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A postgraduate research opportunity at the University of Otago.


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Academic background
Health Sciences
Host campus
Pathology and Biomedical Science (Christchurch)
Professor Margreet Vissers


This project focusses on neutrophils, white blood cells that are our main defence against invading pathogens. Neutrophils make up half of our circulating immune cells and they are the first to gather at a site of infection. Their primary role is the phagocytosis and elimination of invading bacteria. Once this process is complete it is important that neutrophils are cleared from the site of inflammation before they damage the host and cause tissue damage. The mode of neutrophil death is highly regulated and ranges from the orderly packaging of the cell for uptake by other cells, to the ejection of intracellular contents, which amplifies the inflammatory response. Which process the neutrophils undergo heavily influences the eventual outcome of the infectious diseases.

The aim of this project is to investigate the effects of biological and physiological stresses that are commonplace during response to infection. Many normal processes are altered during infectious disease, including oxygen supply and nutrient availability. We have previously shown that both low oxygen tension (hypoxia)and vitamin C availability impact on neutrophil cell death by apoptosis. The generation of extracellular traps, complexes of DNA and microbicidal proteins ejected by neutrophils, is also an important pathway to cell death and is implicated in the extreme consequences of Covid-19 lung infections. Neutrophil cell death processes can be tracked visually by live cell imaging. In this project, neutrophil cell death will be investigated using a range of cell biology and microscopy techniques, including live cell imaging, immunofluorescence and electron microscopy in order to gain understanding of the neutrophil cell death processes. The project has clinical relevance for numerous conditions involving the inflammatory response, including severe infection, Covid-19 infections, sepsis, and autoimmune conditions.

Preferred student expertise:

This project would suit a student with a good background in cell biology and biochemistry. The project will use latest technologies for live cell imaging. Although experience in microscopy is not essential it would be important for the student to have an interest in cell biology and imaging technologies. Good computer skills and an aptitude for laboratory skills are required for this project.

Further information:

This is one of a number of projects on offer for the 2023 intake of BBiomedSc(Hons) at the University of Otago, Christchurch campus.

Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences with Honours (BBiomedSc(Hons)) at the University of Otago, Christchurch

Professor Margreet Vissers' profile
Centre for Free Radical Research website
Department of Pathology and Biomedical Science website


Professor Margreet Vissers

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