Wellcome Trust PhD Student Cohort 2016
Academic and Work Experience Prior to Sept 2016 Programme Start: While obtaining my Honours degree in Molecular Genetics at the University of Edinburgh, I spent half a year in Uppsala University in an ERASMUS exchange programme, and a year in industry working at Eli Lilly. I spent most of my summers doing internships in labs in Edinburgh, as well as in ETH (Zurich) as part of a research programme organized by Amgen.
PhD Programme – Year 1 – MRes and Project Rotations: In the first year of rotations, I explored a variety of topics and techniques, which helped me to make my final choice for the PhD. During the first rotation with Dr Ivo Lieberam, I used a combined approach of stem cells and optogenetics technology to pace the cardiac muscle. I aimed to derive parasympathetic visceral neurons, capable of connecting to the cardiac plexus, and in such a way innervate the heart. These optogenetic motor neurons were engrafted into the spinal cords of developing chick embryos to explore their identity and integration. During the second rotation with Professor Stephen McMahon and Dr Franziska Denk, I used a technique called chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) to explore epigenetic changes occurring in chronic pain state. In my final rotation, Professor Francesco Dazzi and Dr Georgina Ellison collaborated to create and supervise my project studying heart regeneration and anti-inflammatory properties of mesenchymal stem cells. I investigated the inflammatory response occurring immediately after heart attack and characterised the potential of mesenchymal stem cells to be used in aiding heart repair. Throughout the year, I worked across several campuses and got to know researchers in a range of fields, as well as made good friends.
PhD Programme – Years 2 to 4 – Doctoral Studies: Spinal cord injury leads to paralysis of motor function as well as internal organ dysfunction. No current treatments are capable of restoring the function. I have joined Dr Ivo Liebram's lab to construct a stem-cell based graft with therapeutic genes to bridge the gap produced during contusion injury. We will use mouse embryonic stem cells to derive specific neuronal populations involved in locomotion to treat spinal cord injury in a mouse model. The graft will be supplemented with therapeutic genes that will enhance neuronal survival, integration and functionality when transplanted. Behavioral tests will be performed to evaluate motor function recovery. The study will help to advance cellular therapies for spinal cord injury by using a combination of techniques that address previous failures in animal studies and clinical trials.
Ieva Berzanskyte ORCID webpage