Dr Rhiannon McGeehan

Senior Lecturer in Clinical Genetics, Mitochondria Genetics Group Lead,
Neurooncology Group, School of Pharmacy & Biomedical Sciences, University of Portsmouth, UK


Dr McGeehan is a mitochondrial geneticist and biologist, and specialises in studies that investigate the role of mitochondrial genomic elements in human and animal health. The primary goal of the Mitochondria genetics group in Portsmouth is to gain insights into the functional and clinical significance of mitochondrial genomic elements, particularly in brain tumours but also more recently in other diseases with mitochondrial implications, with the view of identifying new prognostic and predictive markers, and drug targets, for personalised medicine.


Dr McGeehan has been working in the area of mitochondrial genetics in the order of 22 years, first, completing a PhD (in 2006) in the Mitochondrial & Reproductive Genetics Group with Dr Justin St. John at the University of Birmingham investigating the regulation and developmental consequences of abnormal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) transmission patterns in embryos generated by somatic cell nuclear transfer (‘cloning’).


She briefly diverted from the field of mtDNA, between 2005 and 2009, joining Prof. Bill Holt’s Reproductive Biology Group at the Institute of Zoology (Zoological Society of London, ZSL) as a post-doc, conducting research into the biology of sperm storage within the female reproductive tract, aiming to identify factors isolated from the sheep oviduct capable of prolonging the notoriously short shelf-life of ram spermatozoa when stored for artificial insemination practises. She was also involved in running a biobank of DNA and cells from endangered species.


In 2009, she returned to the field of mtDNA having been awarded a prestigious Leverhulme Trust Early Career Research Fellowship to develop a tool for predicting how non-synonymous substitutions in mtDNA-protein coding genes influence embryo development following inter-species nuclear transfer and to establish Xenopus (the laboratory frog) as a model for validating predictions made by the tool. It is in presenting this work in 2012 at the University of Portsmouth, that she was approached by Prof. Pilkington (Head of the Portsmouth Brain Tumour Centre of Excellence centre until the end of 2018) to investigate the role of mtDNA mutations in glioblastoma, both in terms of malignant progression and chemo-resistance. 


Following a phased return after maternity leave, in November 2019, Dr McGeehan was awarded a permanent Senior Lecturer in Clinical Genetics position at the University of Portsmouth, taking on the role of coordinator for two modules that teach molecular methods in the biomedical sciences and the genetic basis of disease. She has recently (2023) been appointed as course leader in the MRes in Science and Health, and continues her research into brain tumours and mtDNA sequencing method development, now applying it to other pathologies with mitochondrial implications including chronic diseases like Lyme's.

Research interests

  • Mitogenomics in human and animal health and disease.
  • Assisted reproductive technologies.
  • Genome resource banking.