Stacey Human – Virologist

Name: Stacey Human
Location: Atlanta, Georgia, USA

What do you do? I’m a second-year postdoc at Emory University in the Pediatric Infectious Diseases division in the School of Medicine. Phew, what a mouthful!

Our lab focuses on vaccine design and development for a virus called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This is a very important area of research because RSV is a main cause of lower respiratory tract infections, like pneumonia and bronchitis, and hospitalizations in children under the age of 5. RSV can also cause these complications in the elderly.

One of the main reasons for such high prevalence of disease is that natural RSV infection does not induce long lasting immunity. This means that you can be reinfected with RSV multiple times in a season and unfortunately, all previous RSV vaccines have failed. For these reasons, safe and effective vaccines that can protect against RSV infection are needed.

To tackle these challenges, my research focuses on understanding the differences between RSV strains, how these changes affect the way the virus behaves, and why certain changes can lead to severe disease in children and infants. This approach allows us to understand the virus better which will ultimately enable the design of improved potential vaccine candidates.

What can you see? This is our tissue culture lab. Here we grow up cells in flasks and plates so that we can do experiments with them. On the left hand side of the photo, you can see the ‘hood’, which is actually called a microbiological safety cabinet. This cabinet is designed to keep both the scientist and the sample safe when it is being used, and this is where we infect cells with the different viruses we have made in the lab.

On the right hand side of the photo is the fluorescent microscope we use to look at cells that are infected with our viruses. In our lab, we make viruses that express a red fluorescent protein so that it’s easy to see when the viruses are replicating in the cells. If you look at the computer monitor above the microscope, you can see a lot of red cells, which means that virus is replicating and spreading though the cell culture.

When I’m not doing science I.. am usually spending time with my new doggy, caffeinating or trying out new restaurants. Atlanta has a huge food and festival scene so it’s a great place to explore and try new things. I’m also an avid bird watcher and nature lover (I blame that on being South African!), so I love getting out into the wilderness to recharge.

If you would like to follow my ramblings about everything and nothing you can find me on Twitter: @stacey_human or if you would like to know more about my science, check out my ResearchGate profile: