Rebecca graduated with a BSc and BSc Hons (first class) at Otago University majoring in Genetics, and is currently a PhD student at Victoria University of Wellington.
Her research is a part of the Cancer Cell Biology programme under Professor Mike Berridge, with supervisors’ Dr Melanie McConnell and Dr Patries Herst, focusing on mitochondrial movement between cells in melanoma, breast cancer and brain cells. Rebecca’s research is funded by the Human Resources Commission.
I’m interested in the mechanisms behind mitochondrial transfer in the brain and how that relates to cancer. Our group focusses on how mitochondria traffic between brain cells, investigating the possibility that this occurs as a direct response to therapy damage in cancer cells and is therefore a mechanism of therapy resistance in cancer.
Mitochondria were once free-living organisms that were taken up by a protoeukaryotic cell They produce the bulk of a cells energy requirements and contain their own small separate genome. My project utilises Rho zero cells (cells that contain no mitochondrial DNA) of melanoma, breast cancer and a brain tumour as well as normal brain cells to assess mechanisms of transfer using gene expression (RNA) and protein analysis.
Rho zero cells are useful for multiple reasons. Firstly, because they lack mitochondrial DNA this allows us to determine the origins of acquired mitochondrial DNA within these cells with relative ease using genetic techniques such as PCR and DNA sequencing. Secondly, these cells can also be experimentally stressed as they require supplementation to survive without their mitochondrial genome. Deprivation of these supplements initiates a stress response thought to trigger mitochondrial transfer in some situations.