Dr Geraldine O'Connor
School of Medicine
Geraldine teaches Medicine, Physician Associate and Medical Science students with a focus on immunology and haematology subjects. She is Academic Lead for Year 1 of the MBBS (Medicine) programme as well as theme lead for Integrated Science and Clinical Medicine for Year 1 and Year 2 of the MBBS programme. She is also course leader for the BSc Medical Science. Her research activity is focused on molecular and cell biology projects within the human immune system.
Geraldine has published extensively in the area of human immune responses including studies exploring the genetic influences on the outcome of bone marrow transplantation (HLA, 2018), how HIV mutations impact immune recognition (Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, 2017), and how immune receptor expression can be used to identify malignant cells to aid diagnosis and prognosis in cancer (Archives of Dermatological Research, 2017).
While studying for a degree in Biochemistry in Trinity College Dublin Geraldine developed an avid interest in the human immune system and stayed on to do a PhD in Immunology within the School of Biochemistry and Immunology. After completion of her PhD she spent several years as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Cancer Institute within the NIH in the USA before moving as a research officer to the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Melbourne. Throughout her research career, she has worked on various aspects of the human immune system including research on human immunodeficiency (both genetic and acquired), and in understanding how differences between individuals impact their immune function and ultimately their health. She has supervised a range of undergraduate and post-graduate research students including MSc, MRes and PhD students. She has a particular interest in flow cytometer, and acts as laboratory manager for the flow cytometry facility at the University of Central Lancashire. In parallel with her research career, Geraldine has taught a wide range of students across scientific and healthcare disciplines including biological science, biomedical science, veterinary science, nursing, medicine, and physician associate students in the USA, Australia, Ireland, and the UK.
- Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, University of Chester, 2017
- PhD Immunology, School of Biochemistry and Immunology, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, 2007
- BA (Mod) Biochemistry, with First Class Honours, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, 2002
- Immune responses
- Natural Killer Cells
- HLA biology
- Cell signalling
- Human genetic polymorphism
- Royal Society of Biology
- British Society of Immunology
- Journal of Biological Chemistry
- Journal of Cell Transplantation
- PLoS ONE
- PNAS and Blood
- Grant Reviewer
- Arthritis UK
- Medical Research Council (MRC)
A particular focus of the research is on the innate immune system, and in particular on the Natural Killer (NK) cell subset. These cells are vital in the control of viral infections and in cancer. These cells can become activated due to signals or changes in the body that are associated with infection, or other types of cellular stress. A family of receptors expressed on these cells known as the Killer Immunoglobulin-like Receptors (KIR), play an important role in controlling the activity of these cells. A greater understanding of the function of these receptors, and the cells that express them, provide insight into protective immune responses and allows for the design of therapeutic approaches that optimise their utility in maintaining health.
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- 1. Exploring the impact of naturally-occurring variation in NK cell receptors. KIR molecules control immune cell responses and can influence disease outcomes. The KIR genes are highly polymorphic and this natural variation can impact their function. This project uses molecular biology and site-directed mutagenesis to generate DNA constructs to represent these variants to aid in the understanding of impacts on ligand binding and/or function.
- 2. The role of NK cell-associated receptors (KIR) in the survival of T cell cancer. KIR3DL2 is rarely found on healthy T cells but is present on a number of T cell cancers where it may act as a diagnostic marker or therapeutic target. This project uses cell culture and Western blotting techniques to analyse the influence of modulating KIR3DL2 expression on the levels of the pro-survival pSTAT3 signal.
- 3. The impact of histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACi) on NK cells. HDACi are a class of drugs that can influence the gene expression profiles and are in use/development for cancer and HIV. Systemic administration of these drugs can potentially impact non-target cells including cells of the immune system. This project uses cell culture techniques to assess the impact of HDACi on cell viability, growth, and/or function of NK cell lines.
- 4. The role of non-classical HLA (HLA-F) in the immune response. KIR-HLA interactions can control immune cell responses and influence disease outcomes. There is emerging evidence of a role for HLA-F in inflammatory responses, mediated in part by its interaction with members of the KIR family. This project uses molecular biology and cell culture techniques to develop a cell line model to aid in the analysis of HLA-F function.
- Royal Society Project Grant, 2017 “Deciphering the Role of Immune Receptor KIR3DL2 via Signalling Analysis” £13,500
- Melbourne Research Early Career Research Grant, 2015 “The Influence of Human Genetic Variation on Immune Responses” AUD$40,000
- Intramural AIDS Targeted Antiviral Program (IATAP), 2010 “Mechanisms Underlying the Protective Role for KIR3DS1 in HIV Infection” US$82,000
Email: Email:Dr Geraldine O'Connor
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