Jessica graduated with distinction and honors from both the college and biology department of the University of Kansas in 2016 with a B.S. in Microbiology. During her undergraduate career, she conducted research as a Goldwater scholar and Astronaut scholar that was aimed at elucidating the mechanisms by which the herpes simplex virus type I protein, ICP0, overcomes a cell’s antiviral state established by interferon-β and how this protein facilitates viral protein expression and replication in the face of such an immune response. In 2016, she received the National Institute of Health Oxford-Cambridge Scholarship, through which she now conducts her doctoral research at both Cambridge and the NIH.
Norovirus (NoV) is considered the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis worldwide, yet there is a deficit in our understanding of protective immunity against NoV, which is critical to effective therapy and vaccine design. Until very recently, there has been no cell culture system for human NoV that could assess the neutralizing activity of antibodies induced by the virus. However, through this collaborative project between the NIH, Cambridge, and the Uganda Virus Research Institute, we have access to a novel assay that characterizes true neutralizing capabilities of anti-NoV antibodies as well as a collection of human samples that will illuminate the acquisition and specificity of neutralizing antibodies developed during natural exposure to NoV. These advancements hold potential to elucidate conserved and cross-reactive neutralizing epitopes on the many NoV genotypes as well as mechanisms involved in clearing the virus and establishing protective immunity. My project will characterize periods of short- and long-term immunity against NoV and identify neutralizing antibodies acquired throughout the natural course of infection over a five-year period using samples from a Ugandan mother-baby cohort. State-of-the-art technology will be used to isolate memory B cells for antibody cloning and expression in order to examine molecular mechanisms involved in the development of protective adaptive immunity. Additionally, due to the unique nature of this cohort, the project will establish the demographics and genetic predisposition to NoV infection as they are associated with the Ugandan mother-baby cohort. Thus, this project not only offers unique opportunities to explore a new area of research for noroviruses, it will provide information on an understudied population of people for whom a NoV vaccine is needed.
The project is supervised by Pr. Ian Goodfellow and Dr. Kim Green at the National Institute of Health, USA.