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Professor Jason Howitt

Department Chair - Health Science and Biostatistics


Professor Jason Howitt is a neurobiologist studying pathways involved in both brain development and neurodegenerative diseases. His research has identified important mechanisms for the trafficking of metals in the brain and how failure of these systems can contribute to Parkinson’s disease. More recently he has identified an important role for the tumour suppressor protein PTEN in the regulation of brain size during development. This research has important implications for not only understanding how the brain is engineered, but also to define neurodevelopmental changes that occur in disorders such as autism. His laboratory is actively involved in determining the role of small vesicles called exosomes that are released from most cells in the body, and in a world first has shown how exosomes can be loaded with target proteins for potential therapies. His current research is focused on determining how Parkinson's disease starts in the brain and identifying pathways to slow or prevent the disease progression.

Professor Howitt’s career includes positions at Brookhaven National Laboratory New York, Imperial College London and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health at The University of Melbourne. He has ongoing collaborations with researchers both here and overseas and his work is internationally recognised for understanding cellular pathways in disease. He was the former chair of the Florey Faculty and has held multiple successful CIA NHMRC grants. Prof Howitt has received a number of awards including the NHMRC’s ‘10 of the best’ research projects 2013. He is currently the Chair of the Department of Health Sciences and Biostatistics and heads the Biological Signalling laboratory at Swinburne University. His laboratory has supervised a number of successful PhD and Honour’s students and is always actively seeking new postgraduate students.

Research interests

Autism; Parkinson's disease; Brain Development; Exosomes; Cellular Signalling

PhD candidate and honours supervision

Higher degrees by research

Accredited to supervise Masters & Doctoral students as Principal Supervisor.

PhD topics and outlines

Identifying the cause of Parkinson's disease: Parkinson disease is the most common neurodegenerative movement disorder. Currently, 90% of Parkinson’s disease cases have no identifiable genetic cause and we do not understand the cause of the disease. This project will investigate novel pathways involved in the transmission of aggregated proteins that can result in Parkinson’s disease.

Understanding the cause of autism: Currently there is a lack of understanding for the cause of autism, both at a molecular and brain architecture level. This project will investigate pathways involved in the autism to develop a greater understanding for the cause of the disease.


Available to supervise honours students.

Honours topics and outlines

Extracellular communication pathways in disease: How do cells communicate with each other? A new communication pathway involving the transfer of biomolecules in small vesicles called exosomes has been identified. Exosomes have a role in all neurodegenerative diseases, however there is limited knowledge on how exosomes communicate with other cells. Is there an ‘exosome code’ allowing for the communication between different cells?

Targeting Autism Spectrum Disorders Using Mechanism Based Therapeutics: The rising rates of autism diagnosis and the lack of medications to treat its core symptoms have led to an increased sense of urgency to identify therapeutics. However, developing drugs for autism is challenging due to our limited understanding of the underlying biology. This project will investigate pathway disruptions in the disorder and test drugs that can target primary mechanisms of autism.

Fields of Research

  • Neurosciences - 320900

Teaching areas

Biomedical science;Neuroscience


  • 2013, National, NHMRC '10 of the best' research projects, NHMRC
  • 2012, Other, Best paper award, Florey Institute
  • 2010, International, Young Investigator Award, International Society for Neurochemistry
  • 2010, National, Best presentation award, MPG
  • 2005, National, Young investigator award, Lorne Proteins
  • 2002, Other, Distinguished Performance, Brookhaven National Laboratory


Also published as: Howitt, Jason; Howitt, J.; Howitt, J. A.; Howitt, Jason A.
This publication listing is provided by Swinburne Research Bank. If you are the owner of this profile, you can update your publications using our online form.

Recent research grants awarded

  • 2024: NHMRC Equipment Grant 2023 *; NHMRC Standard Equipment Grant
  • 2023: Enhancing brain clearance mechanisms to limit Parkinson disease progression *; Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research Fund Scheme
  • 2020: Testing of in vitro EV uptake in brain cells *; Exopharm Limited
  • 2019: Investigating the extracellular transmission of α-synuclein in Parkinson’s disease *; NHMRC Project Grants
  • 2019: Investigating the role of exosomes in health *; Exopharm Limited
  • 2019: NHMRC 2019 Equipment Grant: Gel documentation system: Bio Rad Gel Doc XR *; NHMRC Standard Equipment Grant
  • 2017: Targeting autism with macrocephaly using mechanism based therapeutics *; NHMRC Project Grants

* Chief Investigator