Who here has heard of valley fever before? Raise your hands. Well for those of you who don’t know,
valley fever is a disease caused by a soil fungus once thought to be common just to the Central Valley, but can now be found as far north as Washington all the way to Mexico. In fact all counties in California have reported cases. Behind me is a schematic of its lifecycle that I’ve sketched. It starts off in the soil growing these long threads and then these threads turn into tiny little subunits that can break off and become aerosolized and infect you. So anyone who spends time outdoors or works around dirt is vulnerable. Inside your lungs, these tiny little subunits grow then burst filling them up with spores, causing your immune cells to migrate eliciting your immune response. Now fortunately only 40 percent of those who are infected actually develop disease and it’s a very mild disease, kind of like a cold or flu, and your body could clear it up on its own But there is a subset of those who
develop severe chronic disease marked by total fungal infiltration and profound exhaustion for the rest of your life. So why is it that some people have very
severe disease and others don’t? This is an immune mystery. To study this question, I study direct interactions between your immune cells and the valley fever fungus. To do this I just simply put them together in a dish and I let them interact. Then with a high magnification microscope with a special computer program built inside, I can take pictures of your immune cells to see what’s going on. The arrow in white is showing one of your immune cells digesting and breaking down a valley fever fungus. My data currently shows that your immune cells can target and destroy the fungus. But a special unknown activating signal is required to enhance this response. I’m currently investigating what the source of this signal could be. So why do I do what I do? Well the reality is if you traveled up in a down California you’ve probably been exposed to Valley Fever at one point in your life. What’s worse, if you go to the doctor
right now and you have a positive diagnosis, that doctor can’t tell you if you can clear your infection or you’ll become chronic. My research addresses this gap in knowledge. If we can figure out what is boosting our immune system, the source of that activating signal, we can enhance our immune response, paving the way for better drug development and better therapeutics. What’s worse chronic valley fever today is still treated with the same drugs from the 1980s. And patients have described these drugs as akin to setting their nerves on fire. So we need to solve this problem. And on a more personal level, I study valley fever because as a Vietnamese immigrant and a transfer in California I’ve seen what this disease can do to communities without intervention. And so to honor the people who built our home and put food on our table, I study this disease today. So to clear or not to clear? That certainly is the question. But soon we can say we have an answer. Thank you.