.C., Yvan Strahm,S.J. and Nicholas,K.R (2007) Lactation transcriptomics in the Australian marsupial, Macropus eugenii: transcript sequencing and quantification. BMC Genomics 8, 417-430.
  2. Brennan,A. J., Sharp,J.A., Khalil,E., Digby,M.R., Mailer,S.A., Lefevre,C. and Nicholas, K.R. (2008) A population of mammary epithelial cells do not require hormones or growth factors to survive. J. Endocrinology 196, 483-96.
  3. Warren, W.C et al.(2008) Genome analysis of the platypus reveals unique signatures of evolution. Nature. 453(7192), 175-183.
  4. Brennan, A.J., Sharp,J.A., Lefevre,C.M. and Nicholas,K.R (2008) Uncoupling the mechanisms that facilitate cell survival in hormone deprived bovine mammary explants. J. Mol. Endocrinology 41(3):103-116
  5. Nicholas,K.R., Kumar,A., Strahm,Y., Powell,D., Seemann,T., Daly,K.A., Brennan,A., Menzies,K., Sharp,J., Digby, M. and Lefèvre,C. (2008). MammoSapiens: eResearch of the lactation program. Building online facilities for collaborative molecular and evolutionary analysis of lactation and other biological systems from gene sequences and gene expression data. In: eResearch Australasia 2008, Melbourne, Australia, 28 September - 3 October 2008. (in press)
  6. Kwek J et al. (2009) Cross-fostering of the tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii) pouch young accelerates forestomach maturation. Mech Dev. 2009, 126:449-63
  7. Topcic,D., Auguste,A., De Leo,A.A., Lefevre,C, R. Digby,M.R. and Nicholas,K.R. (2009) Characterization of the Tammar Wallaby (Macropus eugenii) Whey Acidic Protein Gene; New Insights into the Function of the Protein. Evolution and development (in press,March)
  8. Menzies KK et al.(2009) Insulin regulates milk protein synthesis at multiple levels in bovine mammary gland. Funct Integr Genomics. 9:197-217
  9. Sharp,J.A., Lefevre,C., Nicholas,K.R,.(2008) Lack of functional alpha-lactalbumin prevents involution in Cape fur seals and identifies the protein as an apoptotic milk factor in mammary gland involution. BMC Biology (in press).
  10. Sharp,J.A, Digby,M., Lefevre,C., Mailer,S., Khalil,E., Topcic,D, August,A., Kwek,J., Brennan,A., Familari,M. and Nicholas, K. (2008) The comparative genomics of tammar wallaby and fur seal lactation; models to examine function of milk proteins. In; Milk Proteins: From Expression to Food (Editors: Abby Thompson, Mike Boland, Harjinder Singh) Elsevier. (in press)

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16th June 2011