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