Researchers at work – Dr Leanne Stokes
Dr Leanne Stokes completed her PhD in Immunology from the University of Birmingham, UK in 2004. Following her main research interest into ion channels in immune cells, Dr Stokes then joined the group of Professor Annmarie Surprenant at the University of Sheffield, UK for a postdoctoral scientist position studying the P2X7 receptor.
In 2007 she relocated to the University of Sydney Nepean Clinical School to join the group of Professor James Wiley to study genetic variation in the human P2X7 receptor gene. In 2007 she was awarded a Nepean Medical Research Foundation equipment grant ($20,000) which in addition to a University of Sydney Major Equipment grant, helped to establish the patch clamp technique at Nepean Clinical School. Dr Stokes has also been the recipient of two Isobel Corin Travel Awards in 2008 and 2009. These have covered costs associated with attendance at an international Purines meeting in Copenhagen and a national meeting in Canberra to present research data. In 2009 Dr Stokes was awarded an NHMRC Project grant as a New Investigator to establish her own research group at Nepean Clinical School.
The main focus of Dr Stokes’ work is investigation into the role of the P2X7 receptor in white blood cells. The P2X7 receptor is a ligand-gated ion channel present on a number of white blood cells including monocytes, macrophages, T and B lymphocytes, natural killer (NK) cells and dendritic cells which play important roles in fighting infection during an immune response. Recently mutations in the P2X7 gene have been linked with human diseases such as mood disorders (depression and bipolar disorder) and susceptibility to infections with Toxoplasma gondii and tuberculosis. With Professor Wiley, Dr Stokes has studied these mutations in the P2X7 receptor and identified several mutations which increase the normal response of the receptor known as gain-of-function mutations. This may be important in understanding susceptibility to such diseases. Over the next three years Dr Stokes will be investigating the link between the P2X7 receptor, inflammation and mood disorders.