Working towards an undergraduate degree in Immunology at the University of Glasgow, I gained a firm understanding of the cellular and molecular pathways involved in the function of the immune system.
Two placements in active research laboratories confirmed and reinforced my desire to pursue a career in research.
After graduating and receiving a number of awards, notably the Fyfe and Arthritis Research Campaign Prize and the British
Society of Immunologists Prize for work completed during my final year, I decided to begin my search for an institution to
conduct my doctoral studies.
I was attracted to the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology and the Kennedy Trust Prize Scholarship, which allowed me to begin my studies in Dr Tal Arnon’s lab immediately, with no requirement for a rotation or study year. As someone with a strict specialisation in Immunology, this was ideal for me. In addition, as part of the development of the Kennedy Institute, I was greatly interested to learn that the Institute would grow to
encompass a broad range of research including basic mechanistic science, through to clinically relevant studies.
The Arnon lab investigates the immunological mechanisms which
cumulatively result in the induction of appropriate humoral immune responses. Antibody responses are one of the core
defensive strategies mammals utilise for protection from infection, but can also be at the centre of autoimmune disease
when autoreactive B cells become activated and produce antibodies targeting self antigens. One relevant example of this is rheumatoid arthritis, where autoreactive B cells produce
antibodies specific for modified self proteins.
I chose to focus on the phenomenon of immunological memory, a state of immunity maintained primarily by adaptive lymphocytes. This process underlies the ability for us to vaccinate individuals and observe protection from disease. Whilst the majority of studies investigating this memory population of cells look at peripheral blood, the spleen and lymph nodes, it is now recognised that memory lymphocytes can persist locally in infection-prone tissues and may provide functions tailored to their tissues of residence. In my project we work to understand the roles of virus-induced memory B cells that reside in the lung.
The facilities and support provided by the Kennedy Institute and
Kennedy Trust have been incredibly helpful in allowing me to investigate these processes with such high detail, and have been greatly influential in developing a strong work ethic. In particular the new two photon microscope has been critical to my ability to study dynamic responses in live tissue. The connections I have made through the Kennedy have resulted
in collaborations with groups in other institutions across Oxford that have been fundamental to my success through the share of knowledge. In addition, the opportunity to attend seminars featuring high calibre speakers, both locally and
through conferences, has been exceptionally insightful.