This is the career story of Aakanksha Jain, who is doing her PhD in Immunology at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
I believe that research in basic science has all the qualities that one can ask for in a dream job. The pursuit to find the unknown is not only highly engaging and thrilling but also gives you a real shot at making a difference on a large scale.
The outstanding faculty including many Nobel laureates, National Academy members and Howard Hughes investigators at UTSW put it on top of my list. The umbrella program at UTSW was another very attractive feature to me. I did my bachelors degree in Biotechnology in India. Coming in from an engineering background I wanted the opportunity to explore different fields of research before joining a specific program. The graduate school curriculum is designed for such open minded people, which is something not many schools offer.
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“There is a deep seated culture of collaboration that helps projects move forward faster and equips us to take new directions.”
In my research, I am trying to understand how our immune system, specifically T cells, start attacking our own cells in diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, etc. I have identified the immune checkpoints that keep the T cell responses restricted in a non-pathogenic scenario while making sure to mount a rapid response during infections. The idea is to unravel basic biology of T cell responses in order to inspire improved therapeutic options for both autoimmune diseases as well as immune suppression.
The research labs associated with the program have made significant contributions to the field of innate sensing, autoimmunity, as well as host-commensal interactions. The faculty is very friendly and focused on quality training. Having access to cutting edge technology like a highly advanced sequencing core, germ-free mouse facility, etc. allows us to ask challenging questions that have never been possible to be answered before