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My research is driven largely by the question of how the ecology of an organism affects the development and maintenance of its immune system. Conversely, I am also interested in how the immune system can affect behavior and ultimately fitness. Animals, such as Save the Tasmanian Devil and a Sansom Institute grant to develop immunotherapeutics to treat Tasmanian devils that are infected with the devil facial tumour disease (DFTD). I am now employed jointly by the University of Tasmania and the University of South Australia, with the majority of my salary coming from a Morris Animal Foundation postdoctoral research fellowship. The approach we are taking is based on similar immunotherapeutics that have achieved unprecedented success in treating human cancer (Science Magazine Breakthrough of the Year 2013). We have made great progress recently and have developed more than 23 new monoclonal antibodies that target the checkpoint molecules CTLA4, PD-1, and B7-H1.
Prior to enrolling as a Ph.D. student at MSU, I worked in the immunology lab of Lieping Chen. Dr. Chen’s laboratory specializes in functional characterization of interactions among cell surface molecules. Much of the research is focused on costimulatory signaling in lymphocytes and how these signals can modulate immune function in relation to cancer and autoimmune diseases. My primary job functions were to produce new hybridomas that produce antibodies against novel cell surface molecules and characterize the antibodies using ELISA, flow cytometry (FACS), Western blots and T cell proliferation assays. As lab manager I was also responsible for day to day operations of the lab and helping with IACUC and IRB protocols.