This semester, the Rutgers Global Health Institute welcomed a new faculty member, Bobby Brooke Herrera, as an assistant professor of global health and researcher in the Rutgers Robert Wood Division of Allergy, Immunology and Infectious Diseases. Johnson Medical School, according to a Press release.
Herrera joined the University after completing his doctorate. at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and founder of two biotechnology companies.
He said his interest in biomedical research began during his undergraduate years, when he studied biology at New Mexico State University. There he conducted research on the ancient immune system of the Hawaiian bobtail squid, and while at Johns Hopkins University he studied the role of genetics in autoimmune disorders in African Americans, he said. he declares.
Later, Herrera chose to pursue a master’s degree in theological studies with an emphasis on philosophy at Harvard Divinity School. He was interested in how religion has had and continues to impact public health and society, he said.
“I spent two years roaming the dimly lit Harvard libraries, ultimately wondering how I could improve public health, especially for those most vulnerable,” he said. “After my master’s degree, I was accepted into the Biological Sciences in Public Health Ph.D. Program at Harvard University and joined my thesis lab at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.”
During his doctorate. program, Herrera used his interest in infectious diseases to research the Ebola and Zika viruses. He conducted his postdoctoral research at Harvard Medical School, after which he founded E25Bio, which focuses on the development of diagnostics for neglected tropical diseases, and Mir Biosciences, which focuses on the development of T-cell vaccines. against infection and cancer.
He said his overall research goal is to improve public health, especially for vulnerable populations. Specifically, it aims to translate information from asymptomatic infections or mild cases of disease into effective vaccines and diagnostic tools, he said.
His lab will examine immune cell responses during cases of mild illness or asymptomatic infection, and compare them to responses elicited during severe illness, he said.
“My responsibilities are research, education and service. My primary responsibility is to establish an independently funded research program studying the immunology of infectious diseases,” Herrera said. “As I consider recruiting people – postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and research assistants – to work in my lab, I seek to recruit people who look and think different from each other.”
Herrera said he wants to improve the ease of diagnosing infections by creating diagnostic tools with biochemical data and using human trials to test effectiveness.
Additionally, he said he was interested in developing stronger vaccines, especially for viruses that could cause the next pandemic. He said he will work with industry partners to scale the lab results and implement them in larger populations.
He said the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has underscored the need for information to be shared across wider communities and for scientists to collaborate, allowing for the testing of hypotheses in diverse groups and improving the precision and scope of the search.
“International collaboration fosters unique curiosity, perspectives and learning,” Herrera said. “Often unexpected hypotheses or findings emerge simply because the angles from which the questions are being addressed are so diverse.”
He also said that scientists need to better communicate their work to the general public, especially because science communication is linked to social determinants such as economic policies and political systems. These factors may have a greater influence on health than lifestyle factors or even health care itself, especially when it comes to pandemic viruses, he said.
“Addressing social determinants is fundamental to improving health and reducing long-standing health inequities… COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy is an example of where better science communication could have improved outcomes by health,” said Herrera.
Overall, he said he was proud of his current accomplishments, but wanted to use his time at Rutgers to advance diagnostics and create stronger vaccines against infections.
“Ultimately, I hope my research will have a positive impact on public health, especially the most vulnerable people who may not have access to proper care,” Herrera said. “I hope my research will lead to a predictable expansion of effective diagnostics and vaccines that will make their way into human trials and then into population use.”