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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Finding out how antibodies work

Published: 11 December 2008
Dr Jessica Teeling

Lecturer is passionate about inflammation

Lecturer Dr Jessica Teeling is passionate about her work in inflammation finding out how antibodies work. ‘When you’ve discovered something, you want to tell the world about it. I aim to inspire our students to get involved in research right from an early stage. You don’t have to be a doctor to help people.’

The young woman scientist from the Netherlands has just been appointed as a lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences after four years post-doctoral research with Professor Hugh Perry.

Jessica was already based in Southampton, undertaking research at the Tenovus Cancer Sciences laboratory at the General Hospital where she studied how anti-cancer antibodies work. She was then offered the opportunity to work in the Central Nervous System Inflammation Group, and used her knowledge of immunology and inflammation to focus on two areas of research: firstly, the mechanism in which the brain talks to the body, and secondly, the role of antibodies in the central nervous system.

She will now combine teaching students with her own research into the role of antibodies in neurological diseases and/or how they can be used to modulate disease and improve brain function. “It has already been proven that antibodies can make a difference in cancer treatment”, she says, “if you think about Herceptin in breast cancer. I want to investigate if they can be effective in other conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and the autoimmune disease lupus."

At school in Zaandam, near Amsterdam, Jessica was good at chemistry and biology and developed the ambition of becoming a scientist. Her mother was an assistant to an eye surgeon, and Jessica was attracted to a medical career. ‘At the same time, my family always enjoyed the outdoor life so I was around nature a great deal, and became interested in biology,’ she added.

However, her career path turned out to be an unusual one. Initially, Jessica took a degree designed for future biomedical research technicians. ‘After a spell in work, I decided I wanted to be the researcher, not the technician so took another degree in Medical Biology at the University of Amsterdam.’ Her placement was in a research institution looking at gene therapy and examining the narrowing of blood vessels that cause heart attacks. However, it was an essay assignment tracing the history of immunology to the 1940s in dusty archives that sparked an interest in this area of research and a desire to go on to take a PhD degree in Immunology.

She took her doctorate at the central laboratory of the Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service in Amsterdam, then went on to lead a team of research scientists at Genmab, a company developing therapeutic antibodies to tackle a wide range of diseases such as cancers and autoimmune diseases.

‘I think my background in commercial companies as well as academia is an asset, especially when it comes to talking to students about the various career options available,’ she said.

Research is very important to Jessica and she is pleased her lecturer contract allows plenty of time for her own investigations alongside colleagues in the CNS Inflammation Group and the Cancer Sciences division of the School of Medicine. An innovative development has been collaboration with the University’s Optoelectronics Research Centre, developing technologies to increase understanding of neuro-inflammation in the brain.

‘I hope my research will build bridges between several groups and schools within the University to create challenging multi-disciplinary research projects to find answers to problems in controlling brain function in health and disease,’ she said.

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