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Duke prof, vaccine researcher sets example for scientists of color

Posted February 17, 2021 5:55 p.m. EST

A Duke professor working to understand how viruses spread and can be prevented serves as an example to other young scientists of color.

Dr. Kevin Saunders is director of research at at Duke University's Human Vaccine Institute. In simple terms, his laboratory develops protective antibody-based vaccines.

"I think part of my purpose is to try to work hard to find things that can help people's health, be it vaccines, drugs of some sort," he said.

In addition to serving as an assistant professor in the Department of Immunology, Saunders is blazing a trial as one of the few young black scientists around the country.

"When I enter the room, I'm often one of the younger people there," Saunders said. "And then I think also because of my ethnicity and the color of my skin, it's very evident that when I walk in I'm often the only one."

Seeing that disparity, Saunders mentors students on a regular basis to giving the next generation of researchers the same opportunities he received.

Maria Dennis, an analyst at the Human Vaccine Institute, is one of those who looks up to him.

"Young men and young men of color, and also young women, they can look at him as an inspiration, like everything he's accomplished they can also accomplish themselves," she said.

Saunders hopes his work will encourage future scientists to take leading roles in vaccine development right here in North Carolina.

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