OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A virologist at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center who studies how viruses, specifically influenza, infect and mutate hopes to improve the flu vaccine.
Gillian Air, a George Lynn Cross Research Professor at OU, has studied influenza for 30 years. Air's research includes looking at the antibodies from people who get the flu shot, studying how their body reacts to the vaccination.
She works with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation on its study of the flu vaccination's effects on lupus patients. Air evaluates the antibodies of patients both before and after they get the vaccination, looking at the quality and quantity of the antibodies.
Linda Thompson, one of the leaders on the project, said Air's presence in Oklahoma City made it sensible to study the flu vaccination.
“We're really lucky to have her here,” Thompson said. “She's really an expert. We couldn't do any of this without her.”
Air's research may focus on a virus everyone is familiar with, but it's also a virus Air said many people have never experienced.
“I think quite a number of people never get the flu,” she said. Air said many people mistake their illness for the flu, partly because the 1918 epidemic made the virus well-known to the point that people are quick to diagnose themselves at the first sign of fever.
“What we say is if you can't get out of bed you have the flu,” she said. “If you are up walking around, you are infected with another virus.”
Of course there is more to diagnosing influenza than that, but Air said it's a simple gauge, especially if science and the flu are not your specialty.
Although Air has been studying the flu for three decades, the Australian-born doctor's interest in science piqued when the double helix was discovered in 1953. Fourteen years later, Air got her undergraduate degree in biochemistry and later topped it off with a doctorate in the same area.
While paperwork and grant reviews keep her busy, she does get the chance to occasionally “troubleshoot” in the lab.
“When you do get a result it's exciting,” Air said. Patience is an important virtue in the lab because celebrations and breakthroughs are rarely immediate, she said. And the research sometimes comes with its own flu symptom: headaches.
“We're always making progress,” she said. “It's just when we make progress, we see there is more to do.
“You just have to stick to it - sometimes late at night and on the weekends - but when it works, it's really good.”