I am a postdoctoral fellow within the group of Prof. Stephanie Le Hellard and collaborating with Prof. Silke Appel. I am originally from New Zealand and finished my PhD in 2017 at the Broegelmann Research Laboratory at the University of Bergen, Norway under the supervision of Prof. Silke Appel and Prof. Roland Jonsson. I have a background in immunology with extensive experience in immunological laboratory methods, cell culture, method development and optimization, and flow cytometry.
Currently I am working on a project which aims at characterizing endocannabinoid system (ECS) associated immune cell signalling networks in schizophrenia patients. The ECS is a lipid signaling system involved in the regulation of a wide variety of physiological and pathological processes including memory, appetite, stress response and immune function. There is strong evidence that dysregulation of the ECS is involved in the pathogenesis of schizophrenia. We speculate that dysregulations within this system may be representative of a patient’s condition, and thus monitoring changes in the system may provide information that could influence clinical decision making. The project will utilize mass cytometry to provide an in-depth examination of the intracellular signaling systems. Identified dysregulations within the ECS will be associated with genotypes and epigenetic changes. It is hoped this will provide mechanisms behind the disease pathogenesis, and aid in the development of molecular therapeutic strategies targeting these mechanisms.
Perturbations of the Endocannabinoid system in immune cell signaling networks in Schizophrenia and inflammation
Schizophrenia (SCZ), a major psychiatric disorder that affects 1% of the population, is characterized by negative symptoms (e.g. withdrawal, anhedonia), positive symptoms (e.g. hallucinations, delusions) and cognitive deficits. Dysregulation of the immune and endocannabinoid system (ECS) has been implicated in the pathogenesis of SCZ. The use of cannabis is the strongest environmental risk factor for SCZ, with more than 22% of patients with SCZ using cannabis at the time of their first episode of psychosis. While poorer anti-psychotic treatment responses are associated with cannabis users than non-users. The aim of our project is to characterize endocannabinoid system (ECS) associated immune cell signalling networks in cannabis using and non-using SCZ patients. We propose to employ human peripheral blood, mass cytometry and selective agonists of cannabinoid receptors to identify ECS associated immune cell signalling events. The identified ECS associated immune cell signalling network will be characterized in regards to donor phenotype: SCZ patients (cannabis users and non-users) and healthy donors to identify disease specific nodes associated with SCZ and cannabis use and whether altered blood DNA-methylation found in SCZ cannabis users, and inflammatory cytokine production are associated with shifts in the cell signalling landscape. Associations with DNA methylation and the immune cell signalling network will further be investigated through in-vitro exposure of peripheral blood cells to the primary cannabis constituents: phytocannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidol (CBD).