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Steps Magazine: CSUSM Research is Leading the Way for Life Saving Vaccines

The reason why some people get sick and others don’t has fascinated doctors and scientists for centuries. Today’s researchers, however, are homing in on some explanations. Among them is Bianca Mothé, professor of biology at Cal State San Marcos. Under a four-year, $444,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Mothé and CSUSM students are studying how sets of cells called “helper cells” provide a natural defense against some diseases. Mothé’s research is striving to discover how to activate or stimulate helper cells to increase the immune response in all subjects. It may lead to the design of vaccines that can combat such chronic infections as AIDS and Hepatitis C.Dr. Mothé’s interest began while a post-graduate student conducting research on AIDS virus infected monkeys. That’s where she observed how some animals exhibited a natural protection against the disease. “Their immune system somehow was controlling the virus better. These animals inhibited viral replication and didn’t let it get out of control,” she explains. The animals that exhibited the natural defense all had in common a genetic marker that resulted in a more vigorous defense by naturally occurring “helper cells.”“Not only were the helper cells not destroyed by the virus, but we could find viral specific response,” says Dr. Mothé. “The cells were actively fighting the disease,” and they were doing it even better than monkeys that had been vaccinated.” On joining CSUSM in 2003, Dr. Mothé wanted to continue research into helper cells and find out what makes them so important. A three-year grant received in 2004 presented her with the resources to do that using a mice model of infection in place of monkeys. The latest grant enables her to continue, while also providing practical experience for both graduate and undergraduate students at Cal State San Marcos.“It is a bit uncommon to have undergrads involved in research that will be published,” she says. But that’s one of the reasons she came to Cal State San Marcos. “I think we provide a good combination of research and teaching by bringing them into our lab and getting them ready for the real world.”