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Immunobiology Graduate Student Arya Ökten wins the 3-Minute Thesis Competition

April 19, 2024

Arya Ökten, a fourth year student in the labs of Dr. Joe Craft and Dr. Craig Wilen competed in the 3-minute thesis competition on April 12, 2024 in the Marsh Auditorium. She was one of several finalists from the preliminary divisional rounds. Amongst fierce competition, a panel of Yale alumni judges ultimately awarded Arya with the top prize.

The title of her talk was 'Making a Norovirus Vaccine: All Good Things Take Time'. Norovirus infects up to 700 million people each year, predominantly killing children under the age of five. Currently, there is no commercially available norovirus vaccine. Although there are a few vaccine candidates now in development, clinical trials have shown that they provide largely incomplete protection. Arya's thesis work is focused on understanding the shortcomings of current vaccine candidates and determining how we can improve them; in particular, by identifying the immune factors most important for preventing norovirus infection. In a murine model, Arya has shown that the presence of intestinal antibodies correlates with protection against norovirus infection. Furthermore, she has shown that mice must be infected for an extended period (≥ 2 weeks) in order to generate these protective, intestinal antibodies, and that short-term infections (≤ 1 week) are insufficient. Arya's work has important implications for norovirus vaccine design, suggesting that developers should prioritize vaccine platforms that are delivered to the intestine and promote prolonged antigen presentation.

The full video of the competition can be found here:

Congratulations Arya!

Submitted by Caroline Lieber on April 17, 2024