Furness laboratory: Digestive physiology and nutrition

Research Overview

Our research is concentrated on digestive physiology, gut health, the interaction of nutrients with the digestive tract and digestive disorders.  The investigations extend from molecular studies of sites of drug action and the cellular basis of pathological changes, through the investigation of functions in isolated tissues and the use of animal models to clinical trials.  Our work spans both human and animal health, in animal health concentrating on species of agricultural importance.

In relation to gut health, we have studies directed at investigating drugs that can be used in the treatment of disorders of digestive tract function that are a consequence of spinal cord injury, neuropathologic changes in gut neurons that are a results of high fat diets and Parkinson's Disease, deleterious effects of heat stress on the intestine, and consequences of inflammation of the intestine.  We are investigating drug treatments for motility disorders and enteric neuropathies and electroceutical treatments for inflammatory bowel diseases.  We are also investigating aspects of coeliac disease,

We have a particular interest in endocrine hormone secreting cells of the gastrointestinal tract.  We have made discoveries that demand re-classification of these cells and a re-thinking of their cell biology.  This work is relevant to coeliac disease, diabetes, obesity and metabolic disease.


Dr Brid Callaghan, Post-doctoral Fellow
Dr Ruslan Pustovit, Post-doctoral Fellow
Ms Billie Hunne, Research Assistant
Mr Mitchell Ringuet, Research Support
Ms Josiane Fakhry, Research Support
Ms Therriz Mamerto, Research Support
Dr Patricia Martins, visiting CAPES Fellow
Ms Alicia Sedo, Research Assistant
Ms Linda Fothergill, PhD student


Professor Robin McAllen, Florey Institute
Professor Rob Shepherd, Bionics Institute
Professor Bob Jones, Surgery, Austin Health
Professor Michael McKinley, Florey Institute
Dr Christopher Leung, Gastroenterology, Austin Health
Dr Kristy Brown, Hudson Institute
Professor Frank Dunshea, Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne
Dr Jeremy Cottrell, Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne
Dr Adam Testro, Liver Transplant Unit, Austin Health
Dr Andrew Nunn, Victorian Spinal Service. Austin Health
Professor Albert Frauman, Dept Clinical Pharmacology, University of Melbourne
Dr Heather Young, Anatomy and Neuroscience, University of Melbourne
Professor Graeme Clarke
Dr Leni Rivera, Deakin University


TAC Project Grant N13-085, JB Furness, B Callaghan, AG Frauman, LR Rivera, A Nunn, DJ Brown, A Ellis: Reduction of Secondary Complications of Spinal Cord Injury: Bowel, 2014-2017, $1,060,000
ARC LIEF grant, LE150100004, E Hanssen, A Bacic, G McFadden, M McConville, JB Furness, D McCulloch, V Bansal, K North.  An automated 3D electron microscopy facility, 2014, $540,000
NHMRC Project Grant 1079739, JB Furness and LR Rivera - Neural control of colorectal function and identification of sites of drug action: 2015 $92,359.00, 2016 $92,359.00, 2017 $177,825.00.
MNI Initiative (University of Melbourne Internal Grant Support), RK Shepherd, RA McAllen, JB Furness 2015 $30,000
GSK Bioelectronics Challenge, E Capcelea, RK Shepherd, JB Furness 2015 2015 $200,000
Australian Pork Ltd, J Pluske, FR Dunshea, JB Furness, JJ Cottrell, C Collins, R Hewitt, JC Kim, B Mullan, S Peuker, R van Barneveld, Optimising the progeny of first-litter sows in the Australian herd, 2015-2018, $944,081
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA USA), JB Furness et al. Vagal neuromodulation for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease 2015-2019 $6,100,000

