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Professor Jayne Hope on diseases of cattle

Developing new vaccines, investigating tuberculosis and integrating human and veterinary medicine.

Professor Jayne hope with three of her successful postgrad students
Professor Jayne hope with three of her successful postgrad students.

Professor Jayne Hope is Deputy Head of the Research Division of Infection and Immunity as well as a group leader at the Roslin Institute and Personal Chair of Immunology at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. In this interview, she tells Marketing and Communications Summer Intern Steven Rae about her work in understanding the immune response to two important diseases and developing vaccines.        

How would you describe your work in a nutshell?

My research focuses on diseases of cattle, and mostly I’ve been interested in diseases that have been caused by Mycobacteria. There are two main diseases, one of which is tuberculosis, which is very similar to the disease that we see in humans. The other disease I work on is called paratuberculosis, which also has a parallel to a disease we see in humans called Crohn’s disease. These are two very important diseases which affect the economy, particularly the dairy farming industry, and currently we have no vaccines. So my research is to understand the immune response to these pathogens so that we can create better vaccines in the future.

Are there vaccines that currently exist, or is it a matter of improving the ones that currently exist?

There are vaccines that could be used for TB in cattle including the BCG vaccine, which is already being used for humans. There are some political reasons that mean we don’t use that, although we know it is a really good vaccine. Part of what we are looking into is how that vaccine works and if we can delve into why it works, then we can use that knowledge to make a new vaccine. When it comes to paratuberculosis, there are vaccines which are not very effective so it’s important to understand what we need to target when we make new vaccines.

How did you get into that field?

Ever since I was about four or five I wanted to be a vet, and I really liked science at school. But, I needed a really good maths qualification to get into vet school. Fortunately, I had a really good careers advisor who advised me to do a biology degree instead, and I got into infectious diseases from there. Since I always wanted to do veterinary studies, when the opportunity came up to do cattle infectious diseases that was the perfect opportunity for me.

What is the biggest change you’ve experienced since doing your PhD in 1994 and now?

Technology has changed really, really significantly. I guess one of the really exciting things for me is that, when I started my PhD, virtually everybody that studied immunology used mice as a model, and most infectious diseases studies were done in mice, whereas now people are recognising that there are much better models. For example, cows are a really good model for studying human TB.

So what kind of projects are you looking at, at the moment?

We’ve got multiple projects going on at the moment. Some of which are related to tuberculosis in cows, which is my main area of research. I’ve also been collaborating with people at the Vet School, and we’re looking at tuberculosis in cats and dogs. So lots of tuberculosis work!

One project we’re doing currently is probably the most exciting. We’re using a surgical model in cows to access cells that carry vaccines away from the skin towards where the immune response is switched on. So we’ve set up this surgical model so we can access the cells in real time from the vaccinated animal and we’re using that to ask questions like “we know this vaccine induces protective immunity, and we know another vaccine doesn’t, and what’s the difference in how those cells are responding, in what genes they’re expressing and what molecules are they producing?”. This helps us get a handle at single cell level at what makes a good vaccine and we can use that information if we want to create a new vaccine. That’s a really exciting project.

It must be interesting seeing something that you’ve been working on for so long develop.

Yes, I keep coming back to the dendritic cells – the master regulators of the immune response – that I first started working on in my PhD, and although I didn’t really know much about them at the time, my research keeps coming back to them and there’s a theme throughout my whole career. It’s quite exciting to have a focus like that.

Do you think you’ll ever finish up that piece of work or will there always be something to continue?

There’s always something new, always something different to discover. And that’s the really exciting thing about science, you never do get to the end.

Going into the future, is there anything else you still really want to achieve?

So, I think what I’d really like to do is integrate human and veterinary medicine a bit more. The veterinary diseases I’m interested in have human parallels and there is a lot of interest in the ‘One Health’ approach, looking at animal and humans in the context of diseases that affect both.

What are the main challenges you have come across in your research?

I’d say funding – everybody probably says that! You’ve got to be really tenacious and keep on applying. It is really difficult, especially when you’re starting your career and every time you write a grant application you get a rejection letter! Knowing the funding success rate is only about 20 per cent can be tough.

And, finally, if you weren’t a scientist, what would you be doing?

I think if I wasn’t a scientist I’d probably still go for being a vet, and I’d try and combine the two aspects together. I think there’s a lot of things that vets can learn from scientists in the animal field and vice-versa. It’s still in my heart as a thing that I would like to do.

Related links

Improving vaccine-induced responses in cattle

The first ever global Zoonotic TB roadmap