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Why Give | Impact stories

How donors are supporting crucial vaccine research

When thinking of research on vaccines, you might picture a large pharmaceutical lab running exhaustive clinical trials. But that would only be part of the story.

October 4, 2019

For Nirma Vadlamudi, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at UBC, there is research outside the lab that is just as crucial to understanding the real-world effectiveness of a vaccine on the population.

To carry out this research, Nirma must collate and analyze data. A lot of data. But she also needs time and independence to focus and to understand what the data is telling her. Through UBC awards and scholarships, donors have helped provide this freedom.

“Research is a demanding process,” says Nirma, “In industry, there are big teams who conduct and share research efforts. As a PhD or a Master’s student, you are solely responsible for the topic that you are working on, so you are working 12-16 hours a day. This support helps us to better focus on our research.”

Nirma’s research is focused on one particular vaccine: 13-Valent Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV13). PCV13 is used to treat Streptococcus pneumoniae, which can cause substantial illness and mortality in young children and seniors. Nirma is taking a closer look at how well PCV13 performed since it has been introduced in the provincial children immunization program, what benefit it has on the general population and, if any issues arise, how frequent they are.

Of course, with any discussion about vaccines comes the heated topic of anti-vaccination rhetoric, which the World Health Organization lists as one of the top 10 global threats in 2019. Nirma has firm thoughts on the issue.

“What has happened, is that fewer people are dying in developed countries, so some don’t see infections as a threat,” says Nirma “When we start to see something that is increasing—like measles—then you can see we are not done yet. The only way against the spread of infectious disease is to get ourselves vaccinated so we can protect ourselves, as well as those who cannot get vaccinated because of their immuno-compromised status.”

While at UBC, Nirma has received the Douglas and Jean Bailey Scholarship, the Santosh M. Wasan Graduate Student Travel Award in Pharmaceutical Sciences and the John H. McNeill Scholarship. Her path to her chosen area of study started as a pre-med student, where she was drawn to public health, with a keen interest in epidemiology. Transitioning into pharmaceutical sciences seemed a natural fit for her research focus.

Her decision to study at UBC came from a recommendation from an alumnus—her father-in-law, Dr. Rao Vadlamudi, who had graduated in pharmaceutical sciences from UBC. Nirma is grateful for the family recommendation that she try UBC for her graduate research, with its infrastructure and extensive possibilities for collaboration. But there’s another reason her father-in-law spoke so fondly of UBC Vancouver—the climate. Nirma laughs, “I lived in Philadelphia for nine years, and I know it gets really cold in the east. Summer and other times of the year are nice, but winter can be hard.”