When Jason McLellan studied at Wayne State University in the early 2000s, he had no idea that he was destined to play a role in the research that would eventually lead to a vaccine for a global pandemic. But with his academic pedigree and many academic achievements, he shouldn't have surprised anyone.
McLellan, who grew up in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, was the top student in his high school class, achieving a 3.94 grade point average, among many other academic achievements. He met his wife, Jinelle, at Wayne State, where she had a fencing scholarship and was studying radiation therapy. They have two children.
"We loved Wayne State," Jason said. “The restaurants, the cultural attractions, and especially the strong research the university did really drew us to Wayne State. In fact, Wayne State was a near perfect experience for me. I received the Presidential Scholarship, which allowed me to attend tuition-free and graduate without student debt. Academically, I was challenged in my classes and enjoyed being a part of the Honors program. Scientifically, having access to excellent faculty and research was the most important thing in preparing me for graduate school and my future career. I began researching in Dr. Peng George Wang's laboratory as a freshman and worked there for about two years, learning about organic chemistry and interacting with graduate and post-doctoral students. "
McLellan earned a B.S. in chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry from Wayne State. He obtained his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and then did postdoctoral research at the National Institutes of Health Center for Vaccine Research.
"It was in Wayne State that I confirmed that I loved research and needed to attend graduate school to get my Ph.D.," McLellan said. “As my interests evolved, I was able to work with Dr. Ashok Bhagwat during my senior year at Wayne State, where I developed a love for biochemistry and the structure and function of proteins. These research experiences were fundamental to my acceptance into the graduate program in biochemistry, cell and molecular biology at Johns Hopkins. ”
As a postdoc, McLellan joined a laboratory led by Peter Kwong, Ph.D., who was working on the possibility of a framework-based vaccine for HIV. Frustrated by the limitations of the job, a mentor suggested that McLellan try his ideas on respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a disease that can be serious in infants and older adults.
This work led to the study of the coronavirus spike proteins, and McLellan and his team were able to map the structure of the SARS-CoV-2 spike, an important initial step toward developing a vaccine for COVID-19. "It was interesting to discover how proteins interacted with host cells and led to the work we did to stabilize vital proteins for isolating antibodies."
This work ultimately resulted in McLellan and his co-investigators winning a 2020 Golden Goose Award, awarded each year to groups of researchers whose federally-funded research has led to significant advancements in biomedical research, medical treatments, computing, and communications. technologies.
Today, Jason and Jinelle McLellan lived outside of Austin, Texas. He is Associate Professor of Molecular Biosciences and the Robert Welch Chair of Chemistry at the University of Texas, where he teaches Methods in Structural Biology and Advanced Biochemistry.
Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson invited McLellan to attend and contribute to the January 14 virtual town hall on the vaccine, joining a panel that included Wilson, Acting Provost Laurie Lauzon Clabo, Dr. Paul Kilgore and Dr. Marc Zervos. McLellan demonstrated how a spike protein interacts with a host cell using a plastic model of the COVID-19 virus.
McLellan has high hopes that his research will eventually lead to the development of new vaccines. “Our coronavirus research has contributed to the development of several effective COVID-19 vaccines, and I hope that our latest research will be incorporated into second-generation vaccines and provide a model for rapid response to future coronavirus outbreaks. ] “I am optimistic that our work on RSV will lead to the first approved RSV vaccines and that these will substantially reduce the global burden of RSV disease in our most vulnerable populations. More generally, I believe that our work has highlighted the power of framework-based vaccine design and I hope that its application to other infectious diseases will lead to the development of many new vaccines. ”