Scientific Switching from West to East and Mouse to Man

Oct 25, 2015

Leigh Ann Jones

Research Scientist

Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology

The IMCB was established in 1987 at the National University of Singapore before becoming an autonomous research institute of A*STAR and moving to Biopolis in 2004. The IMCB strives to maintain the scientific excellence of principal investigator-driven research and at the same time aims to promote collaborative team-based projects of medical and industrial relevance. Funded primarily by the A*STAR Biomedical Research Council, the IMCB’s research activities focus on four major fields: animal models of development and disease, cancer genetics and therapeutics, cell biology in health and disease, and structural biology and drug discovery.

Section of a human scalp biopsy depicting hair follicles stained with fluorescent antibodies for a cell proliferation marker (Ki67; green), an oxidative respiration marker (cytochrome c oxidase subunit 2; red) and a nuclear marker (Hoechst; cyan).

Section of a human scalp biopsy depicting hair follicles stained with fluorescent antibodies for a cell proliferation marker (Ki67; green), an oxidative respiration marker (cytochrome c oxidase subunit 2; red) and a nuclear marker (Hoechst; cyan).

© 2015 A*STAR Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology

A joint love of South East Asia and science fueled my decision to join A*STAR back in 2010. I had been working in the field of immunology research in Scotland since obtaining my PhD when a colleague in Edinburgh who had been traveling through the region first mentioned A*STAR to me. On doing some further investigation I was impressed at the commitment to science and technology research being displayed in Singapore and, having visited South East Asia previously, I was excited to make the move.

I joined the lab of Dr Maria Lafaille within the Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) to take part in a project utilizing a reporter mouse model to investigate the cytokine called IL-21 which was tagged with a fluorescent protein to allow for tracking. Cytokines are chemical messengers instructing the cells of our immune system where to go and what to do. In particular, our mouse model demonstrated that IL-21 was produced by immune cells called T lymphocytes in the intestine. The immunology of the gut has always fascinated me. Mucosal surfaces are the interface between the body and the environment and, as such, mechanisms must exist to allow defense against invading microbes yet prevent overreactions to non-noxious substances such as food and our own resident bugs. The latter is especially interesting and research regarding the microbiota is currently a hot topic across many fields including immunology. A plethora of publications have highlighted the crosstalk between the immune system and the microbiota of the gut with many reporting that a healthy population of gut microbes is essential for a fully functioning immune system. My work, currently under review, added to this knowledge by showing that treatment of our reporter mouse with antibiotics to deplete the gut microbiota, actually led to a reduction in the number of T cells expressing IL-21.

As well as heading my own research project, I have also been lucky to be included in a number of other projects within the highly collaborative environment at SIgN. In particular, I am a co-author on papers involving studies of Immunoglobulin E (IgE) and allergy, the autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and immunology of parasitic diseases such as malaria.

Recently I made the move to join Dr John Connolly’s lab at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) within A*STAR as I am keen to apply my immunology skills to more human focused research. Working in a translational immunology lab for the first time has been exciting with multiple projects always on the go. Thus far these have included finding immune correlates of protection for a novel pandemic influenza vaccine, engaging emerging technological platforms to discover innate immune markers in Dengue virus infection and investigating the role of oxidative stress in human hair follicles with P & G. Although the multi-tasking aspect of my new environment is challenging I am lucky to be surrounded by an engaged and highly skilled team and I am confident that my career with A*STAR shall continue to be a happy and successful one.

Dr Leigh Jones is a research scientist in the Translational Immunology Lab at the Institute for Molecular and Cell Biology. Originally hailing from Scotland where she obtained her PhD in Immunoparasitology at the University of Strathclyde she has lived in Singapore since 2010 furthering her experience in the field of immunology in the context of a number of disease systems. This is now being applied within the context of human translational research within John Connolly’s lab which provides an immunomonitoring platform for clinical studies and industrial projects by utilizing a diverse array of genomic, proteomic and cell based assays.