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In March 2011, I joined  the Germans Trias i Pujol Health Science Research Institute (IGTP)  to establish a new laboratory focused on comparative medicine and mucosal immunology. This was made possible by my award of a Ramón y Cajal contract for the next five years.  Although I am a new investigator in Spain, for the last six years I worked at the University of California (UC Davis) in the Infectious Diseases Unit of the Center for Comparative Medicine, in Prof. C. J. Miller’s laboratory where I specialized in mucosal immunology and vaccine development. First as a Postdoctoral Researcher and then as an Associate Researcher Immunologist, my work focused on the mechanisms of protection established by a live-attenuated vaccine in the context of simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) infection, using the female rhesus macaque as an animal model of HIV sexual transmission.

For the last six years, I have been managing and getting experience in SIV vaccine studies using the rhesus macaque model. My work has centered on the nature of protective responses against vaginal SIV challenge, with particular attention to the on antigen-specific CD8+ T cells and the functional, phenotypic and activation profile of a protective immune response in the vaginal mucosa. To carry out these studies, we employed several state of the art techniques to evaluate SIV-specific immunological responses. As a result of my research, I have become particularly interested in performing translational research to define consistent correlates of protection for mucosal vaccines.

Sexually transmitted infections (STI) seriously compromise the health of women and children and the problem is particularly acute in low-income countries. Efforts to develop vaccines against herpesvirus-2, HIV and bacterial STI have been hampered by an inability to accurately measure immune responses in the female genital tract. I am interested to define the nature of protective responses against mucosal infections and to determine how to induce and evaluate effective vaccine-mediated immune responses.  Limiting the analyses of vaccine-induced immunity to systemic responses might be misleading. Thus, although technically challenging, we must increase our efforts to assess mucosal responses in our search for correlates of protection during both preclinical and clinical evaluation of vaccine candidates. These studies will be based on translational research and will systematically compare human and animal samples.

Specific Objectives:

1) to perform detailed studies measuring systemic and mucosal responses elicited by vaccination according to standardized laboratory operating protocols used in current vaccine trials in order to provide correlates of protection;

2) to identify new surrogate markers of genital mucosa immunity in animal models and women;

3) to evaluate novel routes of mucosal immunization and selected adjuvants in their capacity to induce female genital tract immunity and prevent viral transmission.

Please contact me if you are interested in finding a mentor for a doctoral or postdoctoral fellowship, a master project, summer studentship, or practical training. Of course, I am always interested in scientific collaboration.

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