On Monday 27 April during World Immunisation Week 2020, we took to Instagram for a virtual public engagement event to showcase a day in the life of a vaccine researcher in pictures.
The diverse range of scientists involved illustrated some typical, and not so typical, days which were all intriguing, interesting and informative. The Instagram story is still available to view on the BSI Instagram highlight #VaxResearchLife.
Here we share the images and expand on the stories they tell, introducing 19 vaccine researchers as we uncover an insider look on a day in their life.
Leo Swadling is part of Professor Mala Maini’s research group at UCL.
They’re working on developing vaccines against viral hepatitis, in particular hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV).
These pictures show Leo during a typical day of lab experiments using patient blood samples to test for the presence of immune cells that fight viral hepatitis. Leo searches through the fridge to find the right antibody needed for his experiment to assess the quality of the immune response to an infection. Leo uses an impressive piece of lab equipment called a FACS (fluorescence-activated cell sorter) machine to sort through a mix of cells from the blood sample. The machine can isolate the specific immune cells that recognise and fight HBV and HCV and then Leo can study them in more detail.
Alice Burton and Laura Pallett also work in the Maini group. On a normal day they might receive valuable patient blood samples and will use a centrifuge to spin the samples at high speeds to separate different cells in the blood. They can isolate the white blood cells and use them in the lab to understand more about the immune response to viral hepatitis and to test novel treatments, including therapeutic vaccines. The separate cells can be stored at very cold temperatures, in liquid nitrogen or -80 freezers, so they can be studied for many years.
Dr Sarah Curtis is researching a universal influenza vaccine in the Gallimore/Godkin research group at Cardiff University.
Their aim is to develop a vaccine that stimulates a better immune response than current flu vaccines and is also affective against different strains of the influenza virus. On a daily basis, Sarah needs to use a microscope to check that the cells she works with are growing well in their special petri dish. This image of the dish shows an experiment where Sarah measures how much influenza virus was collected from the lungs of infected mice.
Dr Wynand Goosen is part of the VALIDATE Network for developing vaccines for complex intracellular pathogens, such as tuberculosis (TB).
He works at the Stellenbosch University in South Africa, researching early rapid diagnosis of TB in animals and TB vaccine development for wildlife. This impressive action photo was taken minutes after the African elephant had been tranquilized. Dr Goosen then performed a bronchoscopy - using a specialised camera to look down the airways and lungs of the animal to get samples of TB bacteria. This is part of a routine elephant TB surveillance program and just a typical day for Dr Goosen.
Ana Martinex Riano and Becky Newman both work in the Immune Receptor Activation lab at The Francis Crick Institute researching B cells, the white blood cells that help protect against infection, to find new ideas for vaccines and therapies.
They’re interested in how antigens, the molecules derived from pathogens such as bacteria and viruses, are presented to B cells during the immune response. Ana provided this immunofluorescence image taken of a mouse lymph node. Ana uses fluorescent proteins to study how antigens (blue) are shown to B cells (pink) during the immune response. Understanding this process is key to improving vaccines.
Becky is studying how B cell receptors control the B cell immune response, including how they produce antibodies in response to a vaccine. This is Becky with placement student, Harry. Teaching is part of Becky’s typical day and allows her to enhance her communication skills whilst providing students with first-hand lab experience.
During her PhD in Dr Brian Ferguson’s research group at The University of Cambridge, Dayana Hristova is studying how viral DNA (genetic material) is sensed inside the human cell during the immune response.
This work contributes to understanding immunity to viruses and the development of better vaccines. Dayana loves to talk to the public about her research and incorporates this into her normal day as a researcher. At the Cambridge Science Festival, she used plasticine models to explain how the immune system fights off viruses and how vaccines work. Explaining science to a wide audience is an essential part of being a researcher.
Dr Beth Holder studies maternal vaccines at Imperial College London.
During pregnancy, antibodies in the mother’s blood are transported across the placenta, which helps to protect the baby in the first weeks of life. Beth is researching exactly how the antibody crosses the placenta to design better vaccines for use in pregnancy. This isn’t a typical day for Beth, as she’s working outside in her garden writing a research paper. Beth is normally doing laboratory research and misses it during lockdown.
Dr Megan MacLeod is an immunologist at The University of Glasgow Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation.
