For Robin Yates, the way to make life better is to understand macrophages and dendritic cells — the immune system cells that exist within every cubic millimetre of all animal tissue, from starfish to humans.
Trained in veterinary medicine and a biomedical researcher at heart, Yates explores the function of these cells in the hopes of someday being able to reprogram the body’s immune response. Normally, these cells help maintain health and guard against infection. However, in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), they destroy healthy cells because the immune system identifies its own proteins as foreign and turns against them the way it normally does with germs and parasites. Yates has focused his research efforts on MS because there’s a fairly direct line between the key chemical reactions within these macrophages and dendritic cells and animal models of MS.
“No one really knew what the connection was, and we thought, we have a missing piece,” says Yates. Right now, there is no cure for MS. The neurological disease affects 50,000 to 75,000 Canadians, and Alberta has one of the highest rates of MS in the world.
Yates says that, although preventing MS completely in his lifetime is unlikely, he sees the value in leaving a legacy of knowledge behind for future research to build upon. “Every day, I get to lead a team that is creating knowledge that no one else has known before,” he says. “It’s kind of addictive. We’ll never know all the answers. Every finding we come up with has 10 more research questions.”
Yates moved to Calgary from upstate New York in 2008 and was integral in the design, coordination and delivery of courses with the faculty of veterinary medicine at the University of Calgary — Canada’s newest and Alberta’s first veterinary school.
“This is where we will have more impact than with me just working on my own research and making these discoveries myself,” says Yates. “If I can bring in 10 people and get them interested in MS research, then, hopefully, the more that are involved, the better we can encourage people to take it to the next step.”
3 Things About Robin Yates
- Robin Yates did his undergraduate degree in microbiology, as well as a Bachelor of Veterinary Science (D.V.M.) at the University of Queensland in Australia, and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue a Ph.D. in comparative biomedical science at Cornell University.
- In 2012, Yates won a prestigious Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) New Investigator Award.
- Yates wrote a textbook on basic veterinary immunology with a colleague from Colorado State University, due out this December. The course material will be used by international colleges in the United Kingdom, Australia, Asia and North America.