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Guided by Role Models and Mentors Toward a Career as a Virologist

July 20, 2022
by Jane E. Dee

Maudry Laurent-Rolle, MD, PhD, decided on a career in science and medicine when she was a 10-year-old child growing up in the Commonwealth of Dominica, an island in the Caribbean. As a girl she had recurrent bouts of tonsillitis that required hospitalization, which meant being absent from school, although with her mother’s help she kept up with her studies. While she saw many doctors, one in particular stood out. Laurent-Rolle remembers this doctor as being very kind and calm as she recommended that Laurent-Rolle have a tonsillectomy.

She was captivated by the doctor’s manner and medical knowledge. “Listening to her, and seeing her working on the wards, on the floors, sounded so cool and smart at the time,” Laurent-Rolle remembered. “And I said, ‘You know what? I'm going to be just like her. I'm going to be a physician, and I'm going to take care of people when I grow up.’“ This doctor was among the first of Laurent-Rolle’s role models and mentors during her career as a clinician and virologist.

While at school in Dominica, Laurent-Rolle studied the sciences, but she did not receive instruction in scientific research. After moving to the United States, she enrolled at Long Island University where she participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. It was there that she was first exposed to basic science research. “Real research,” she said. “Not like the chemistry experiments that I was doing in college.” Laurent-Rolle excelled in college, graduating summa cum laude and as the class valedictorian with a BS in biology.

After college, she enrolled in the post-baccalaureate research education program (PREP) at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, where she researched how Dengue virus circumvented the host innate immune response with Adolfo García-Sastre, PhD, professor of microbiology, infectious diseases and pathology, and director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute at Mount Sinai, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Her experience in PREP convinced her that she was on the right path. She then matriculated in the MD/PhD program at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai where she studied how multiple flaviviruses, including Dengue virus, West Nile virus, and yellow fever virus, stayed one step ahead of their host. In medical school, a rotation with the infectious diseases consult service further solidified her decision to study viruses.

During her residency training at Albert Einstein/Montefiore Medical Center, Laurent-Rolle received awards for her clinical skills. As a Yale School of Medicine (YSM) fellow, she balanced her clinical training in infectious diseases with post-doctoral research studies in the laboratory of Peter Cresswell, PhD, FRS, Eugene Higgins Professor of Immunobiology and Professor of Cell Biology. At Yale, Laurent-Rolle’s research shifted to investigate how host responses to viruses enhance or prevent diseases. To address this question, she investigated how interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs) function and coordinate with cellular networks during viral infection. Her initial studies looked at the mechanism by which the antiviral protein, viperin, a protein characterized and named by Cresswell, inhibited viral replication.

As an assistant professor (infectious diseases) in the Department of Internal Medicine at YSM, Laurent-Rolle’s independent research program is focused on three areas: dissecting the mechanisms of action of ISGs like CMPK2 and viperin in host resistance to viral infections; dissecting the molecular mechanisms utilized by pathogenic viruses to antagonize host immune responses; and identifying novel biomarkers for early diagnosis of viral infections.

In March 2020, she was well-positioned to study SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. While other labs closed, Laurent-Rolle, who is trained to work with highly pathogenic agents, continued her investigations. Her COVID-19 work brought her back to her original research question of how a virus evades the host immune response, and how the host response to a virus is enhanced. She and her lab are working on ways to identify novel biomarkers for early diagnosis of viral infections like COVID-19 and influenza.

“It's very interesting actually, how the work that we're doing is merging my clinical training with my basic science training,” she said. “This is just one example of my translational work as both a clinician and a basic virologist.”

Submitted by Jane E. Dee on July 20, 2022