Systems Immunology Meeting

Visitor of the Week: Kerry Hilligan


Meet Kerry Hilligan of the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research in Wellington, New Zealand. The postdoctoral fellow in Prof. Franca Ronchese’s Immune Cell Biology Program made her maiden voyage to CSHL this week to attend the inaugural meeting of Systems Immunology. Kerry was among the forty-two speakers of the meeting and she presented her talk, “Dissecting the innate immune networks regulating CD4+ T cell differentiation,” during the Single Cell Analysis of Genomic and Signaling States session.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My research is focused on understanding how antigen-presenting cells regulate adaptive immunity in response to a diverse range of pathogenic stimuli and environmental cues. 

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
Vaccines have been one of the most important advancements in medical history, but there are still many diseases where no vaccine is available or the available vaccine is ineffective. In order to inform vaccine design, we need to understand the specific signals involved in initiating protective immune responses against a variety of different pathogens.

How did your scientific journey begin? 
I have always been interested in biology and understanding how cells perform specialized functions and interact with one another. During my final year as an undergraduate at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, I took an immunology course and instantly knew that this was the field of study that I wanted to pursue. I was completely captivated by this extraordinary network of cells that could be leveraged in so many ways to improve human health.  

Was there something specific about the Systems Immunology meeting that drew you to attend?
This was the inaugural Systems Immunology meeting at CSHL and offered the perfect platform to meet with other researchers with an interest in systems immunology. There was also an impressive lineup of speakers presenting data on the latest cutting-edge technology. 

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
Single-cell technologies have helped uncover a remarkable level of heterogeneity and plasticity among immune cells. 

What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?  
There were many exciting new technologies presented at this meeting. I was particularly interested in a platform that allows you to measure protein and mRNA transcript levels simultaneously in individual cells. 

If someone curious in attending a future iteration of this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I would highly recommend this meeting to both “wet lab” and computational immunologists. The program included lots of unpublished findings and integrated experimental, computational, and mathematical approaches to immunology. 

What did you think of your first meeting at CSHL?
I had heard great things about CSHL meetings and was not disappointed! I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at CSHL and will definitely check out future meetings.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The campus is absolutely beautiful and provided the perfect backdrop to a fantastic meeting.

Thank you to Kerry for being this meeting’s featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.