Melissa Jackson

Department of Biosciences Durham University Stockton Road Durham DH1 3LE


Professor Colin Jahoda and Professor Majlinda Lako

In 2018-19, I am in the 3rd year of my PhD exploring 3D cell culture models, with a particular focus towards the rabbit/human cornea and skin.

Prior to my PhD, from 2012 to 2015, I attended De Montfort University where I graduated with a First Class (Hons) in Biomedical Science. In 2015, I attended the University of Birmingham thanks to a competitive academic scholarship, where I completed a research project with Dr Dan Tennant at the Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research studying the dynamics of hypoxia and hormone interplay in breast cancers as part of the MRes Cancer Sciences programme.

Development of a 3D corneal model to investigate the epigenetic transdifferentiation of skin epithelium into corneal epithelium

The cornea is the main protective, transparent layer over the front of the eye overlying the iris and pupil. Corneal disorders and damage can lead to irreversible conjunctival invasion and neovascularisation over the cornea, later leading to corneal clouding and blindness. Whilst this may be resolved through a cornea transplant, these are only initially successful. This has led to research into developing a transdifferentiated, or reprogrammed, corneal epithelium for transplant.

I am developing a novel human and rabbit 3D cornea model through hanging drop spheroid culture, consisting of tissue-derived corneal stromal and epithelial cells. I am using this model to examine how cells in the epithelia and stroma communicate and by determining and replicating these stimuli, I aim to induce the transdifferentiation of hair follicle derived skin epidermis into cornea epithelia. This method essentially involves the direct conversion of ‘skin’ to ‘cornea’, without cells passing through an induced pluripotency stage, bypassing the numerous iPSC drawbacks.

The intended outputs of this project include the development of relevant 3D tissue models, the determination of hair follicle epidermal cell plasticity and a brief exploration of their potential therapeutic uses.

Where did I get my PIPs

Aside from my academic interests, I am passionate about extracurricular activities which complement my PhD studies. One particular interest is the interplay of research and how this influences scientific policymaking. I would like to pursue this theme for my PIPs this year and at the time of writing, I am about to attend an interview at the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology to undertake a placement in the Houses of Commons and Lords to help MP’s enact relevant biology policy as we navigate Brexit.

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