Joannah Fergusson

Graduate Research Prize Winners Autumn 2014

Joannah Fergusson

I grew up in the Orkney Islands in the north of Scotland, where as a child I collected moss and other ‘specimens’ to examine under my first microscope.  I discovered an interest in diseases upon watching a video about the eradication of smallpox in my biology class – I think I was the only one of the class to find it interesting!  This led me to apply to study Cellular and Molecular Medicine at Bristol University, where I took up a Great Western Scholarship. 

It was during this degree that I became fascinated with the immune system, and I specialised accordingly to graduate with a degree in Immunology, winning the British Society for Immunology undergraduate prize.  In my final year I undertook a research project on the immunosuppressive tumour microenvironment, which gave me my first experience of research.  With encouragement from the lecturers at Bristol, I applied to continue immunology research on the Wellcome Trust DPhil programme in Infection, Immunology and Translational Medicine at Oxford University, taking up a place at St Edmund Hall in 2010. 

During my first year I undertook projects in HIV transmission and chemokine biology, before settling in Professor Klenerman’s lab to study CD161 expressing T cells.  CD161 is a lectin expressed by a quarter of all T cells, across CD8, CD4 and gd subtypes, and including a novel population known as Mucosal Associated Invariant T (MAIT) cells.  These cells are implicated in a variety of diseases from infectious to autoimmune.  During my DPhil I identified these seemingly disparate cell types to be related by a shared transcriptional and functional phenotype, marked by expression of CD161.  During this study I used technologies such as microarray and CyTOF, and travelled to Harvard and Stanford Universities to benefit from their expertise is these areas.  I was also involved in investigating the role of MAIT cells in transplantation and in defining a MAIT cell related population of CD8 T cells enriched in Hepatitis C infection and within the healthy gut.It was during this degree that I became fascinated with the immune system, and I specialised accordingly to graduate with a degree in Immunology, winning the British Society for Immunology undergraduate prize.  In my final year I undertook a research project on the immunosuppressive tumour microenvironment, which gave me my first experience of research.  With encouragement from the lecturers at Bristol, I applied to continue immunology research on the Wellcome Trust DPhil programme in Infection, Immunology and Translational Medicine at Oxford University, taking up a place at St Edmund Hall in 2010.

My DPhil in the Nuffield Department of Medicine has provided me with expert training in both research and further transferrable skills, and has given me opportunities I would never have anticipated.  I have benefited immensely from working both with my colleagues in the lab and with such a supportive and inspiring supervisor.  I have been very privileged to spend these years in the Oxford academic community, meeting and working with such a wide range of diverse and interesting people. 

Publications

A. Kurioka, J.E. Ussher, C. Cosgrove, C. Clough, J.R. Fergusson, K.E. Smith et al. (2014) MAIT cells are licensed through granzyme exchange to kill bacterially sensitized targets.  Mucosal Immunology doi:10.1038/mi.2014.81

N. Rajoriya, J. R. Fergusson, J.A. Leithead, P. Klenerman (2014) Gamma delta T-lymphocytes in Hepatitis C and chronic liver disease. Frontiers in Immunology doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2014.00400

L. J. Walker, E. Marrinan, M. Muenchhoff, J.R. Fergusson, H. Kloverpris et al. (2013) CD8 alpha alpha expression marks terminally differentiated human CD8+ T cells expanded in chronic viral infection Frontiers in Immunology doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2013.00223

C. Cosgrove, J.E. Ussher, A. Rauch, K. Kartner, A. Kurioka, M.H. Huhn, K. Adelmann, Y.H. Kang, J.R. Fergusson et al. (2013) Early and nonreversible decrease of CD161++/MAIT cells in HIV infection. Blood 121(6):951-61