PhD scientist and infectious disease expert

Biomedical Scientist

Two movies influenced Jessica's decision to pursue an advanced degree and career in science, Outbreak and Medicine Man, encompassing several of her professional passions: infectious and exotic viral diseases, epidemiology, basic science, field work, and zoonotic diseases.  No surprise, after completing a post-baccalaureate fellowship researching avian influenza after college, Jessica received her PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology, with a concentration in Microbiology, Virology, and Parasitology, from the University of Pennsylvania.  Her thesis work focused on the immunopathogenesis of HIV and SIV infections in humans and monkeys.  Following her PhD, Jessica used her expertise as a non-human primate immunopathogenesis expert to study and develop models of severe malaria in rhesus macaques in a postdoctoral research fellowship at the US National Institutes of Health.

Lifetime science lover

Science, especially biological science, has always been a part of Jessica's life. Her father, a forester and natural resources conservationist, exposed her to the beauty and wonder of the outdoors as a little girl. He also bought Jessica her first chemistry set and helped her try to generate electricity from the energy of her hamster running on its wheel for a science fair.

In college she fell in love with and decided to major in biology, taking a range of classes, including graduate courses, from microbiology and cell biology to animal behavior and neurobiology at Duke University. The research bug also infected her at this time - she worked as a research assistant in neurobiology labs throughout college. Also interested early in international science work and health, Jessica spent the summer after she graduated working at the Institute Laue Langevin (famous for their particle accelerator) in Grenoble, France, on a research fellowship.


Stereotype breaker

Jessica strives to challenge the culturally predominant stereotype of scientists being poor communicators and socially awkward, with few interests outside of science.  She insists on presenting a more diverse profile of scientists, including by openly and enthusiastically sharing through social media who she is and her passions (female, mixed-ethnicity, fashion-loving, socially conscious, music and dance lover, etc). In doing so, she hopes to change public perception of what a scientist is and can be, especially for young girls interested in science.  Jessica believes that changing the public perception of scientists can lead to a more diverse scientific workforce, in demographics and skill-sets, and also facilitate greater public awareness of scientific issues important to society.


Key Publications and research Presentations

  • ·   J. Taaffe et al, CD4+ T cell depletion in P. coatneyi infected rhesus macaques does not reduce severe malaria anemia.  The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 62nd Annual Meeting, Washington, DC, USA. Nov 2013
  • · J. Taaffe et al,  Low levels of Immune Activation in Viremic Non-Progressors HIV-infected Individuals. XVIII International AIDS Conference, Vienna, Austria.July 2010
  • ·   J. Taaffe et al, P. coatneyi causes severe anemia and inflammation in bone marrow and other organs of rhesus macaques.The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 61st Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, USA. Nov 2012
  • · J. Taaffe et al, CCR5 blockade alters the in vivo trafficking of CCR5+ and CD25+ T cells in healthy, SIV-uninfected rhesus macaques. Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. Feb 2010