Dr Kirsty Mehring-Le Doare
I am a late starter to medicine, having worked for Oxfam for ten years prior to starting medical school. My plan was always to divide my time between the NHS and research into neonatal infection in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs). I applied for the ISSF fellowship as it gave me an opportunity to develop a research pilot in the Gambia that would provide data for a full Wellcome Trust application. I would recommend using the year to find out if you enjoy working in research in difficult settings and use your supervisors to guide you. My supervisor, Prof. Kampmann was particularly supportive, especially when it came to juggling family and research in another country.
Group B streptococcus (GBS) is the major cause of death and illness in babies under the age of 3 months. It is passed from mother to baby at birth. Vaccinating the mother against the major disease-causing serotypes could prevent the disease, as the mother would pass antibody via the placenta to her infant. Unfortunately, we cannot role out the current vaccines in development because a phase III efficacy trial would need large numbers of women (over 60,000) to work out how much vaccine is needed to be effective. A useful way of getting the vaccine to the mothers who need it is to develop a laboratory test that could measure the amount of antibody needed to prevent infants from getting GBS disease. My study aims to develop a functional antibody test to work out the amount of antibody required to prevent babies from being colonized by GBS and so preventing GBS disease. The ISSF allowed me to develop the assay that we could then use in a larger group of women to test the hypothesis that higher antibody reduces infant colonization.
During the fellowship I worked at the MRC Unit, The Gambia. I had regular contact via Skype with my supervisor and in person when she visited the unit each month. A lot of the initial work involved setting up the assay and I was put in contact with many people who had the expertise to help me with this aspect. Following the ISSF I successfully applied to the Wellcome Trust for a Clinical Research Training Fellowship. My supervisor ensured I had plenty of interview practice prior to the big day that really helped to calm my nerves and work on my presentation skills at interview.
I am in the final year of my PhD and have just got a job as a consultant in paediatric infectious diseases with research time. I intend to apply for post-doctoral grants to continue the work on GBS assays that I hope will be useful in getting the vaccine to Africa and reduce neonatal infection where it is most needed.