Postdoctoral Research Scientist
The overall aim of my project is to identify a blood biomarker for Parkinson’s disease to enable earlier diagnosis and treatment of this progressive neurodegenerative disorder. Blood samples are collected from Parkinson’s patients and healthy individuals and the blood cells are isolated for analysis. Autophagy is a cellular mechanism for clearing toxic debris, such as damaged mitochondria or protein aggregates, which build up with age. Autophagy deficits are implicated in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders and are promising targets for neuroprotective therapies. Autophagy has previously been shown to be an important process in Parkinson’s disease and our pilot data indicate that autophagy levels may be different in blood cells of Parkinson’s patients compared to healthy individuals. Measuring autophagy in blood cells may be a practical and quantifiable means to discriminate between Parkinson’s and neurologically normal individuals. If changes in autophagy are also identifiable in at-risk individuals, this biomarker has the potential to increase our understanding of disease etiology, provide a molecular basis for monitoring disease progression, and enable drug development for earlier stages of disease.
I moved to the UK and began work in the Wade-Martins group at the beginning of 2014. My biomedical research training began at the University of Auckland in New Zealand where I completed a BSc (Hons) in biomedical science. I went on to study the role of microglia (the brain’s immune cells) for my PhD thesis which I obtained in 2013 from the Department of Pharmacology and the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland. My main areas of interest are neurodegeneration and neuroimmunology, with particular interest in how the nervous system and immune system interact. I have experience in human cell culture and human tissue analysis, which I believe plays an important part in our understanding of human diseases.
The human side of microglia
Smith AM. and Dragunow M., (2014), Trends in Neurosciences, 37, 125 - 135
M-CSF increases proliferation and phagocytosis while modulating receptor and transcription factor expression in adult human microglia
Smith AM. et al, (2013), Journal of Neuroinflammation, 10
The transcription factor PU.1 is critical for viability and function of human brain microglia
Smith AM. et al, (2013), Glia, 61, 929 - 942