Cynthia Baldwin, professor in the department of veterinary and animal sciences, has been named the Distinguished Veterinary Immunologist for 2013-16 by the International Union of Immunological Societies.
The award, which was presented in Milan, Italy in September, is made to one individual worldwide every three years and selected by an international committee of scientists. A cash prize, including an honorarium and travel funds, is sponsored by Pfizer Corporation, now Zoetis.
Baldwin has been an investigator in the area of immunology for more than 30 years. Her research has focused on cellular responses to bacterial and protozoan pathogens of humans and livestock. She is also the long-serving editor-in-chief of Veterinary Immunology and Immunology, a journal for comparative immunology.
Since 2009, Baldwin has also served as a Jefferson Science Fellow at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., a program administered by the National Academies of Sciences. As part of her duties, she travels to Africa in conjunction with development of the Obama administration’s Feed the Future program to increase world food that includes a research agenda for reducing infectious diseases in livestock.Her fellowship continues until 2015.
In 2009, as part of the Bovine Genome Sequencing Project, Baldwin helped to sequence the full genome of a female Hereford cow, the first ever livestock animal to have its genome sequenced.
She is currently the principal investigator on three federally funded grants in support of global food security, including one co-sponsored by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health. Baldwin and colleagues use large animal models of disease to investigate the role of gamma delta (γδ) T lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell thought to be among the “first lines of defense” in immune responses to infections against bacterial pathogens. These include Mycobacteria, which cause economically devastating tuberculosis in cattle that can be transmitted to people through unpasteurized milk, and Leptospira, which cause one of the most globally common diseases transmitted from animals to people, leptospirosis.
Baldwin’s recent research has particularly emphasized the characterization and function of γδ T lymphocytes in a bovine or cattle model. These specialized immune cells have many as-yet unknown effects on other immune cells, on disease-carrying pathogens and on both healthy and infected tissue. In Leptospira, Baldwin and her colleagues have demonstrated a role of γδ T lymphocytes in binding directly to a pathogen and directing the response of other immune system cells. Gamma delta T cells stimulated in this way have “immunological memory” after the first exposure to a specific pathogen, and appear to be an important component in the immune system’s response to Leptospira vaccination. Baldwin says her group’s discoveries may influence the way we think about γδ T lymphocytes as players in vaccine development.
She also currently leads the U.S.-Veterinary Immunology Reagent Network (VIRN), a consortium of academic researchers developing reagents and improving immunological capability in a number of species, linked with an industrial partner for technology transfer in the U.S.