F.rom at a young age, I was fascinated with the natural world, and specifically how living things work. For me, the interaction between organisms, like the interaction between host and pathogen, is fascinating. I have always been interested in translational research – how can what I do at the bench affect public health?
This feeling has never been more relevant than now. In a time of pandemic, the introduction of vaccines that can prevent disease is a public health intervention that will benefit so many lives.
Since April, I have been working on assessing immune responses in the Oxford / AstraZeneca ChAdOx1-nCov vaccine clinical trials. In my role as a postdoctoral immunologist at the Jenner Institute, I had previously worked on clinical trials for outbreak pathogens such as Ebola, Mers-CoV and influenza. My job involved measuring antibody responses caused by these vaccines.
So when the task of conducting immunologic analyzes, specifically antibody levels, for the Covid-19 vaccine came, I had the necessary skills to hit the ground running. Granted, the task involved for the Covid-19 clinical trials would be far greater than anything I or any of my colleagues had ever worked on before. I am currently leading the laboratory team looking at antibody responses to the vaccine in clinical trial volunteers. We are interested in the level of antibody response to our vaccine antigen – for ChAdOx1-nCov which is the Sars-CoV-2 pig protein.
We have investigated the antibody response after one dose of the vaccine, and after two doses see how these compare. We also compared antibody responses in different age groups. Now we want to follow the antibody response over several months to determine if our vaccine can elicit a long-lasting immune response.
My job involves much more than performing experiments in the lab. Planning, data analysis, logistics (such as storing thousands of samples), organizing laboratory consumables and managing people are all in a day’s work. While working on this vaccine, there has been a lot of pressure, including tight turnaround times for performing laboratory tests to make immunologic data available as soon as possible after volunteers have taken blood samples.
I’ve worked harder in 2020 than ever before, and hopefully more than I ever have to! Sometimes the workload becomes frustrating – especially when you think you’ve completed a task and can get a small respirator, but then there’s another, often larger, task a second later.
For me, the best way forward in such situations is to pull together as a team and work out how to achieve the end goal using the skill sets of the individuals in the lab. There have been many highs and lows over the past nine months but these have been shared with colleagues, who I would never have had the pleasure of working with without these trials.
Did I ever worry, “What if the vaccine doesn’t work?” Of course these are the kind of thoughts that would pop into my head when I should have been asleep. confidence in vaccine technology and in the team, who work tirelessly towards a common goal.Thankfully, we were rewarded with the news that ChAdOx1-nCoV is effective in stopping Covid-19.
Hearing this, I immediately burst into tears. Tears of relief, joy, hope and excitement for the future of this vaccine. I am so happy to be part of this vaccine, and I look forward to how it could benefit people all over the world.