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A postgraduate research opportunity at the University of Otago.


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Health Sciences, Sciences
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Associate Professor Stephanie Hughes


The Neurodegenerative and Lysosomal Disease Laboratory is interested in the molecular and cellular processes in neurodegenerative disease; in particular how lysosome dysfunction influences disease processes. A better understanding of these processes helps us to develop relevant model systems in which we aim to find new therapeutic targets and test treatments. We have three projects available for prospective PhD students starting in 2021.

Project 1. Astrocytes and lysosome dysfunction in neurodegenerative disease

In this project we will determine how dysfunction of the lysosomal system in astrocytes, affects the development of neurodegenerative disease. The project involves the development and application of new tools to study lysosome and synaptic function in Batten disease, a lysosomal storage disease using high resolution microscopy.
This position is part of a research project funded by the Health Research Council (HRC) of New Zealand.

Project 2. LncRNA regulation of lysosome function in brain disease

A healthy brain requires a functional waste recycling system. Defects in lysosomes, which mediate waste recycling, are a common feature of brain diseases. We have identified a group of RNA molecules, lncRNAs, that are dysregulated when lysosome function is impaired in neurons. In this study we will test whether lncRNAs control lysosome and neuron function by activating or blocking lncRNA expression in human neurons using CRISPR technology. We will analyse the resulting effects using high-throughput assays, confocal microscopy, transcriptomic and proteomic analyses. This work will open up a brand new field of neurobiology with the potential for development of RNA therapeutics for brain diseases in the future.

This project is funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund.

Project 3. Charting new neuronal survival pathways in Parkinson's disease

Parkinson's disease is an incurable brain disease where dopaminergic neurons die, but interestingly, cortical neurons initially resist death. Two major contributors to dopaminergic neuronal death are toxic protein aggregation and impaired metal balance. In this project, we will study whether cortical neurons possess protective mechanisms to tackle toxic protein accumulation and metal imbalance, which will identify novel targets that could treat vulnerable dopaminergic neurons. The ideal candidate will possess a neuroscience background with bioinformatics skills.
This project is funded by the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand.

The ideal PhD candidates will have a strong interest in neurodegenerative disease and/or a background in lysosomal biology, excellent communication and team-work abilities and a drive to succeed. You will already either a BSc(Hons) or MSc in neuroscience, genetics or biochemistry. A PhD stipend is not included and must be applied for separately.


Associate Professor Stephanie Hughes
Tel +64 3 479 3761

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