Five Questions with Vineet Menachery
Vineet Menachery pushes the limits of the immune system.
Name: Vineet Menachery
Position: Postdoctoral scholar, Department of Epidemiology
Years at Gillings: 7
What I do at Gillings (and why I love it): I’m interested in immunity, and one of the best ways to learn about it is to really push the immune system to its limits. I work with SARS, MERS and other highly lethal viruses to do this. I compare this “pushing the limits” approach to how you can learn more about a team when you watch them play another great team versus when you watch them play a weaker opponents. Using these viruses to push immunity to its limits is a great way to learn how our systems work and respond.
With that in mind, I look at how aspects of the host – like age, obesity and genetics – drive the level of disease. For example, my dad, my son and I all react differently to the same respiratory disease based on our age. By learning how age/health/genetics change infection, we can tailor treatment to the individual and improve how our systems fight infection.
The best part of my work is knowing I’m helping to hobble deadly viruses. I also love the creativity of science. That element of the field often gets underestimated, but there’s a great deal of open-ended thought and sheer discovery because we don’t have any of the answers in advance. I like that, at this point in my career, I get to find facts instead of just re-creating them.
Outside of work, I: spend lots of time corralling my two children, who are four and 1.5 years old. I also got into CrossFit about four years ago – running, jumping, flipping tires, all that stuff – but I don’t do competitions. I work out so I can eat!
When I was little, I wanted to grow up and be: a football or basketball player –not a scientist! I wanted to be a doctor at a point, but I don’t like working with sick people. That’s the thing about viruses… They don’t say anything!
If I could wake up tomorrow having mastered one ability: I’d be able to make a perfect sandwich, every time. I can make a good sandwich, but most people don’t realize how difficult it is to make a truly great sandwich consistently. I can’t say I’ve found a perfect sandwich joint locally, even though I enjoy Buns and Al’s and other restaurants. I’d want a true level of mastery. You know, the ability to just whip up the ideal triple decker Dagwood sandwich, made with reverence and love.
Something most people don’t know about me is: is that I’m a semi-reformed prankster with a penchant for making bets. Here’s one story: Back in 2004, I lived in St. Louis. As a big Red Sox fan, when I heard a radio announcer dissing the Sox before a game with the Cardinals (the local team), I sent an email antagonizing him and saying my team could definitely take his. He called me out on the air, and we decided the loser would wear a dress in front of the radio station for an hour. Well, at 7:15 a.m. on a random Friday, I showed up and wore the floral number. Mauve’s just not my color, you know?