Georgia is Wellington born and educated, with an undergraduate bachelor of science (Hons.) in biotechnology and political science, and a masters in cell and molecular bioscience, both from Victoria University of Wellington.
Georgia began her PhD in 2016 under the supervision of Dr Melanie McConnell (Victoria University) and Professor Mike Berridge, Cancer Cell Biology programme leader at the Malaghan Institute. Georgia’s PhD is the funded through Marsden Fund grant for research and by the Edith Rose Isaacs Estate.
I have broad interests in investigating the transfer of mitochondria, the cell’s powerhouse, from one cell to another. This interesting new phenomenon has been shown in only a limited variety of cell types so far. Our lab group works on establishing a robust measure of mitochondrial transfer prevalence, which cell types act as donors and recipients of mitochondria, and what may be driving transfer.
In previous projects I have investigated the in vitro and in vivo DNA damage-causing interaction of ascorbic acid and radiation in glioblastoma (brain cancer) cells; as well as cell surface receptor responses to novel kappa opioid receptor compounds.
I am also interested in science policy and communication, and in my spare time volunteer for the Science Communicator’s Association of New Zealand (SCANZ). I am an advocate for science outreach and increasing representation of women and minorities in science.
For my PhD I study mitochondrial transfer in the bone marrow, the spongey tissue within bones where immune cells originate. I am aiming to determine whether or not mitochondrial transfer occurs within this tissue, whether DNA damage will influence transfer, and what cells of the bone marrow may be contributing or accepting mitochondria.
Although transfer of mitochondria has been demonstrated in tumour models without functional mitochondrial DNA, I am interested to determine whether this occurs in a more natural, physiological setting in the bone marrow, that is, between normal marrow cells or to leukaemia cells in marrow that have had mild stress applied. This may be in the form of irradiation prior to bone marrow transplantation or irradiation therapy. If transfer occurs, it may be clinically relevant as a mechanism of resistance to therapy, for example in leukaemias.
Our lab group’s point of difference is that we endeavour to develop quantitative DNA-based assays that establish the level of mitochondrial transfer between cells, rather than using various mitochondrial specific dyes. This puts us at an exciting convergence between cellular and molecular biology, but also requires us to carry out extensive research and optimisation, as we are trialling techniques that are not yet widely used.
For me, this project has research branches that extend to exploring the huge diversity of cells of the bone marrow, molecular techniques for identifying very small amounts of DNA, as well as fundamental cell metabolism and how these relate to the progression of cancers.