Scientist Spotlight: Brandon Sack, PhD

1. What is your research focus?

On a broad level, I look at the immunology behind malaria infection and vaccination. I then use this information to improve existing vaccines and rationally design new ones.

2. Why science? Why malaria?

When I was a kid, my mom worked the graveyard shift as a medical technician. One day, she brought me home a microscope for me. I collected pond scum and used the microscope to look at all of the little organisms swimming around and all the different types of algae. So this got me excited about science in general. But I always wanted to do something socially minded with science, so that is why I chose malaria. When I was looking for a post-doc, I looked at ones that worked on infectious diseases, like malaria, HIV/AIDS, and neglected diseases. The Center was a perfect fit. Here, I can do science with a social mission.

3. When did you first realize that what you were doing was pretty cool?

Fortunately, this happens pretty much on a weekly basis. Recently, we made a few discoveries in our lab that indicate that malaria vaccines can use certain antibodies to prevent infection. What’s even better is that at The Center, we have the ability to make these discoveries in a mouse model of malaria, verify them using human samples from our clinical trial, and then go back to mouse models to keep testing and building our knowledge—which is an amazing and unique opportunity. One cool piece of this process is our humanized-liver chimeric mouse model, which allows us for the first time to test new ways to prevent human malaria infection all in mice. We are the only lab in the world that has this kind of access to so many tools all in-house, which is really inspiring when you think about the progress we can make.

4. What’s your favorite food?

Either fried chicken or Mexican.