Dr. Jayne Raper
is a professor in the Biology department at Hunter College. Her graduate thesis work at the University of Cambridge helped elucidate the segmented nature of the Influenza Virus genome. She then proceeded to study signal transduction in African Trypanosome parasites at the Malteno Institute for Research in Parasitology, which is a topic that still remains poorly understood. These eukaryotic protozoans have been the focus of her research ever since. After moving to the Englund Lab at Johns Hopkins, she began to explore the relationship between trypanosomes and the human immune system. Dr. Raper and others found that there are protein complexes circulating in the serum of humans and other primates that prevent most species of trypanosome from establishing infections in primate hosts. These protein complexes are called trypanosome lytic factors, which she made the focus of her first independent research group at New York University in 1995.
While humans are immune to infection by most African Trypanosomes via trypanosome lytic factors, cattle and other livestock remain susceptible and suffer fatal infections. African Trypanosomes pose a critical economic burden on Sub-Saharan Africa by restricting the agricultural development of the continent. Dr. Raper was invited to a meeting hosted by the Doyle Foundation in 2006 to discuss potential control efforts for livestock trypanosomiasis, where she met a group of representatives from the International Livestock Research Institute. Together, they formulated a plan to generate genetically modified cattle that would be engineered to produce trypanosome lytic factors, so as to protect them from the parasitic disease. She was soon awarded multiple exploratory and full grants from the National Science Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. While a difficult task both biologically and politically, Dr. Raper continues to investigate this possibility at Hunter College, where she arrived in 2011.
Dr. Raper maintains extensive teaching commitments at Hunter in order to foster the growth of both graduate and undergraduate students. Her microbial pathogenesis seminar teaches students with any level of experience how to critically analyze scientific data in the setting of infectious diseases. She has also taught courses in the Human Biology department, and gives individual seminars in various departments around the university. Her laboratory currently houses four Ph.D. students, two paid scientists, one technician, three M.S. students, and nine undergraduates.
In addition to her teaching and scientific contributions, Dr. Raper is committed to improving the scientific community by taking on additional roles. Dr. Raper sits on various grant review committees and is an associate editor of the journal entitled PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. She is an advocate of scientific representation in the government and actively takes scientific issues to places like Albany to discuss science-related policies. She is also working to advance the opportunities available for female scientists by attending workshops and meetings held by “CUNY Women in Science”. Finally, her involvements in various career advancement symposiums and science communication platforms such as the Ligo project, which links research scientist with artists, reflects her uniqueness, unconventional thinking, and passion for promoting science.
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Text by Jyoti Panta and Joey Verdi