Breaking down barriers for women in science
MALAYSIAN Immunologist Dr Kavita Reginald is working on a vaccination to create a tolerance to seafood allergy . “ The vaccine I ’ m developing is based on a common allergen found in seafood — prawns , crabs , lobsters and oysters . The basic principle is to induce a tolerance response by exposing the body to increasing amounts of the allergen over time .
She continued : “ I ’ ll also be attempting to improve the vaccine safety by modifying the allergen , so it doesn ’ t cause serious allergic responses . This way , the body may build tolerance while avoiding adverse reactions .”
Kavita ’ s career began at the National University of Singapore ( NUS ) in 2001 , when she was accepted into its Doctor of Philosophy programme shortly after earning her First-Class Honours Degree in Biotechnology from Universiti Putra Malaysia . She found immunology and allergies fascinating and decided to use her skills to help the condition , which affects about 20 per cent of the world ’ s population .
She had the chance to learn more at the time because a research team studying dust mite allergy in NUS had garnered international attention . She studied the effects of various dust mite allergens ( proteins that trigger allergic reactions in people ), discovered a novel allergen , and assisted in creating two
possible vaccinations .
She earned a post-doctoral fellowship at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria under the direction of renowned allergologist Professor Dr Rudolf Valenta shortly after graduating at the age of 28 in 2006 .
She researched the connection between skin allergies and staphylococcus infection there . Her research led to the identification of allergens produced by the bacteria that causes skin swelling and itching , that were later patented by her team .
She later moved and began working at the renowned Centre d ’ immunologie Marseille-Luminy in France , where she investigated the molecular reactions of immune cells . She spent more than 10 years developing her profession abroad before moving back to Malaysia and enrolling at Sunway University .
She now serves as department head for biological sciences at Sunway University ’ s School of Medical and Life Sciences .
Since she returned to Malaysia and began lecturing , Kavita ’ s first significant research effort has been the development of a vaccine for seafood allergy . An RM140,000 grant from the Higher Education Ministry is funding the study .
In addition to her research , she supports women in science by taking part in campaigns to close the gender
gap . She questions : “ Where are the girls who outnumber the male classmates ?
“ By right , they should have established their careers as scientists , but the proportion and representation of women within the local scientific community doesn ’ t seem right .
“ In the last four months , my team ( comprising scientists from Asia- Pacific countries ) and I have organised a science communication workshop for early career researchers , focusing on providing training opportunities for women scientists .
“ That workshop was considered a success as attendees were able to carry out science outreach programmes in their local communities . I also contribute by organising allergy awareness campaigns in my local area .”
In her field of expertise , Kavita has served as the assistant secretary in the Malaysian Society of Allergy and Immunology . She participates by co-organising the society ’ s annual congress as well as public awareness programmes .
Two of her projects include co-organising the Malaysian Chapter of World Allergy Week , which took place from June 5 to 11 , and the Asia- Pacific Association of Allergy , Asthma , and Clinical Immunology ’ s ( APAAACI ) Allergy Week , which concluded in May . — The Health