Dr Kathryn Jones: Brain Research New Zealand Research Fellow

Dr Kathryn Jones: Brain Research New Zealand Research Fellow Dr Kathryn Jones: Brain Research New Zealand Research Fellow

Dr Kathryn Jones is a Brain Research New Zealand Research Fellow based in the Neural Reprogramming and Repair Lab at the University of Auckland.

Her research involves changing human skin cells into a type of neural cell called a neural progenitor using a technique called ‘reprograming’. These ‘induced’ neural progenitor cells can proliferate in the laboratory and be matured into different subtypes of human neurons.

“This remarkable technique gives us the ability to study live human neurons in the laboratory,” Dr Jones explains, “What makes it really special though, is it means patients living with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, can donate their skin cells and we can reprogram them into the cells that are dying within their brains. This gives us the remarkable opportunity to study live, but disease affected cells while patients are still alive. We can use this reprogramming technique to understand better what is going wrong in Parkinson’s disease-affected brain cells, and can test new drugs on the cells within the lab to look for new treatments that could be used to protect the cells from dying.

The field of cellular reprogramming is right at the cutting edge of cell and molecular biology research, with the use of induced pluripotent stem cells for modelling and treating disease exploding in its scope and reach around the world.

BRNZ_kat jones2 Dr Kathryn Jones: Brain Research New Zealand Research Fellow

“I am both a stem cell researcher and a neuroscientist,” Dr Jones explains, “so to be able to combine both disciplines is very exciting to me. To try and modify a powerful technique like induced pluripotency, to instead generate induced neural stem cells and to use this to model disease brings real promise to advancing understanding and treating neurodegenerative diseases that are still currently unable to be cured.”

Dr Jones holds her research close to her heart and finds great satisfaction and excitement in everyday discoveries.

“Like all scientists I love the thrill of a great discovery, the experiment that gives great results and draws together all the strands of a hypothesis,” she explains, “these kind of discoveries are often few and far between. I also enjoy and appreciate the freedom of being able to be creative in my work. I’m lucky enough to be able to spend time reading great science and then translating those ideas to be applicable to my ideas and projects. I also never get tired of seeing beautiful multicolour images of cells that we can generate in the lab.”

In the coming years, she hopes that her dedication will see significant results and hopefully new and exciting discoveries.

“I hope to have succeeded in generating reprogrammed cells typical of human dopamine-precursors that can mature into functional, integrative dopamine neurons. This would be a world-first. It would be even better however if I could identify a novel compound that then protected the neurons from Parkinson’s disease degeneration, or could slow the progression of the disease,” Dr Jones says.

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