image: UMBC Magazine
The spread of COVID-19, otherwise known as the coronavirus, has caused massive panic and has thousands of people sick or economically impacted in its wake. The public health crisis has caused many scientists around the world to begin work on finding a vaccine and cure to alleviate patients and flatten the curve to keep the virus from spreading any further. This black woman is taking charge and her team is on its way to finding a solution that can help. Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett, a viral immunologist working with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is taking the lead to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus. She is the scientific lead for Dr. Barney Graham’s coronavirus team based in Seattle. “If you can block the spike protein from binding to a cell, then you’ve effectively prevented an infection,” said Corbett to the New York Times. She and others had studied the spike proteins on SARS and MERS viruses in detail that are similar to COVID-19, using them to develop experimental vaccines. The vaccines never made it to market because SARS was successfully contained with public health measures. Due to their similarities, they can use these experimental vaccines to help find a solution to the current health crisis. She and her team have already started running the first human trials of the vaccine. Corbett started her work in January when researchers first learned how infectious and contagious COVID-19 was and how easily it can be spread. The team was formed to develop a safe and effective vaccine with Dr. Corbett leading the charge. She has nearly 10 years of research experience that entails elucidating mechanisms of viral pathogenesis and host immunity as they pertain to vaccine development. She received a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences, with a secondary major in Sociology in 2008. She eventually enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she obtained her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology in 2014.