The Immunologist

David Miles works in Malawi. He studies how the immune systems of children cope with disease.

I came to Malawi this year, to work in a research institute in the grounds of the largest hospital in the country. I’m interested in what factors affect the development of African children’s immune systems, and whether the use of vaccines can be improved. Infectious diseases still cause a considerable amount of disease and death, especially in young children.

Infectious diseases are still behind a high number of deaths in Africa.

Currently I’m trying to set up a project to study HIV in mothers during pregnancy in the large majority of cases in which HIV is not transmitted to the infant. I’ve also studied viral infections that don’t cause disease but may change the effectiveness of vaccines for other diseases.

Much of my day is involved with organising; meetings, emails or telephone conversations with the many people who will be involved, but mainly the staff of government health services. I also spend time developing and testing the laboratory techniques that I will need for the study. As time goes on, I’ll expect the emphasis of my work to shift from administration to more work in the laboratory.

Meanwhile, I continue to work on results that I collected from previous studies. This involves analysis, writing papers and editing these in response to comments from co-authors or peer-reviewers. A good result is one that confirms or thoroughly disproves a hypothesis, or brings up an unexpected idea. Getting a paper accepted in a scientific journal is wonderful. But it doesn’t happen very often!
On a bad day, I’ll run into a logistical or political problem that sets everything back, or find that a mistake in the laboratory has made it impossible to interpret a set of results. Or I’ll get a paper rejected.

David Miles, post-doctoral researcher in immunology, University of Liverpool

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