SAN DIEGO — Dr. Susan Kaech is conducting critical immunobiology research related to the COVID-19 pandemic in a lab that was born out of one of the most important vaccine achievements in modern history: The Salk Institute founded by polio vaccine inventor Jonas Salk.
What You Need To Know
- Dr. Kaech is a professor and director of the NOMIS Center for Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis at the Salk Institute
- She is conducting critical immunobiology research related to the COVID-19
- The Salk Institute was founded by polio vaccine inventor Jonas Salk
- Dr. Kaech’s team has studied immune response to the SARS and MERS outbreaks as well
“This is the closest we’ve come since polio where the understanding and the appreciation of how important that vaccine is going to be to changing our lives is being felt by people,” Dr. Kaech said.
Dr. Kaech is a professor and director of the NOMIS Center for Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis at the Salk Institute. Her work is not in the development of vaccines, but rather in studying how our immune systems respond to pathogens like the novel coronavirus.
“We focus a lot on viral infection and try to understand how long-term immunity forms,” Dr. Kaech said.
After being infected with a virus like COVID-19, Dr. Kaech said the human body produces what are known as Memory T and Memory B cells. The cells essentially memorize the virus and produce antibodies to fight it. Then, those cells are stored away in our tissues and have been discovered in everything from our skin, to our lungs, to our gut.
“If you should re-encounter the pathogen for a second time, they’re right there at the front door, first in line,” Dr. Kaech said. “We’re trying to elucidate how these cells form.”
Dr. Kaech’s team has studied immune response to the SARS and MERS outbreaks as well, and scientists found memory cells persisting more than a decade in some of those infected.
Her hope is that the new vaccines can help people produce long-term immunity against COVID-19. She said it disheartens her when she hears about public distrust over the vaccine. The polio vaccine at times faced similar hurdles.
“All the oversight and the regulation that goes into a clinical trial needs to be understood, and maybe we’re not doing as good of a job as we could to explain that,” Dr. Kaech said.
Dr. Kaech said her institution is proof that vaccines can save and change lives. She is proud her work is contributing to a better understanding of COVID-19, and how we might become protected from the virus long-term.