Mary Gates Endowment For Students

Jessica Keane

Mary Gates Research Scholar, Winter 2024

Research Project: Epitope mapping of the Treponema Pallidum Tp0435 lipoprotein to inform vaccine development

Project Description: Syphilis, a chronic sexually transmitted infection caused by the spirochete bacterium Treponema pallidum is growing in incidence in high-income countries like the United States and remains endemic and highly prevalent in low-income countries, primarily sub-Saharan Africa and South America. Despite being treatable, syphilis is associated with significant fetal and perinatal mortality in low-income settings due to congenital transmission of the infection. A preventative vaccine could improve disease control strategies. We are exploring the use of a chimeric antigen, composed of a scaffolding/carrier lipoprotein of T. pallidum, named Tp0435, and a series of protective epitopes from other T. pallidum antigens previously investigated and patented by our laboratory. Here, using overlapping synthetic peptides spanning the length of the T. pallidum Tp0435 mature lipoprotein, an abundant antigen known to induce an immunodominant humoral and cellular response during infection, we evaluated which Tp0435 linear epitopes are most significantly recognized by the host antibodies. This work allowed us to identify the most prominent regions to replace to derive a recombinant chimeric antigen to be used in immunization/challenge experiments.

What have you learned throughout your research project?
My project has taught me the importance of dedication to my work and perseverance despite any obstacles that may arise. Additionally, I have learned so much about collaboration and the value of using your mentors and peers around you to solve problems together. Never be afraid to lean on those around you, I found the most success in my project through collaborative engagements in my lab!
What piece of advice do you have for future applicants?
One piece of advice I would give is to write about your ‘why’ behind your research. Many students engage in exciting and impactful research at the UW, but writing about your motivations and the personal impact of your work can set you apart as a driven and curious student and researcher.