Science for Health
31 August 2012
Sophie Roetynck, a postdoc in Jean Langhorne’s group in the Division of Parasitology at NIMR, works on the immunology of malaria infection in humans. Her work on the CD4 T cell responses to the infection has involved extensive fieldwork in Kenya.
When an individual is infected with malaria, their immune system helps to control the infection. However, if the inflammatory response is unregulated or excessive it can lead to severe and life-threatening complications such as severe anaemia and cerebral malaria, particularly in children.
Plasmodium falciparum is the causative agent of the most severe forms of human malaria. Sophie aims to characterise the immune responses of children naturally exposed to P. falciparum, to investigate whether and under which circumstances CD4 T cells mediate either protective immunity against the infection or pathogenesis of severe malaria. Understanding this may help in the design of future intervention strategies that inhibit the development of the damaging response and/or promote protective responses and thus ameliorate or prevent severe childhood disease.
This project involves extended periods of fieldwork in a malaria endemic area. Sophie Roetynck (pictured) works in collaboration with Britta Urban and Kevin Marsh at the Kenyan Medical Research Institute/Wellcome Trust Collaborative Programme in Kilifi, Kenya. This is part of a longstanding collaboration between Jean Langhorne and Prof Kevin Marsh, which aims to translate the discoveries made in animal models into the human system.
During several stays in Kenya, Sophie took the opportunity to interact with local scientists and transfer her skills in advanced flow cytometry and cellular immunology techniques to young Kenyan scientists. She also had the chance to join their fieldwork team to go to the area where the study takes place and discuss with the people involved, realizing the enormous amount of work and logistics required to involve the local community in such studies and obtain samples.
Working in malaria endemic areas has always been the leitmotiv of my research. It helps to put things into perspective to witness the disease you are studying. It gave me greater experience of carrying out human malaria studies in a field setting and vastly improved my capacity to design and implement future studies aimed at understanding malaria immunology. It was also a fantastic opportunity for me to interact and exchange ideas with local scientists and the local community. I really learnt a lot from it.
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