Cell death study sparks interest

Tracy Josephs prepares to graduate from the University of Otago today. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Tracy Josephs prepares to graduate from the University of Otago today. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Tracy Josephs, a biochemistry researcher at the University of Otago, has sparked international scientific interest with a study which could also help shed new light on problems involving cell death in cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

Ms Josephs will graduate today from the university with a PhD in biochemistry.

She is among about 340 people who will graduate in person from Otago, with a wide range of qualifications including science, consumer and applied sciences, and physical education, in a ceremony at the Regent Theatre at 4pm today.

Ms Josephs is ''a bit relieved'' to have completed her doctoral studies, which focused on ''investigating the molecular basis of cytochrome c functions''.

Cytochrome c is a multifunctional protein which contributes to apoptosis. This is a controlled form of cell death, which often has a protective effect in humans by eliminating some cells, including some which have become infected or received DNA damage.

This is the first full doctoral study to explore the implications of a cytochrome c mutation which has been found in some members of a New Zealand family, with Dunedin connections.

The family has been affected by low numbers of blood platelets - cells required for blood clotting.

Ms Josephs said that the control of cell death was ''essential in diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer's disease, which are characterised by either too little or too much cell death respectively''.

The research had proved ''quite exciting'' and was clarifying why the exact shape of the mutant protein made it more effective in promoting cell death, and was also shedding new light on platelet formation, she said.