RSE Saltire Early Career Fellowship for Vivien Shek

Published on 1 October 2021

Vivien Shek, a second year PhD student, has been awarded a Royal Society of Edinburgh Saltire Early Career Fellowship.

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Vivien’s research focusses on two key areas:

  • identifying the molecules and molecular pathways by which parasites interfere with the host immune system
  • the potential application of parasite derived proteins as therapies in inflammatory diseases such as allergic asthma

She is undertaking this research in the lab of Dr Henry McSorley in the Division of Cell Signalling and Immunology and is co-supervised by Dr Hermelijn Smits at Leiden University.

The RSE Saltire Research Awards are funded by the Scottish Government with the focus on the next generation of researchers who ‘will bring fresh ideas and new perspectives into the established research arena.’ Many of the projects span a number of countries, supporting Scotland-Europe research collaboration. The Fellowship will allow Vivien to combine the expertise from Dundee and Leiden, cementing collaboration between Scotland and the Netherlands.

“I’m delighted to be awarded an RSE Saltire Early Career Fellowship, this is a huge step for my career and will allow me to work with academics across Europe. In my project I will be using proteomics to identify new immunosuppressive proteins from blood-dwelling schistosome parasites, which could help develop new treatments for asthma. I’m really excited to join Dr Hermelijn Smits and her team at Leiden University Medical Center,” said Vivien.

“IPSE” is a previously identified immunosuppressive protein secreted by schistosomes. IPSE controls the host response by entering host immune cell nuclei, altering cellular activity. Vivien proposes that other parasite proteins modulate host responses by entering their nuclei. In this project, she will treat host immune cells with schistosome secretions, identifying schistosome proteins which have translocated into host cell nuclei, hypothesising that these will be a new family of immunomodulatory proteins.

The project has the potential to identify a new family of immunomodulatory proteins from parasites. This would have a large impact on the fields of immunology, parasitology, and asthma research. Identified proteins could be used as new treatments to prevent asthma, and so could have large medical impacts on this intractable and common disease.

Story category Student work/achievement