What is your role at the CVM? When did you come to UGA?
I am an assistant professor in the Department of Infectious Diseases. My research laboratory is in the Center for Vaccines and Immunology. I joined UGA in August 2017.
What is your research focus?
My lab studies antibodies, which are the proteins produced by your immune system during and after an infection. We study how these antibodies interact with infectious diseases, including viruses. Most of our research is focused on the exact mechanisms by which the antibodies can stop an invading pathogen. We isolate our antibodies from humans, and once we find an antibody with good properties, we test the antibody in animal models to determine if the antibody can protect against disease. We also use the information we discover to design new vaccines.
What’s your story before UGA? Where did you study before coming here?
I graduated with a BS in chemistry and a BA in English from the University of North Florida. I completed my PhD in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Florida. After that, I moved to Vanderbilt University Medical Center for a postdoctoral fellowship.
What inspired your interest in the sciences, and how did that develop into your career path today?
I was a chemistry major in undergrad, so a lot of my thinking about research projects is focused on the molecular level. This has now developed into thinking about immunity to infectious diseases at the molecular level and trying to discover how the immune system could be harnessed to stop infectious pathogens.
What do you hope to accomplish at UGA?
Currently, we have research projects on several respiratory pathogens, including human metapneumovirus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Pneumocystis jirovecii, influenza virus, and the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. I hope our research will discover new therapeutics for these viruses and that the discoveries in my lab will lead to the development of effective vaccines.
What impact would you like to see from your research?
I would like the research from my laboratory to impact the vaccine field. It is our hope that our antibodies will advance to the clinic or be used to help others design vaccines.
What do you like to do when you’re not in the lab?
I have a three-year-old daughter, so playing with her takes up most of my time outside of work.
What’s your favorite book, movie, or song? Why?
Anything space-related, Star Wars, etc. I always wanted to be an astronaut, so space still fascinates me.