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Womin Djeka to the 

Perinatal Brain Injury laboratory

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Hi, I am Dr Bobbi Fleiss

I am the head of the PBI lab

I am passionate about understanding injury to the brain in newborn babies and how to make outcomes for these infants better. Injury can be caused by being born too early (preterm), a lack of oxygen during birth (asphyxia) or a stroke around the time of birth. I study animal models to better understand what is happening to the brain and samples and information from babies. I use this information to develop and test ways to reduce injury and make the brain better able to repair itself.

If you are interested in my lab and research please get in touch at

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What do we do?

Current projects

Funded by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance

Impact of environmental contaminants on the developing brain

The contamination of water, particularly from agricultural chemicals, is increasing at an alarming rate globally. With a growing number of reports that agricultural contaminants such as nitrates are associated with preterm birth and reduced birth weight in Australia, Europe, Canada, and America, this global phenomenon requires urgent attention. This project will generate data on impact of contaminated drinking water on pregnant women – and in particular, on their baby’s brain development before and after birth.

We are applying the multidisciplinary expertise of an established international research collaboration to study how contaminated groundwater from an agricultural region in India leads to perinatal brain damage; however, these finding are transferable because of the wide-spread occurrence of nitrate contamination.

We are undertaking an in-depth study of offspring brain and behaviour, will determine if the offspring have an exaggerated response a 'second hit' inflammatory injury, test whether two cheap and safe neuroprotective agents, melatonin and creatine, offer protection from brain injury associated with exposure to contaminated water.

This project is a collaboration with Prof Pierre Gressens, Dr Shyamala Mani, Prof David Walker, Dr Jean Riotte and Dr Laurent Ruiz. 

Funded by the NHMRC

Studying the tertiary phase of preterm brain injury to uncover new therapeutic targets

Every year globally up to 6 million babies are left with lifelong brain injury due to the double hit of being born preterm (at <37 of 40 weeks of gestation) and tissue damage caused by exposure to inflammation. Despite extensive research, we have no therapeutics for these infants.

We are proposing an innovative advance in the study of Encephalopathy of the Premature Infant (EoP). Our idea is based on substantial evidence that brain injury sets up processes that impair development and inhibit repair for years - a ‘tertiary phase’ of persisting glial dysfunction.

This project will provide a detailed description of the fundamental changes caused by early life injury in a clinically relevant mouse model of EoP using a suite of world-class approaches, including small and large animal EoP modelling; cell-type specific RNAseq; bioinformatics; and validated nanoparticle cell targeting.

The project is a collaboration with Dr Alice Johnstone an early career bioinformatician, a neuroimmune biologist Prof Sarah Spencer, a developmental biologist A/Prof Mary Tolcos, a molecular biologist and expert in vivo cell targeting Dr Alexis Bemelmans and arguably one of Australia’s foremost experts in long term outcomes after preterm birth, Prof Jeanie Cheong.

Funded by the Cerebral Palsy Aliance

Developing a hydrogel therapy for neonatal stroke

More than 1 in 4000 children suffer a stroke soon after birth. Neonatal stroke is challenging to identify clinically, meaning there is often a long delay to diagnosis, and cerebral palsy (CP)-like outcomes are not uncommon.

In a model of neonatal stroke well suited for therapy screening, we will use a novel hydrogel therapy to test if established neonatal brain injury can be repaired. This biocompatible hydrogel is specifically engineered to release molecules and growth factors in a controlled, time-dependent fashion that support brain regeneration. Importantly, our hydrogel system has proven regenerative effects in adult pre-clinical models of focal brain injury. Here, we will establish the combination of treatment molecules to maximise repair of the damaged brain after neonatal stroke including by testing the functional outcomes after stroke and treatment.

There are currently no effective treatments for neonatal stroke, and our hydrogel system has clear potential to translate to use in the clinic to address this urgent need.

This project is a collaboration with Prof David Walker, A/Prof Mary Tolcos, A/Prof Flora Wong, Prof Jeanie Cheong, Dr Richard Williams and Prof Glen King.

Funded by the European Commission and the NHMRC


The brain injury in the premature born infant: stem cell regeneration research network, “PREMSTEM” is a collective of world leading clinicians, researchers, stakeholder advocacy groups and an industrial partner with well-established experience in neonatology and drug development. PREMSTEM is focussed on delivering to the clinic a novel regenerative therapy that will reduce the enormous burden of neurodevelopmental injury caused by encephalopathy of prematurity (EoP), which is brain damage associated with premature birth (birth before 37 of 40 weeks of gestation). Currently, there are no treatments available for EoP.

Our aim is to validate human mesenchymal stem cells (H-MSCs) as a regenerative therapy for EoP.

Our team, Prof David Walker, A/Prof Mary Tolcos and I are working with Prof Tim Wolfs  (Maastricht Uni) testing the efficacy of H-MSC in a sheep model of preterm brain injury.

See for more information about the 15 partners in PREMSTEM spread across 8 countries.

Home: Experience

Dr Bobbi Fleiss Academic Experience


PhD, Monash University, Australia

Working with Prof David Walker, Prof Helena Parkington and Dr Harry Coleman I investigated the impacts on the hippocampus of birth asphyxia in the Spiny Mouse (Acomys cahirinus) using electrophysiology, histological and molecular biology techniques.


Post-doc, Gothenburg University, Sweden

Working with Prof Carina Mallard I described the neuroprotective abilities of the HDACi trichostatin A in a model of term infant HI and began characterising the microglial phenotype response over time in the same model.


Research Fellow, King's College London, UK

Working with Prof Pierre Gressens and Dr Claire Thornton, I studied in vitro modulators of microglial function, characterising an in depth in vitro model and exploring novel P53 targeting therapies

2012-on going honorary role

Research Fellow, Inserm, France

Working with Prof Pierre Gressens we developed a new model of inflammatory perinatal injury and explored in detail the microglial responses and developed a novel 3DNA microglia-targeting nanoparticle to deliver therapies. We uncovered novel microglial drivers of injury in preterm born infants - DLG4 and Wnt.

2018-on going

Vice Chancellor's Research Fellow & Lab head, RMIT University, Australia

I lead a research program exploring the basic development of microglia; sex differences in glial responses in a mouse model of encephalopathy of the preterm infant (EoP); innovative approaches in delayed chronic pharmacologic interventions to improve outcomes in a mouse model of EoP; and investigating the utility of a biocompatible hydrogel as a vehicle to deliver drugs to regenerate the brain in a rat model of neonatal stroke.

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PBI Lab proficiencies

Organized Desk

Project Management



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Rodent behavioural testing

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Western blotting

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Multiplex assays

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In vitro cell assays

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Magnetic Activated Cell Sorting

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Modelling inflammatory injury


Modelling hypoxic/ischaemic brain injury

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Modeling neonatal stroke

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Quantitative immunohistochemistry

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Thoughts from the PBI lab

Science is about understanding your mistakes well enough to learn from them! 

Write everything down - or it didnt happen. 

Screw-ups happen, we can only learn from them when we admit them​

No person is an island, we do better together.

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All welcome

The PBI lab welcomes all people who wants to learn and grow their scientific skills and knowledge.

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Home: Contact
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The PBI lab and RMIT University acknowledges the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nations as the traditional owners of the unceded land on which the University stands. We respectfully recognises Elders both past, present and emerging.

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