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Student Profile in Mechanisms of Antibody Modulation of Mycobacterium Tuberculosis in Human Macrophages

Gabrielle Lessen

Immunology Graduate Program

Mentor: Lenette Lu, M.D., Ph.D.
Undergraduate Degree: Biochemistry
Undergraduate Institution: Texas A&M University
Hometown: Alexandria, LA
Awards/Fellowships: Undergraduate Awards: 2018 Earl Rudder Memorial Outstanding Student Award; Senior Merit Award, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Nestor R. Bottino Award; TAMU Dept of Biochemistry and Genetics; Goldwater Scholarship Nominee- Texas A&M University; Beckman Research Scholar (Fellowship); Graduate Awards: Streilein Award for Best Qualifying Exam, Immunology Graduate Program; Appointee to the Immunology T32 Training Grant

Gabrielle Lessen

How did you become interested in science and/or research?

Growing up, I was always fascinated by the idea of discovery and scientific innovation. I would watch TV shows like Dexter's Laboratory and marvel at the experiments being done and the ideas he would chase. In high school, learning about the fundamental understanding of our world through my chemistry and biology courses excited me. I decided to pursue a degree in Biochemistry at Texas A&M so that I could understand mechanistically the processes that drive life. In my first semester, I also joined the DeBakey Research Scholars Program, specifically designed to introduce students without prior experience to the research enterprise. I worked on a project that aimed to mathematically model the fluid dynamics of kidney function. I was fascinated by the research process and the critical thinking skills it mandated, even that early in my undergraduate career. At that point, I was hooked! I knew I wanted to pursue a career in research, and more specifically, that I wanted to be involved in research that would directly impact how we treat illnesses. With this goal, I moved to expand my research skills by changing from a computational focus to a hands-on "wet lab" experience. I joined the lab of Dr. Dorothy Shippen through the Beckman Research Scholars Program, where I spent the next three years studying telomeres, the repetitive capping sequences at the end of DNA. The basic science skills that I learned in the Shippen lab then enabled me to apply to the UT Southwestern Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program in the summer of 2017, where I worked in the lab of Dr. James Brugarolas to study clear cell renal cell carcinoma. My time at UT Southwestern cemented my passion for translational research; being involved in utilizing the ideas found in basic science research to develop more effective diagnostics and treatments for human illness was an indescribable experience. The SURF program convinced me to pursue an MD-PhD dual degree so that I could marry the innovation of research with the knowledge of human anatomy and physiology to improve quality of medical treatments for patients. The following year, I entered the UTSW MSTP program, where I have been able to pursue my passion for research ever since!

Please describe your research.

Tuberculosis (TB) is a respiratory illness that is estimated to be present in one-fourth of the world's population and leads to over 1.5 million deaths yearly. Despite TB prevalence and mortality, a critical need for an effective vaccine and more sensitive diagnostic methods still exists. Traditional understanding of TB immunology has focused on cellular immunity, but this emphasis on T cell-mediated mechanisms is insufficient alone to explain the spectrum of TB clinical outcomes. My research aims to expand our understanding of TB immunology's contribution to clinical variability by dissecting how antibody-mediated mechanisms impact bacterial burden in macrophages, the main cellular niche for infection.

Why did you choose UT Southwestern?

As a top-tier research institution, UTSW was my first choice for graduate school. The breadth and diversity of research available here makes it an ideal environment for a trainee to find a topic that they are passionate about studying. In addition, the collaborative environment at UTSW is incomparable; the accessibility of senior researchers and their willingness to share knowledge and resources is truly a marvel. UTSW research mentors are truly dedicated to helping every trainee succeed and gain a great foundation in research, and this reason was a major factor for my decision to come here.

What do you think makes the Immunology Program one of the best?

The UTSW Immunology Graduate Program has continuously proven itself to be a world-class program. From Bruce Beutler to Lora Hooper to James Chen (just to name a few), it is the home of leaders in their respective fields and the epicenter of groundbreaking immunological research. Not only do we have fantastic researchers, but the willingness of these faculty to support and mentor students is astonishing. I am confident that my time in this program is providing me with the immunological knowledge and research foundation necessary for me to succeed after graduation.

What do you love about the Immunology Program?

I genuinely believe that each of the faculty members in the UTSW Immunology Program is truly invested in graduate student education and training. It is rare to find a program that is not only committed to producing top-tier research, but also focused on individual trainees' success and growth as scientists. It makes me truly happy to be a member of the UTSW Immunology Graduate Program.

– Gabrielle Lessen

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