Q&A with graduate student Cameron Coyle

Cameron Coyle holds vials of ticks in a lab.
Cameron Coyle, a Ph.D. Candidate in Immunology and Infectious Diseases in the Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology department of Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, poses for a photo next to a microscope as she holds vials containing ticks in her lab on Friday, April 5, 2024, in Pullman. (College of Veterinary Medicine/Ted S. Warren)

Cameron Coyle is pursuing a PhD in Immunology and Infectious Diseases as she explores innate immune memory in the American deer tick, which is of major public health concern as it transmits Borrelia burgdorferi (the causative agent of Lyme disease) and Anaplasma phagocytophilum (the causative agent of human granulocytic anaplasmosis). She is being mentored by Dr. Dana Shaw, an assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology.

Why did you decide to complete your doctorate at WSU?

When deciding where to pursue my doctoral research, I searched for a program that had an excellent reputation for leading infectious disease research as well as one that fostered a supportive, collaborative, and community-based environment. Upon visiting WSU during my recruitment weekend, I encountered many friendly faces and brilliant scientists. Since being here, I have been faced with several opportunities to grow as a person and as a scientist.

What about WSU has surprised you the most?

Besides getting acclimated to walking uphill everywhere I go, I have found a wonderful home here at WSU. One of the most important and impactful aspects of my time thus far has been a wonderful queer community of friends and colleagues. Their support has allowed me to celebrate this integral aspect of my identity and has helped me to feel welcome here at WSU.

What are you researching at WSU?

Tick-borne disease incidence has been on the rise in that past decades, leading to major public health concerns for both human and animal health. Vector competency relies on the pathogen’s success in being acquired by the vector, persisting within the vector between blood meals, and being transmitted from the vector to subsequent victims. One critical interaction shaping vector competency is how the immune system of the tick interacts with the pathogens they vector. While it is previously understood that ticks lack classically defined adaptive immunity and rather rely upon innate immune defenses, there is mounting evidence of an immunological memory capacity in invertebrates, termed innate immune memory. Innate immune memory describes enhanced immune responses after repeated antigen exposures, which is regulated by epigenetic modifications. This innate immune memory phenomenon has never been explored in ticks. Further the implications of innate immune memory on influencing vector competency of ticks remains unknown. My research explores innate immune memory in the clinically relevant American deer tick, Ixodes scapularis, which is of major public health concern as it transmits Borrelia burgdorferi (the causative agent of Lyme disease) and Anaplasma phagocytophilum (the causative agent of human granulocytic anaplasmosis). Uncovering an immune memory capacity in ticks could have major implications on our understanding of the biology of tick-borne disease and could lead to significant changes in our approach to combatting these prevalent diseases.

How has your mentor helped you?

My mentor, Dr. Dana Shaw, champions creativity and communication in her laboratory. Her passion for our field has really inspired all of us in the Shaw lab. Dana continues to push the boundaries of my knowledge by asking hard questions and through our impactful discussions about literature. She serves as a role model for me and many of my peers as a strong voice representing women in immunology and infectious disease and in the broader STEM fields. Dana celebrates my voice, my ideas, and even my antics and rabbit holes. I am very grateful to be a member of the Shaw lab and a mentee of Dr. Dana Shaw.

What do you hope to do after graduate school?

One of my strongest drivers for conducting academic research has been my creativity and passion for solving puzzles. The current puzzles that I am solving are ones that uncover previously undescribed biological and immunological processes in non-model organisms that pose clinical threats to humans and animals. I hope to carry both creativity and puzzle-solving through into my future career. My aspiration is to continue to pursue unknowns in the vector-borne disease field within an academic setting. I am passionate about teaching, mentorship, and scientific writing. I look forward to sharing my gained expertise and knowledge with future mentees. As a queer woman in STEM, I am committed to represent and empower aspiring early-career scientists, ensuring that diverse voices and perspectives are prominently featured in the scientific community. I believe that fostering inclusivity and diversity in STEM will catalyze the emergence of groundbreaking solutions to urgent public health challenges.