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Neurodegenerative and Lysosomal Disease

A postgraduate research opportunity at the University of Otago.


Academic background
Sciences, Health Sciences
Host campus
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. Identifying superheroes in neurodegenerative disease

Batten disease refers to a group of childhood brain diseases caused by mutations in one of at least 13 genes associated with lysosome function. Variation in presentation of the disease, even between siblings, suggests that genetic modifiers may play a role in modifying disease development. In this project we will identify these genetic modifiers (superhero genes) that modulate lysosome activity. This project requires a strong bioinformatics background and/or experience with primary neuronal cultures or iPSC cells.
This project is funded by the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand.

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.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, some restrictions may be in place. Visit for ongoing updates:
- International students

New Zealands borders are closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic processing applications from overseas will be delayed


Associate Professor Stephanie Hughes
Tel   +64 3 479 3761