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10 Sep 2021

Meet the team: Dr Raissa Fonseca

If you could start off by introducing yourself and what you do at the Doherty Institute.

My name is Dr Raissa Fonseca, I am Postdoctoral researcher in Professor Laura Mackay’s Group. I am currently investigating the development of memory T cell responses.

How did you end up working in this field at the Doherty Institute?

I did most of my PhD at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil on pathogenesis and regulation of the immune response against Chagas disease, where I found T cells infiltrating the heart of infected mice. I then went to work on tissue-resident memory T cell (TRM) development at Professor Masopust's laboratory at the University of Minnesota. There, I discovered that despite presenting major epigenetic differences, TRM cells can differentiate into other memory subsets to contribute to systemic responses against recurring infections. These findings were very exciting and raised plenty more questions about T cell responses to be explored. As a result, I contacted Professor Mackay - a pioneer in TRM research who has made remarkable contributions to the field in recent years - to pursue further research in molecular mechanisms involved in TRM development, and fortunately was recruited to work with her at the Doherty Institute.

You’ve just been awarded a 2022 Discovery Early Career Research Award from the Australian Research Council. Tell us about what that entails and the project you’ll be working on.

Being awarded a DECRA is a massive advance in my career and marks the start of a very challenging phase with plenty of opportunity to learn. My project aims to identify molecular and epigenetic differences in memory T cells residing in various organs and use gene editing techniques to investigate the mechanisms involved in TRM development.

What’s the ultimate goal with this research?

Identifying molecules that positively or negatively modulate TRM cells will allow future development of novel therapeutics against infectious diseases, cancer and autoimmune diseases.

We are just about to entering our fourth week of lockdown in Melbourne, any tips for getting through it?

Maintaining a healthy routine and treating myself has been essential to keep me going (and always hoping lockdown will be over soon). I find that exercising and meditating early in the morning put me in a good headspace and help me to focus on work the rest of the day.