I’ve always had an interest in helping people through a medical field, and protein engineering allows me to do that. The long-term goal of our work is to develop a universal vaccine platform that can be used to protect people against multiple diseases. To do this, our lab started by taking hepatitis B, a disease we all get immunized against, and stripping it down to the virus’s core proteins. We did a lot of engineering work to make this hepatitis B protein stable enough to serve as a vaccine platform or scaffold. The cool thing about this is that the platform looks like a virus because we took it from hepatitis B. We then decorate it with only the antigens or proteins from influenza, HIV or Zika that we want the immune system to respond to and remember for future infections. We are effectively mimicking the virus so that it shows off only the vulnerable parts of the real virus. When we put an assembled vaccine in the body, the immune system will see it as a potential invader and begin to attack. It will then remember these antigens and be better prepared to fight off future infections with the real influenza, HIV or Zika viruses. The idea is that you start from one basic structure, in this case the hepatitis B core protein, and use that to vaccinate against the flu, HIV or Zika. It’s a modular design; we have a universal vaccine platform and can then plug and play different antigens from virtually any infectious disease.