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Ntombizodwa Makuyana talks about her fascinating research in respiratory immunology, her career motivation and why she chose Cambridge

Ntombizodwa (Tombi) Makuyana is a Lucy Cavendish College PhD (Biological Science at the Babraham Institute) and Gates Scholar. She is originally from Zimbabwe, where she completed all her primary and secondary education before embarking to the USA for her tertiary education. She graduated from Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University with a bachelor's degree in Medicinal Chemistry (Biochemistry) under Mastercard Foundation Scholar. Upon graduating, she worked as a Middle School Science Teacher helping students understand science in ways comprehensible to them and also exposing them to STEM fields at an early age. 

“My research is on respiratory immunology, whereby I am generating regulatory T cells in the lungs to induce immunological tolerance where potentially harmful immune responses within the body are suppressed. An understanding of these respiratory immune responses could pave the way in our fight against viral infections such as influenza and Covid 19.

With the advent of Coronavirus (Covid 19), a novel virus, associated with high morbidity and mortality, it is of paramount importance scientists continuously assess and research viruses and their mechanisms. Viral pandemics have always resulted in the deaths of many people in developed countries and this is even more pronounced in developing countries where healthcare services and resources are limited. Therefore I am compelled to apply my research skills and efforts to mitigate the severity of such a pandemic and improve other people’s health.”

My motivation stems from my diverse research experience as an undergraduate. In particular, I have worked on elucidating the potential use of HPV-specific immune responses as biomarkers for early detection of cervical cancer at the Biodesign Institute in the Anderson lab. Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of death in Africa and the world. My research had the potential of improving women's lives since the use of biomarkers could reduce cervical cancer-related deaths in Africa alone by 42.9%. Moreover, I also investigated the effect of tau pathology on neuroinflammation and synaptic proteins during Alzheimer's disease progression at Novartis in the Gray lab. Throughout these experiences, I developed a keen interest in learning how the immune system can be harnessed to control disease progression and develop drug therapies. Ultimately, my goal is to be a researcher involved in the improvement of other people’s health through research and to inspire young women to pursue STEM-related careers since there is less representation in STEM fields, especially in Africa.

Cambridge delivers a quality education that will help me become a well-educated and solution-orientated person who can make an impact in the world. The School of Life Sciences and Babraham Institute also provides the environment from which I can learn the implementation of ideas, as most of its researchers have recently garnered attention in creating innovative medical ideas being implemented into communities and clinical settings. And, as a young entrepreneur working on providing quality education to young girls in Zimbabwe, these experiences will enhance my capacity to take initiatives and entrepreneurial skills which I can integrate into my research.