The NIAID Office of Research Training and Development is celebrating the contributions of our predoctoral fellows (graduate students) during Graduate Student and Professional Student Appreciation Week from Monday, April 5 through Friday, April 9, 2021. Read about the exciting research being conducted by NIAID graduate students and learn about their experiences at NIAID.
Victoria Avanzato, M.D./Ph.D. Candidate
Graduate Student in the Virus Ecology Unit of the Laboratory of Virology and Emory University/University of Oxford (NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program)
“I enjoy training with a team of skilled scientists and virologists on impactful research projects relevant to current public health events.” – Victoria Avanzato
My project initially focused on studying the antibody response to Nipah virus. I used techniques such as X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy (EM) to characterize the epitopes of neutralizing antibodies and identify sites of vulnerability on the virus surface. I also studied these antibodies in a hamster model to determine if they offered protection from Nipah virus challenge. When the pandemic happened, my research shifted to producing purified SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and optimizing the serology assays in the lab. I also studied a case of long-term infectious SARS-CoV-2 shedding from an asymptomatic immunocompromised patient with cancer with a prolonged infection.
- Avanzato VA et al. A structural basis for antibody-mediated neutralization of Nipah virus reveals a site of vulnerability at the fusion glycoprotein apex. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Dec 10;116(50):25057-25067.
- Avanzato VA et al. Case Study: Prolonged Infectious SARS-CoV-2 Shedding from an Asymptomatic Immunocompromised Individual with Cancer. Cell. 2020 Dec 23;183(7):1901-1912.e9.
Riccardo Castagnoli, M.D., Ph.D. Candidate
Graduate Student in the Immune Deficiency Genetics Diseases Section of the Laboratory of Clinical Immunology and Microbiology and the University of Pavia, Italy (NIH Graduate Partnerships Program)
“Being at NIH is a unique opportunity to work on translational research that starts from dissecting disease pathogenetic mechanisms to offering the best cure for our patients.” – Riccardo Castagnoli, M.D.
I am a pediatrician with a specific interest in immunology. I am in my last year of my Ph.D. research focused on translational medicine as part of the Graduate Partnership Program (GPP) between NIH and the University of Pavia, Italy. My research focuses on inborn errors of immunity, and I have had the great opportunity of working in the group of Luigi Daniele Notarangelo, M.D., one of the world’s leading experts in the field. My main project aims to characterize gut inflammation and microbiota composition in mouse models with Rag1 hypomorphic mutations, in collaboration with the groups of Yasmine Belkaid, Ph.D. and Julie Segre, Ph.D. Moreover, during the current COVID-19 pandemic, I worked both as clinician and researcher, participating in the NIAID-led worldwide effort to identify the molecular and cellular bases of COVID-19.
- Castagnoli R et al. Gut Microbiota-Host Interactions in Inborn Errors of Immunity. Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Jan 31;22(3):1416.
- Castagnoli R et al. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Infection in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review. JAMA Pediatr. 2020 Sep 1;174(9):882-889.
Jonathan Liang, M.D./Ph.D. Candidate
Graduate Student in the Signaling Systems Section of the Laboratory of Immune System Biology and the University of Cambridge (NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program)
“I enjoy working in an environment that is rich in expertise in many different areas of research and many useful research methods.” – Jonathan Liang
I study the NLRP3 inflammasome, one of the innate immune system’s many danger sensors. In addition to detecting infections, NLRP3 causes a delayed inflammatory response to the presence of excess lipids, and it has been linked to the progression of several chronic diseases. My research aims to develop a more detailed understanding of the signaling pathways that connect saturated fatty acids to NLRP3 and how they compare to the pathways needed for NLRP3 activation by more acute triggers. Currently, I am focusing on the roles of different inflammatory caspases and reactive oxygen species in lipid-induced NLRP3 activation.
Recipient of the 2021 NIH Graduate Student Research Award in Biochemistry/Immunology/Cell & Molecular Biology
Elizabeth Lake Potter, Ph.D. Candidate
Graduate Student in the ImmunoTechnology Section of the Immunology Laboratory at the NIAID Vaccine Research Center and Johns Hopkins University (NIH Graduate Partnerships Program)
“As a grad student at NIAID, I’ve formed amazing collaborations across the NIH. These collabs have allowed me to broaden my thinking and share my work with a more diverse audience.” – E. Lake Potter
I study leukocyte trafficking—how immune cells move around the body. Leukocyte trafficking is critical to a functional immune response. Trafficking determines cellular location and the environment to which cells are exposed; these factors influence function and ultimately shape the immune response. As a graduate student at NIAID, I’ve developed a technique called serial intravascular staining (SIVS) (see publication listed below) that allows us to label cells in vivo and follow them as they migrate through the body. With SIVS, we can determine how long cells are in circulation, which tissues they migrate to, when migration events occur, and how long cells remain in tissue before exiting and recirculating. We are now using SIVS to evaluate how different conditions—like an active viral infection or receiving a vaccine—change cell trafficking and impact the overall immune response.
Recipient of the 2021 NIH Graduate Student Research Award in Bioinformatics/Biostatistics/Epidemiology/Structural Biology
- Potter EL et al. Measurement of leukocyte trafficking kinetics in macaques by serial intravascular staining. Sci Transl Med. 2021 Jan 13;13(576):eabb4582
Adeline Williams, M.P.H., Ph.D. Candidate
Graduate Student in the Molecular Entomology Unit of the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research and Colorado State University (NIH Graduate Partnerships Program)
“I like that my research explores novel strategies to prevent disease, and at NIAID I have gotten to work alongside some of the country’s top scientists in my field to achieve the common goal of impacting public health.” - Adeline Williams, M.P.H.
I study how mosquito antiviral immunity impacts arbovirus transmission. At my home institution of Colorado State and in collaboration with the University of Missouri, we generated transgenic Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that expressed a Zika-virus specific double-stranded RNA, which triggered the mosquito’s endogenous antiviral immune pathway and rendered them largely resistant to Zika. Here at NIAID, I am studying how Aedes aegypti Piwi proteins interact with viral small RNA populations. We are interested in how these interactions impact long-term antiviral immunity and what they reveal about Piwi protein evolution and functional divergence across organisms.
- Williams AE et al. Antiviral Effectors and Gene Drive Strategies for Mosquito Population Suppression or Replacement to Mitigate Arbovirus Transmission by Aedes aegypti. Insects. 2020 Jan 12;11(1):52.
- Williams AE et al. The Antiviral Small-Interfering RNA Pathway Induces Zika Virus Resistance in Transgenic Aedes aegypti. Viruses. 2020 Oct 30;12(11):1231.