Professor of Vaccinology, Programme Director for Wellcome Trust Strategic Award on Human and Veterinary Vaccine Development, The Jenner Institute, University of Oxford
After a first degree in Biological Sciences at the University of East Anglia, specializing in Microbiology, and a PhD on lipid metabolism in the Biochemistry Department at the University of Hull, Prof Gilbert worked on pentose metabolism in brewing yeasts at the Brewing Research Foundation in Surrey. This led to a research post at the Leicester Biocentre, using molecular biology techniques to study heterologous protein expression in yeast.
Prof Gilbert spent four years at Delta Biotechnology in Nottingham, working on production of recombinant human blood proteins in yeast before moving to Adrian Hill’s group at the University of Oxford in 1994.
Prof Gilbert’s chief research interest is the development of vaccines that work by inducing strong and protective T cell responses. This has included work on DNA vaccines and virus-like protein particles carrying multiple T cell epitopes on their surface, as well as the viral vaccine vectors Modified Vaccinia virus Ankara (MVA), fowlpox and adenovirus.
Following the discovery that heterologous prime-boost immunisation, in which the same antigen is delivered in first one vector and then another, is highly immunogenic in pre-clinical studies, she designed antigen inserts for, and produced DNA, MVA and fowlpox vaccines which were then manufactured for clinical trials in both the malaria and tuberculosis vaccine clinical programmes.
More recently Prof Gilbert has begun to apply the same principles of vaccine development, pre-clinical and clinical testing to new vaccines against influenza. The currently available ‘flu vaccines work by inducing antibodies to highly variable surface proteins of the virus, and slightly different versions have to be manufactured each year to keep up with changes in the virus. However the internal proteins of the ‘flu virus, which are produced inside infected cells, are well conserved, not only from one year to the next, but also between seasonal ‘flu viruses and those normally found only in avian species. Using these antigens, it should be possible to make a vaccine that protects against all subtypes of influenza, and ultimately, to stop a new pandemic in its tracks.