“We had to work very, very fast”, says Professor Sarah Gilbert, the Oxford University scientist knows that she is going against the clock in trying to get a vaccine to stop the Coronavirus. Together with her team – made up of 300 researchers from the University of Oxford – they have managed to “advance many of the steps in the development of a vaccine that normally takes about five years”.
But who is this scientist?
Professor Gilbert always wanted to work in medical research, at 17 she did not know where to start. Her first step was to obtain a BA in Biology from the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, eastern England. Later, she completed a doctorate in biochemistry.
After that, she focused her research on the biotechnology industry, where she learned about drug manufacturing. In 1994, Gilbert obtained a senior post-doctoral position at Oxford University, in the field of genetics, parasites, and malaria. That research led her to work on vaccine development.
In 1998 she gave birth to triplets. A year later she became a university professor. “It is very difficult to balance work and personal life”, she explains. “It seems impossible when you don’t have support. I had three children. The nursery fees were higher than my salary.” Her partner decided to interrupt his career and take care of the children, but Gilbert says it was difficult at the time.
“I only had 18 weeks of maternity leave, and I had to take care of three premature babies and it was very stressful,” she said. But Gilbert also tells that one of the best things about being a scientist is that you don’t always have to work long hours, although sometimes things get complicated.
In 2004, she was an adjunct professor at a university, and three years later began working on a flu vaccine project for the Welcome Trust in London, which funded its research team.
So when the triplets got older, things got easier. Now they are 21 years old and studying biochemistry like their mother. They are so interested in their quest to find the COVID-19 vaccine that all three have decided to volunteer for the Oxford trials.
“We have to immunize healthy young people between the ages of 18 and 55,” she says. Nor is she afraid of the potential adverse effects of the trials. “We have used these types of vaccines several times in the past, so we are not expecting any surprises.”
The most important thing, she concludes, is to “focus on clinical trials and accelerate production as much as possible to stop the growth of the Pandemic“.