I had cause yesterday to renew my mental acquaintance with the research fields of my youth, adult and middle-age experience. Now that I am old(er!) I have to traverse back some two decades to remember some of the epiphanies of my research endeavours. After finally being redundified from my postdoc passions at the hoary age of 50, my life has been spent in a variety of pursuits (educational, entrepeneurial/vocational, voluntary sphere) which have been variously rewarding in different ways.
But what fun to look back at that golden age of cellular immunology, the ’70s and ’80s when so much was being discovered. I was trying, yesterday, to explain something of our immune mechanism to a layperson who was grappling with the complexity of the system. It would have been lovely to have been able to grow old with the research, but alas, that was not my fate.
So it was a real trip into the memory field of research passion, commitment, energised enthusiasm and hard slog. I seemed to have fallen in love with each sub-field I worked in, though I always thought that my heart was lost to malaria vaccine research. Now, some thirty-five years hence, news of a reasonably effective malaria vaccine, directed against particularly susceptible epitopes of the circumsporozite (CS) protein (the circumsporite is the sickle-shaped protozoan that emerges from the salivary glands of mosquitos into the new host’s capillaries, where antibodies elicited by the vaccine will bind it, hindering its migration to the liver where it would otherwise differentiate into a new multitude of parasites that will subsequently emerge to infect erythrocytes and cause the awful malaria symptoms). Such a long wait!
I’d wanted, back at the end of the ’80s, to identify novel malarial proteins expressed on the host’s liver cell, to target those infected cells for cytotoxic effector cells to eliminate, and to create a vaccine with the potential for dramatic efficacy. I still think this is the way forward, probably with the technology offered by the BioNTech mRNA vaccine delivery system so convincingly effective in generating a protective anti-Covid response, but in the meantime any possible vaccine with even limited efficacy against malaria, has to be a great advance.
And so I’m left with my memories, and occasional updates from the world of scientific research that reach the popular media, but the request from a writers group to learn more about our amazing immune system really twigged some glad receptors in my ageing brain. I was so delighted to amble back through those times, to remember the challenges, and the delight when a solution appeared, and when, of course, new and even more exciting questions could then be asked.
Perhaps this is why my delight was so pleasing, the other day when we investigated the lovely ice-crystal facilitating fungus, to be able to appreciate yet another manifestation of the fruition of the scientific method. As I tried to teach in my faltering secondary school efforts, we are all scientists, after all.
The world of adventurous exploration into the unknown should be open to everyone.
Leave a Reply