Cell biologist Emily Sey is researching the immune response to life-threatening fungal infections – she describes how big picture thinking helps her take every setback and success in her stride.
In my current research, I investigate how the immune system responds to life-threatening fungal infections. Most commonly known fungal infections, such as athletes’ foot, are superficial. Our research focuses on lesser-known invasive fungal infections that penetrate the blood stream and organs. With limited diagnostic testing and therapeutic options, this subgroup of diseases takes a significant toll on human health, and mortality rates remain as high as 90% in some patient groups. Improving our understanding of the pathology of these invasive fungal infections will be vital in developing new treatments and improving patient outcomes.
As a Ph.D. student, you quickly find that things don’t always work in the lab. The highly explorative nature of research means that you fail to achieve the outcome you want more often than you succeed. Because of the sensitivity of the immune receptors that I work with, the experimental conditions have to be very precise. Even the smallest error usually goes unnoticed until the final result. I’ve learned to keep focused on the big picture, because when it does work, that 'eureka' moment is great!
I’ve always loved working in the lab, solving problems, and investigating the unknown. Understanding the immune response to fungal infections will take us closer to our goal of developing a world-first antifungal vaccine, with the potential to impact the health of millions of people. The prospect that my discoveries will eventually lead to life-saving cures continues to inspire me.
Q: What kind of mindset do you need to achieve the Next Great Impossible?
A: Focus on overcoming the hurdles and remember to celebrate every success. This sense of balance has allowed me to stay motivated despite any challenge.