COLUMBIA — MU scientist Emma Teixeiro says conducting research is like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. If that’s the case, she found a corner piece.
Teixeiro’s research deals with how T cells, or cells that work in the immune system, send out signals to transform themselves into memory T cells that protect humans from getting re-infected with a disease. Although researchers were aware of this process, Teixeiro’s research delved deeper by identifying some of the specific signals that induce these lymphocytes to differentiate into memory cells.
Michael Misfeldt, the associate dean for faculty affairs at MU’s School of Medicine, said Teixeiro’s research is critical in immunology because it allows scientists to learn more about specific memory cells and their life spans, which then allows researchers to create more effective vaccines.
Because of her research, Teixerio’s work was chosen for publication in the Jan. 23 issue of Science magazine, a prestigious peer-review journal that accepted only 7 percent of its 12,500 submissions last year.
Teixeiro’s husband and co-author, Mark Daniels, an assistant professor of molecular microbiology, immunology and surgery at MU’s School of Medicine, said getting published in Science is a significant accomplishment.
“Getting a Science article is a big deal,” he said. “It means the work you do is appreciated by your field, so it’s very satisfying when you’re involved in something that gets published at that level.”
Teixeiro said she was honored by the experience, but most of all she hoped that other researchers would be able to use her research to advance the field.
The most practical use for her research now, she said, would be in the development of more effective vaccines.
“If we (can find out) what the signals are that generate very efficient memory T cells, or a lot of memory T cells, or memory cells that will live (longer), well then we can apply that to create a vaccine that will protect you longer,” she said.
Daniels warned these better vaccines are not just around the corner.
“From the point of view of what we’re looking at, (immunotherapies) are the first applications that we can see. It’s long term; it’s not like we’re going to go out tomorrow and do that,” he said.
Although she doesn’t expect it to happen soon, Teixeiro said her research might also be used for tumor therapies.
“I cannot say that what I have is going to save the world, because it's not going to, but it is just a little piece of the puzzle,” she said.
“Maybe by knowing the mechanism, maybe we could apply this to any kind of vaccine … ," she said. "All (T cells) come to be memory cells using the same type of mechanisms, so it may be, I don’t know.”