Dr Spencer is an immunology lecturer in the School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy, based at the Hunter Medical Research Institute. Her research is focused on understanding how the immune response is induced following vaccination or infection, to enabling tailoring vaccines approaches for each specific disease.
Following a PhD at the University of Sydney, Dr Spencer moved to the University of Oxford to apply her knowledge of T cells to the development of a liver-stage malaria vaccine. She was involved in the development of new vaccine vectors (ChAdOx1 and ChAdOx2), identification of new adjuvants, optimising antigen design and vaccination regimens, and working across several vaccine programs (malaria, Influenza, Ebola, SARS CoV2).
The translational focus of the Jenner Institute enabled Dr Spencer to follow some of these approaches from preclinical studies to clinical trials, working with academic collaborators and industrial partners. As part of the Oxford COVID vaccine team, Dr Spencer performed the preclinical assessment of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, measuring immunogenicity across a range of animal species, in combination with mRNA vaccines and rapidly testing each new SARS CoV-2 variant vaccine.
Dr Spencer is passionate about supporting the development of the next generation of scientists. In addition to supervising research students, she enjoys opportunities to travel to partner sites to train staff or host international students and researchers. Through her roles on local and national committees, she promotes inclusivity, diversity and equity in science.
I’ve always liked puzzles and solving problems. In high school, my favourite subjects were maths and science as there was usually an answer or explanation. However, it was learning about genetics, plus a trip to a research institute, that sparked my passion for medical research.
At university, my fascination shifted from genetics to the immune system and wanting to understand how the body responds to an infection and how we can train the immune system with vaccines.
Even today, the highest rates of death and suffering due to infectious diseases are seen in the most disadvantaged populations. Next to water sanitization, vaccines are one of the most cost-effective healthcare tools that can not only have positive health and economic benefits to an individual but to their community as well.
The ultimate goal of my work is to develop and improve vaccines for the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, so we can all live in a world where access to education and healthcare is no longer dictated by where you are born.
One of the biggest challenges in vaccinology is inducing an immune response at the primary site of pathogen exposure (i.e. nose and throat), sites that are not typically accessible by standard routes of vaccination (i.e. intramuscular injection). Future work will compare vaccine platforms and vaccination regimens/routes for their ability to induce and maintain T and B cell responses at these remote sites.