Kevin Ng, postdoctoral research assistant in the Retroviral Immunology Laboratory at the Crick, has been awarded a Schmidt Science Fellowship to speed up the process of selecting promising vaccine candidates.
The prestigious fellowships are awarded to early career researchers tackling long-term societal challenges. This year, 29 new fellows were selected from around the world. Exciting projects being undertaken include: developing new therapies to treat cancer and heart disease, scaling-up sustainable fuel production, restoring vision for blind people, protecting endangered species, generating new approaches for clean water and energy, and more.
Kevin was nominated for the fellowship by the Crick, where he recently completed his PhD. He studied endogenous retroelements, components of DNA that copy and paste themselves into different locations in the genome. While these retroelements make up nearly 50% of human DNA, their function and importance are unclear.
Kevin’s research helped to further understanding of these retroelements by developing analysis methods to identify how they have evolved and to describe retroelements that help the immune system respond to cancer.
In the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kevin adapted his research to study how coronaviruses and human immune responses co-evolve.
Kevin was among the first cohort to join the Crick’s PhD programme, and now as the institute celebrates its fifth anniversary, students are moving to the next stages of their careers.
Fellowship project: Finding vaccine candidates
Currently, the process of selecting a new vaccine candidate that induces an effective, long-lasting antibody response is an expensive and time-consuming process.
In his fellowship project, Kevin will aim to accelerate this process by developing new animal models which can be used to study how antibody-producing cells respond to vaccines and travel to sites of viral infection, such as the lung and gut. This will help researchers decide whether particular vaccine candidates should be put forward to clinical trials.
Kevin says: “The fellowship supports multidisciplinary working, an approach also championed at the Crick where I have enjoyed gaining experience in and working with world-leading scientists across various fields.
“With the Crick now celebrating its fifth anniversary, it feels like a good time to be progressing onto the next challenge. I’m excited to learn new cutting-edge techniques in sequencing and imaging to find out more about how the immune system responds to vaccines and ultimately help identify the most promising candidates.”
Schmidt Science Fellows is an initiative of Schmidt Futures, delivered in partnership with the Rhodes Trust. The programme aims to provide fellows with new skills and perspectives to accelerate discovery, develop solutions to society’s challenges and become scientific and societal thought leaders.