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Isabelle Stewart

Bsc (Hons)

DPhil Student

Investigating germinal centre B cell biology

Antibody mediated immune responses are required for protection against many diseases of global importance, like influenza, HIV, and malaria. The generation of high affinity and broadly neutralising antibodies often requires that the cells which generate them, B cells, participate in a germinal centre. Germinal centres are microanatomic loci in secondary lymphoid organs, like the spleen or the lymph nodes, wherein B cells introduce random mutations in their antibody genes, and subsequently test their new antibodies for the ability to interact with pathogens. Cells that have increased their ability to interact with foreign bodies will divide more, and continue to mutate their antibody genes. This iterative process of diversification and selection increases the breadth and depth of the immune response. The germinal centre is an evolutionary marvel, not only a product of evolution, but also a microscopic allegory thereof. My research focuses on how this process maintains efficiency, specifically by addressing how cells ensure they are selected on the basis of the antibody they encode, and addressing the selection implications of this.  


I graduated with a Bsc (Hons) (Microbiology and Immunology) from the University of Otago, New Zealand, in 2014. During that time I was grateful to complete summer studentships with Dr David Izon at the St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne, looking at Leukaemic stem cells; and also with Professor Ian Hermans at the Malaghan Institute, Wellington, looking at natural killer T cells. My honours thesis at the University of Otago was under the supervision of Dr James Ussher, and addressed ways of improving the diagnosis of leukaemia using flow cytometry.

My Dphil is funded by the NDM prize studentship.