LIFELAB: Our People

Brittany Mitchell is passionate about finding a genetic link for Alzheimer’s disease. A 2020 nominee for the prestigious CSL Florey Next Generation Award, she spends her time at QIMR Berghofer as a student-researcher in the Genetic Epidemiology Laboratory.

Tell us about what you do at QIMR Berghofer.

I use large-scale genetic data to help identify new genes underlying neuropsychiatric diseases – such as Alzheimer’s disease – and identify risk factors that play a role in the disease. Long-term this will hopefully aid in developing testing strategies (such as a genetic test) that can help identify individuals that are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and therapeutic targets.

What inspired you to choose medical research as your career?

I’ve always wanted a career in the medical field but soon into my undergraduate degree in medical science I decided I didn’t want to be a doctor (I don’t handle blood well). During this time, I became fascinated with genetics and how rapidly the field is progressing. Around the same time, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and her cognitive decline was rapid. It was devastating to watch and know there was so little we could do or even understand about the disease. Combining my passion for genetics and Alzheimer’s disease was an easy choice when it came to picking a PhD project.

What do you hope to achieve?

Ultimately, I hope my research contributes to the discovery of new genes and risk factors for diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and that this will help to identify individuals who are most likely to suffer from
cognitive decline so that we can provide tailored support early on.

What could be achieved in your field of research with additional funding support?

This kind of genetic research is reliant on having genetic data from very large groups of people, which is obviously very costly to collect. Additional funding would allow us to vastly increase our sample sizes which would directly translate in to new gene discovery and better validation of factors that could increase your risk to the disease.

What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?

As any PhD student knows, there is not a huge amount of time outside of work. That said, because I am from South Africa and my family is all still back home, most of my free time is divided between calls to friends and family back home and exploring all the fabulous places in and around Brisbane.

Name two people, living or dead, you’d want to sit next to at a dinner party.

  1. Nelson Mandela, mostly because I have always been curious about his opinion of the South African government after he resigned as president. Was he disappointed?
  2. My grandfather on my mother’s side – he passed away when I was two so I never really knew him but I’ve heard he was a wonderful story-teller. I’d love the chance to hear one first-hand.
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