Senior Research Scientist
Oxford Vaccine Group, Department of Paediatrics
Tell us a bit about your role
I work in the Novel Vaccine Development team at the Oxford Vaccine Group (OVG). We focus on creating and testing new vaccines against mainly bacterial infections such a meningococcal group B and plague. Most of our work involves testing various candidate vaccines in mice, and we have also progressed some of our novel vaccines to clinical trials. I lead the team in the lab on a day-to-day basis in designing the necessary experiments to fulfil our research questions.
I started working at the Oxford Vaccine Group in 2011 following the completion of my PhD in Parasitology. Since then, I have developed a wide range of skills and gained a wealth of knowledge. The Oxford Vaccine Group has supported my development as a scientist in vaccine development, including progression to clinical trial, and in human immunology. I started to work on clinical trials in 2012 and learned the specific environment and regulations required for this type of research. In addition, I became a specialist in the pathogens that need special containment and took the position of biological safety officer, which I carry out in addition to my research in vaccinology and natural immunity.
The Medical Sciences Division has a diverse group of world-renowned scientists, all of whom are open to collaboration. Throughout my time here, I have been very fortunate to collaborate with the Jenner Institute on testing various vaccine candidates. In 2020, the whole Medical Science Division has felt like one research group with a single goal – to understand and ultimately combat COVID-19. The Oxford Vaccine Groups laboratory was the first in the university to gain the necessary permissions to work on SARS-CoV-2-infected blood samples. As manager of the high containment laboratory, my experience in high-containment pathogens was instantly put to good use and I started very early to work with research groups in a number of departments across the division, with the aim to help better understand this novel infection. Further to this, I started working long hours on the COVID-19 vaccine trial, which has been at the same time very challenging and so rewarding, as I aim for my science to become useful to mankind.
What is the most meaningful aspect of your work?
I have always been very passionate about public health. The Oxford Vaccine Group’s infrastructure, along with Professor Andrew Pollard’s knowledge allows for me to undertake research that is translational and can make a real impact. Knowing that even a small amount of my work may have an impact on somebody’s health motivates me every day.
Can you tell us about something you've done, contributed to that you're most proud of?
It is difficult to select one project! Each vaccine I work on becomes very important to me, whether it be against meningococcus, plague or enteric fever. However, in 2020 all the work I had devoted the last nine years suddenly came to a halt and my focus shifted to COVID-19 research.
I am extremely proud to have worked on the COVID-19 vaccine trial as I oversaw the collection and processing of samples from symptomatic participants across the UK sites. Further to this, I spent some long nights and weekends assessing antibody-dependent and memory responses in the trial participants.
In combination with the COVID-19 vaccine trial, I supervised the collection of thousands of blood samples from SARS-CoV-2-infected hospital patients and healthcare workers in the OVG lab. This has helped us to examine the immune responses induced by natural SARS-CoV-2 infection and vaccine we are developing, and be involved in several exciting collaborative projects in the division.
What changes would you most like to see in the Medical Sciences in the next 100 years?
Academia can be a challenging environment for scientists where the saying “publish or perish” is a well-known phrase. Therefore, I think Medical Sciences as an international community and the University of Oxford Division would benefit from better support structures for staff who don’t choose to become a Principal Investigator or group leader. There are amazing scientists who are not Principal Investigators. They tirelessly bring their talents and skills to projects that have an impact on human health. I would love to see their efforts be better appreciated, particularly in terms of job security and recognition.