Q&A with graduate student Albina Makio

Albina Makio holds a vial of herpes simplex virus that she uses in her research on Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, as she poses for a photo in her lab at Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in Pullman.
Albina Makio holds a vial of herpes simplex virus that she uses in her research on Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, as she poses for a photo in her lab at Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in Pullman. (College of Veterinary Medicine/Ted S. Warren)

Graduate student Albina Makio is studying how the infectious herpes simplex virus invades the cells of its host. It is research that could ultimately lead to new treatments and vaccines to target the virus, which is present in nearly half of the world’s population.

Albina is working toward a doctorate in Immunology and Infectious Diseases. She is mentored by Dr. Anthony Nicola, a professor in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology whose research interests include virus-cell interactions, herpesviruses, and viral entry and membrane fusion.   

Albina recently took some time to answer questions about her research and experiences at WSU.

What are you researching at WSU?

In the Nicola lab, I study the entry mechanisms of the infectious herpes simplex virus (HSV) in susceptible host cells. Herpesviruses, which HSV is one of, are ubiquitous pathogens associated with severe human and animal disease globally. Almost half of the world’s population is currently infected by the virus. The virus has no approved vaccine. I’m interested in understanding the early structural conformations of glycoprotein B (gB), a core HSV fusion protein and driver of viral entry and replication in cells. I’m generating gB mutants that partially or completely block virus entry and, using our lab’s expertise, analyze them to determine the early conformations of gB before the completion of the virus-cell fusion process. The knowledge gained from this study will enable a better understanding of the wild-type HSV fusion mechanisms and improve the knowledge base for potential pharmacotherapeutic targets.

Why did you decide to complete your doctorate at WSU?

The Immunology and Infectious Diseases program best suits my future career ambitions and aspirations as an infectious disease specialist. On arrival, the academic rigor of the curriculum, the outstanding and talented faculty with wealth and breadth of experience, and a plethora of graduate student educational resources were both satisfactory and helpful. I also got introduced to a graduate peer network that formed the best support system in my first and second years of studies, aside from having an excellent academic advisor/mentor. I’m never worried about my finances because of the immense scholarship opportunities that have seen me through most of my PhD.

What has been your favorite thing about WSU?

I love the WSU community. While there are diverse people from all walks of life, respect, equity, and inclusivity promote healthy interactions. Human beings are social creatures. We live in families and work in teams, and our norms are shaped by our culture – a property of group- living. Having a community that fosters friendship and togetherness has a positive impact on my overall health and well-being.

What about WSU has surprised you the most?

The generosity and care individuals give. I come from a community that appreciates good times, food, and vibes. At WSU, potlucks will “kill you” literally!

How has your mentor helped you?

As a graduate student, finding a resident lab that best fits you and conducting research that appeals to you are not the only critical launch pads to graduate life. The most arduous task is finding a mentor who provides both interpersonal and professional support without being overly critical. Dr. Nicola is not only an excellent teacher, critic, personal coach, and cheerleader but also a good listener, communicator, and positive role model. He goes out of his way to ensure my graduate life is bearable, which I do not take for granted.

What do you hope to do after graduate school?

I’m torn between taking a career path in industry or academia. I’d love to teach and have a research team committed to conducting cutting-edge research while grooming the next breed of scientists. Also, I look forward to developing a commercializable process or product and contributing to human and animal health improvement. I will decide once done with my internship in industry next summer.