Megan is researching how communication between cells in the lung contributes to the development of immune memory after infection, which helps design vaccines that generate memory cells in the lung, offering immediate protection against a disease. This interesting immunofluorescent image of the lung environment (blue) was taken during influenza virus infection and shows different immune cells (red are T cells and green are myeloid cells) communicating.
Miguel Leon-Rios is a PhD student at the Centre for Global Vaccine Research at The University of Liverpool.
Miguel is researching how the body responds to vaccines, what might be blocking how effective a vaccine is and how to improve the protective immune response to vaccines. He's working on vaccines for rotavirus and norovirus - stomach bugs. Miguel is often engaging the public about the importance of vaccines and created this game to explain herd immunity. An important part of research is sharing your work with other scientists and this is a photo of Miguel presenting his work at a conference.
This is Associate Professor Mary Burtnick under all that protective gear as she works carefully in a biosafety level 3 lab at the University of Nevada, Reno.
This is a special lab facility required when working with dangerous pathogens. Mary is studying the molecular mechanisms of how B. pseudomallei bacteria survive in our cells to help develop vaccines for melioidosis, which is a tropical infectious disease caused by B. pseudomallei. Currently there's no vaccine against melioidosis but Mary’s team have found that subunit vaccines appear to be a promising approach.
Jo Giles is an immunologist working in industry to develop treatments against infectious diseases.
This is Jo's desk for the day as she sets up an experiment with mouse cells inside this enclosed lab bench. This special cabinet ensures that her cell samples don't get contaminated by any bugs. Jo's colourful experiment is a cytotoxicity test. The test is useful when testing a new vaccine in the lab because it shows whether an antibody can protect cells from a toxin, which is added to the wells in the petri dish. The pink colour shows that the cells survived and the antibody was protective.
Elena Mitsi is a researcher at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine studying the lung immune response to S. pneumoniae bacteria to develop an effective vaccine.
On a rare occasion when human lung samples come into the lab for analysis, Elena uses a microscope to look at the immune cells. The immunofluorescent image is what Elena might see down the microscope. The green is the bacteria in contact with a macrophage (pink). Macrophages are white blood cells that can engulf and destroy bacteria and their name comes from the Greek "big eaters".
Hannah Davies works with Professor Kirsty Mehring-Le Doare at Imperial College London.
They work in Uganda to develop an effective vaccine for Group B Streptococcus (GBS) that could be given to pregnant women, preventing their babies getting GBS in the first months of life. GBS is one of the most common causes of sepsis and meningitis in newborns globally. An important part of their work involves engaging with pregnant women and mothers who may be included in upcoming vaccine trials. Understanding their perceptions and concerns about vaccines is critical when developing vaccine trials.
Lizzie Horton is an MRes student at The Francis Crick Institute studying the immune response to influenza virus.
As a student, Lizzie was allowed a tour of the biosafety level 4 laboratories at The Crick. This highly specialised lab, which requires researchers to shower before and after going in(!), is required when working with dangerous pathogens. On a typical day, Lizzie works with canine kidney cells, which can be seen down the microscope in this photo. She infects the cells with a mixture of the flu virus and human white blood cells to test immunity. If the person is immune to the flu strain the virus won’t be able to infect the canine cells because the white blood cells recognise the virus and block it from entering the cells.
Dr Rachel Tanner a researcher at The Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford.
Rachel is studying which parts of the immune system are important in providing protection against tuberculosis to design more effective vaccines. Rachel spends a lot of her time pipetting (moving liquid from one tube to another!) for many different types of experiments and she often grows bacteria on agar plates so that she can see them replicate.
Nassira Belmessabih is a researcher at the Pasteur Institute of Algeria and works on veterinary vaccine production and development.
Her lab is studying the Capripoxvirus, a serious animal poxvirus, for which sheep, goat and cattle are natural hosts. Discovering a safe and efficient vaccine to protect animals reduces animal suffering, improves welfare, reduces economic loss to farmers and produces safe food. Nassira is often found in the library reading scientific books but it’s also a place where she finds calm and inspiration to write up her work.
Thank you to all the scientists who took part! We hope you enjoyed discovering what a day in the life of a vaccine researcher looks like and learning about vaccine research.
For more information, educational activities and resources about vaccines and to read our new report reviewing the UK's outstanding contribution to vaccine research, head to our Celebrate Vaccines website.