Laboratory life dull? Not a bit of it

28th April 2015

University of Liverpool researcher Dr Marie Yang describes a typical day, in the third blog in her series

Marie Yang
A typical day in the lab

From the very first day I stepped into an academic research lab, there has never been a boring day.

Every day is a new day, with its challenges, its frustration but also its rewards – every little progress gives a thrilling sensation.

Maybe one of the coolest things about academic research is that you get to work with people who share your goal, your enthusiasm and your tenacity. What inspires me to do research is the genuine teamwork, the character building experience and the ocean of knowledge that daily buzzes around me in the lab.

What does our research consists of? 

Our project is based on the rationale that the most efficient way to combat meningitis is to develop preventative vaccines.

Traditional approaches use biochemical analysis to identify parts of the bacteria that trigger the immune system to respond. For example, this is how polysaccharides in the outer layer of bacterial cells were identified as being able to stimulate an immune response and have become the main component of current vaccines to protect against pneumococcal disease.

The main drawback of these polysaccharide-based vaccines is that they do not offer universal protection against the entire range of pneumococcal strains, which are highly variable in their composition.

A second major shortcoming of these vaccines is that they are subject to immune selective pressure leading to serotype replacement. This means there is more incidence of pneumococcal disease caused by strains which aren’t covered by current vaccines.

We addressed these issues and made use of the technological advances that are available through complex computer modelling to aid the discovery of new types of vaccine.

We have been able to screen the entire genomes of bacteria isolated from people who had suffered from pneumococcal disease.  We then selected the genes that were specific to meningitis-causing strains. Each gene is a potential candidate for a new vaccine.

Significant effort in our research group is also geared towards gaining a better understanding of the cause and the disease evolution of pneumococcal meningitis. For example, comprehending the reason the pneumococcus invades the central nervous system, or understanding how harmless carriage progresses to invasive disease, can help identify various targets to prevent or disrupt disease development.

Find out more about our wider research programme here

Donate to support our future research programme here

In her final blog, coming soon, Marie talks about why her research is so vital.