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Who Is Dame Sarah Gilbert And What Did She Do?

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Who Is Dame Sarah Gilbert And What Did She Do?

A handful of NHS workers and scientists were given a standing ovation at the centre court at Wimbledon on 28th June. Among them, Dame Sarah Gilbert, who developed the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine.

And now people want to know more about her incredible work.

Dame Sarah Gilbert is among the NHS workers and scientists given a standing ovation at Wimbledon (Credit: PA)
Dame Sarah Gilbert is among the NHS workers and scientists given a standing ovation at Wimbledon (Credit: PA)

Who is Dame Sarah Gilbert?

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Born in 1962 in Kettering, Dame Sarah Catherine Gilbert is a vaccinologist with more than 25 years experience of developing vaccines.

She was recently appointed the Saïd Professor of Vaccinology at the University of Oxford and is also the co-founder of Vaccitech.

But she's most famous for developing the COVID-19 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

What is a 'Saïd Professor'?

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The Saïd Professorship is a position at Oxford University which is currently being filled by Dame Sarah Gilbert.

It was named after the prestigious philanthropist and businessman Wafic Saïd, who has been a long-standing financial supporter to the university.

What vaccines has she helped to develop?

Over her 25-year career as a vaccinologist, Dame Gilbert has been involved in the development of vaccines against malaria, influenza and emerging and re-emerging viral pathogens, including Lassa, Nipah and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

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In 2018, Dame Gilbert began preparing for "Disease X", which is the World Health Organisation's term for a hypothetical, unknown pathogen that could cause a future epidemic.

Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine (Credit: PA)
Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine (Credit: PA)

It's very complex, but preparing a vaccine for "Disease X" essentially involves building the framework or the blank canvas for a future vaccine. This means when the genetic sequence of a new virus is discovered, the vaccine for it already has the foundation and vaccinologists can tweak it so that it protects people against the new virus.

Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine

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This preparation became the key to developing what would later become the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, the first vaccine to become approved for use against Coronavirus.

Just hours after the genetic sequence of COVID-19 was discovered by scientists, Dame Gilbert and her team began designing the Oxford vaccine off the back of the preparation work on "Disease X."

This doesn't mean that "Disease X" has now essentially been renamed COVID-19. There will be another "Disease X" and vaccinologists will continue to work on that ready for the next new viral threat.

Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine (Credit: PA)
Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine (Credit: PA)
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When did she receive her damehood?

Dame Gilbert, along with other key scientists who worked on the COVID-19 vaccine, was awarded a damehood on the Queen's birthday honours list in June 2021.

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: Health, Covid-19

Laura Sanders
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