PhD in immunology with mice allergy

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PhD in immunology with mice allergy

Postby Promilla » Mon Jun 27, 2016 4:54 pm


I will try to keep it short. I guess this question will be mostly to immunologists, but input from other fields (genetics, cell biology, etc) is very much welcomed. So I will be applying to graduate school, possibly next year (or the following year). I have worked in the lab, however on not-immunology related projects. I wanted to pursue a PhD in autoimmunity/immune regulation/tolerance, primarily on molecular/cellular level. This summer I realized that literally every paper on these topic involves mice. The problem is that I am allergic to mice. Severely allergic, meaning I cannot work with them. I have known that mice are the most common models used in biomedical sciences, but I didn't realize that working with them is actually one of the most important part of almost every project (killing, dissection, isolation of tissues/cells, etc). For some reasons, I've never thought it would be a problem.

Hence my question for anyone who is in the field of biomedical sciences - do you think it is manageable to do biomedical research (on a cellular or molecular level) with animal allergy? Will it limit my options of doing research substantially? If you are in the field of immune regulation/tolerance, do you know of any interesting projects that are ongoing and do not involve animals?

Apologies if my question is naive, but I will really appreciate all the advice.

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Re: PhD in immunology with mice allergy

Postby Dave Walker » Tue Jun 28, 2016 10:14 am

Hi Promilla,

Thanks for visiting our forum!

Yes, it's possible to work in an immunology lab / PhD without working on mice directly; furthermore, I wouldn't let this one small requirement majorly change your potential career plan. For just a point of reference, think about someone who joins an Immunology program and ends up working primarily on bioinformatics projects or on instrumentation (i.e., mass spectrometry). These are examples of two people I know!

I would recommend being up-front with your future PIs/mentors about it, so that you can plan your work accordingly and choose the correct one if need be.

Plus, all those papers you've read have multiple authors, right? Collaboration is everywhere in science; many labs will do molecular/analytical work while collaborators work on mouse models.

In my recent graduate school years, before working in the mouse facility, I had to undergo a screen regarding allergies -- I would bet that any institution with a mouse facility is very well aware of the potential risks here. I also had a colleague who was allergic but it was manageable, though I know this is different for every person. Just some examples.
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Re: PhD in immunology with mice allergy

Postby PACN » Tue Jun 28, 2016 12:02 pm

How sure are you that you can't work with them? I am also very allergic to mice but with the right equipment I was able to work with them. In addition to gloves and long sleeves/pants, I wore an N95 respirator-- it is an enhanced surgical mask that filters out 95% of all airborne particulates. It was quite effective. I found out about it by talking to occupational health at my institution. If you want to be able to work with mice (a separate question), it may be possible with some extra protection.
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Re: PhD in immunology with mice allergy

Postby Promilla » Tue Jun 28, 2016 5:41 pm

Thanks so much for your answers Dave and PACN!

I haven't even considered working with mice since I am really allergic to the fur. The mask might be a reasonable option to try! Thanks for the advice!

I am glad Dave you think it's totally possible to find a project which does not involve directly working with mice. I guess it's a matter of finding a right group or nice people to help whenever possible.

Thanks a lot!
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Re: PhD in immunology with mice allergy

Postby Jean » Tue Jun 28, 2016 8:07 pm

I have worked in immunology for more than 15 years and it is possible to work in the field without working with mice. I spent a few years as a technician right after college working in a mouse immunology lab, which sparked my interest in the field. However in graduate school and as a postdoc, I worked in cellular immunology labs that studied mechanisms of autoimmune and allergic diseases using human primary cells and tissues. Now I work in immune monitoring, basically the lab side of clinical trials. It might be harder to find these opportunities, but if you look in departments that have more of a clinical focus, or are affiliated with a hospital, cancer center or medical school, you should be able to find some interesting projects. With this type of project your progress might be slower since human samples can be limited, which is something to keep in mind.
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Re: PhD in immunology with mice allergy

Postby PG » Thu Jun 30, 2016 8:37 am

I did my PhD in Immunology and initially I did a lot of work with mice myself. However, during my studies I did develop a severe allergy to mice. Protective gear helped but then a mouse bit me through the glove with unpleasant consequenes. After this event I tried to avoid doing mouse work myself which did work well since the animal facility did have a couple of technicians that could perform the hands on mouse work. I completed my PhD and after that joined a Company working with mouse models for tumor immunology still without actually touching any mice.
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Re: PhD in immunology with mice allergy

Postby P.C. » Fri Jul 01, 2016 12:06 am

Possible suggestion, get with a allergy specialist and get treatment
to develop immune tolerance.... this would be a series of shots
over a long time of the allergen, which can make you nonresponsive to the allergen..

I also was really allergic to the litter critters. I would keep rats possibly as pets, but too allergic to cats, rats, mice, dust mites and a host other things. The mice allergy was severe.
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Re: PhD in immunology with mice allergy

Postby Promilla » Wed Jul 06, 2016 8:36 am

Once again thanks for everyone's input. It is good to know that it is not a huge obstacle. I will look into the possible allergy treatments, definitely.

Thanks once again!
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