Research Publications

  1. Ferens DM, Yin L, Bron R, Hunne B, Ohashi-Doi K, Sanger GJ, Witherington J, Shimizu Y, Furness JB. Functional and in situ hybridisation evidence that preganglionic sympathetic vasoconstrictor neurons express ghrelin receptors. Neuroscience 2010;166: 671-679.
  2. Ferens DM, Yin L, Ohashi-Doi K, Habgood M, Bron R, Brock JA, Gale JD, Furness JB. Evidence for functional ghrelin receptors on parasympathetic preganglionic neurons of micturition control pathways in the     rat. Clin Exp Physiol Pharmacol 2010;37: 926-932.
  3. Lawson VA, Furness JB, Klemm HMJ, Pontell L, Chan E, Hill AF, Chiocchetti R. The brain to gut pathway: a possible route of prion transmission. Gut 201; 59: 1643-1651.
  4. Ohashi-Doi K, Kawai M, Himaki D, Nagao K, Gale JD, Furness JB, Kurebayashi Y. A selective, high affinity 5-HT2B receptor antagonist inhibits visceral hypersensitivity in rats. Neurogastroenterol Motil 2010; 22: e69-e76.
  5. Ferens DM, Habgood, MD, Saunders, NR, Tan, YH, Brown, DJ, Brock, JA, Furness, JB. Stimulation of defecation in spinal cord injured rats by a centrally acting ghrelin receptor agonist. Spinal Cord 2011; 49: 1036-1041.
  6. Furness JB, Hunne B, Matsuda N, Yin L, Russo D, Kato I, Fujimiya M, Patterson M, McLeod J, Andrews ZB, Bron R. Investigation of the presence of ghrelin in the central nervous system of the rat and mouse. Neuroscience 2011; 193: 1-9.
  7. Pontell L, Sharma P, Rivera LR, Thacker M, Tan YT, Brock JA, Furness JB. Damaging effects of ischemia/ reperfusion on intestinal muscle. Cell & Tissue Res 2011; 343: 411-419.
  8. Callaghan B, Hunne B, Hirayama H, Sartor DM, Nguyen TV, Abogadie FC, Ferens D, McIntyre P, Ban K, Baell J, Furness JB, Brock, JA. Sites of action of ghrelin receptor ligands in cardiovascular control. Am J Physiol, Heart and Circ 2012; 303: H1011-H1021
  9. Furness JB. The enteric nervous system and neurogastroenterology. Nature Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 2012; 9: 286-294.
  10. Clark GM, Clark JCM, Furness JB. The evolving science of cochlear implants. J Am Med Assoc 2013; 310: 1225-1226.
  11. Furness JB, Rivera LR, Cho H-J, Bravo DM, Callaghan, B. The gut as a sensory organ. Nature Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 2013; 10: 729-740.
  12. Callaghan, B, Furness, JB. Novel and conventional receptors for ghrelin, desacyl-ghrelin and pharmacologically related compounds. Pharmacol Rev 2014; 66: 984-1001.
  13. Cho H-J, Robinson ES, Rivera LR, McMillan PJ, Testro A, Nikfarjam M, Bravo DM, Furness, JB. Glucagon like peptide 1 and peptide YY are in separate storage organelles in enteroendocrine cells. Cell and Tissue Res 2014; 357: 63-69.
  14. Docanto MM, Yang F, Callaghan B, Ragava, R, Wang X, Furness JB, Andrews ZB, Brown KA. Ghrelin and des-acyl ghrelin inhibit aromatase expression and activity in human adipose stromal cells: suppression of cAMP as a possible mechanism. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 2014; 147: 193-201.
  15. Maseko T, Dunshea FR, Howell KS, Cho HJ, Rivera LR, Furness JB, Ng K. Selenium-enriched Agaricus bisporus mushroom protects against increase in gut permeability and up-regulates glutathione peroxidase 1 and 2 in hyperthermally induced oxidative stress in rats. Nutrients 2014; 6: 2478-2492.
  16. Pustovit RV, Callaghan B, Kosari S, Rivera LR, Thomas H, Brock JA, Furness JB. The mechanism of enhanced defecation caused by the ghrelin receptor agonist, ulimorelin. Neurogastroenterol Motil 2014; 26: 264-271.
  17. Rivera LR, Leung C, Pustovit RV, Hunne B, Andrikopoulos S, Herath C, Testro A, Angus PW, Furness JB. Damage to enteric neurons occurs in mice that develop fatty liver disease but not diabetes in response to a high fat diet. Neurogastroenterol Motil 2014; 26: 1188-1199.
  18. Cho HJ, Kosari S, Hunne B, Callaghan B, Rivera LR, Bravo DM, Furness, JB. Differences in hormone expression patterns of K-L enteroendocrine cells in the mouse and pig small intestine and colon. Cell Tissue Res 2015; 359: 693-698.
  19. Ellis AG, Zeglinski PT, Brown DJ, Frauman AG, Millard M, Furness JB. Pharmacokinetics of the ghrelin agonist capromorelin in a single ascending dose phase 1 safety trial in spinal cord injured and able bodied volunteers. Spinal Cord 2015; 53: 103-108.
  20. Furness JB, Bravo DM. Humans as cucinivores: comparisons with other species. J Comp Physiol B 2015; 185: 825-834.
  21. Furness JB, Cottrell JJ, Bravo DM. Comparative physiology of digestion. J Anim Sci 2015; 93: 485-491.
  22. Naitou K, Mamerto TP, Pustovit RV, Callaghan B, Rivera LR, Chan AJ, Ringuet MT, Pietra C, Furness, JB. Site and mechanism of the colokinetic action of the ghrelin receptor agonist, HM01. Neurogastroenterol Motil 2015; doi:10.1111/nmo.12688
  23. Pustovit RV, Furness JB, Rivera LR. A ghrelin receptor agonist is an effective colokinetic in rats with diet induced constipation. Neurogastroenterol Motil 2015; 27: 610-617.
  24. Sanger GJ, Furness JB. Targeting ghrelin & motilin receptors for the treatment of GI disease. Nature Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 2015; doi:10.1038/nrgastro.2015.163.