Daniela Weiskopf, Research Assistant Professor, Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research, La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI), La Jolla, California
Recipient of the 2021 Junior Principal Investigator ASciNA Award
March 17th, 2022, 10:00 AM Pacific / 12:00 PM Central / 1:00 PM Eastern / 18:00h MEZ
Vaccination and infection are two different paths to immunity. Understanding human immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 RNA vaccines is of interest for a panoply of reasons. mRNA vaccines have demonstrated impressive protection from COVID-19; however, durability of immunity has been a major unknown.
Given evidence that antibodies, CD4+ T cells, and CD8+ T cells can each participate in protective immunity against COVID-19, we measured acute and memory SARS-CoV-2 Spike-specific antibodies, CD4+ T cells and CD8+ T cells in the blood of subjects who received a COVID-19 vaccine. Lastly, subjects with pre-existing cross-reactive CD4+ T cell memory had increased CD4+ T cell and antibody responses to the vaccine, demonstrating the biological relevance of SARS-CoV-2–cross-reactive CD4+ T cells. This work expands our understanding of immune memory to mRNA vaccine in humans, the biological relevance of crossreactive T cells, and possible timing of boosters.
I have devoted my career understanding the T cell response to viral pathogens and spent the last sixteen years studying infectious viruses relevant to human health and disease. In 2009, I received my PhD in Immunology from Innsbruck Medical University, Austria, where I performed research analyzing posttranslational modifications of virus-derived epitopes and modulation of the T cell immune response during aging. Following my PhD, I obtained post-doctoral training at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI) where my efforts were dedicated to characterize human dengue virus-specific CD8+ and CD4+ T cell responses in samples from areas with endemic dengue infection and following experimental dengue vaccination. One important outcome of these studies was the development of dengue specific epitope megapools (MPs) that allow the testing of virus specific T cells in small amounts of blood irrespective of HLA restriction of the donor and infecting serotype. I have further expanded my repertoire to study Zika and Chikungunya virus specific T cell responses and also became interested in the effects of pre-existing immunity against dengue virus to subsequent zika virus infection.
As a Research Assistant Professor in the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccine Research at LJI I have focused most recently on the characterization of SARS-CoV-2 specific T cell responses. Understanding adaptive immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 is important for vaccine development efforts, interpreting disease pathogenesis, and calibration of future pandemic control measures.