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Ilhem Messaoudi

Associate Professor of Biomedical Sciences
Ilhem Messaoudi
Strengthening Immunity in Aging Populations
By 2030, one fifth of the global population will be over the age of sixty-five. With a better understanding of how the immune system changes as we age, UCR researchers are paving the way for improving people’s ability to respond to vaccines and infections, enhancing overall health and quality of life for an aging population.

Areas of Expertise


Q: What is the goal of your research?
To improve immunity as we get older in order to improve health span, the length of time we are able to live in a healthy, functional, independent way. Because infections are so debilitating if we can reduce the burden of disease caused by infections, we’ll improve the quality of life for older individuals, contributing to health span.

Q: Why is your research important?
Older people are at higher risk for contracting infections and developing complications. Specifically, our studies looking at the aging of the immune system are helping us to define how our immune system recognizes shingles, the disease caused by the reactivation of the virus that causes chicken pox, which affects one million people, most of whom are over age 65.

Q: What are some possible implications of your findings?
Age, exposure to environmental toxins, and what we eat and drink all affect how our immune system works. Understanding how our immune system functions and what disrupts that function has a broad impact on society and healthcare delivery, such as helping us to develop interventions to improve our ability to respond to infections, one of the leading causes of death in the elderly.

Q: How is your research leading to changes healthcare treatments for shingles?
We’ve defined a “good” response to the virus when it occurs early in life, which protects individuals from reactivation and shingles so we’re looking to characterize how this response changes as we age. As of July 2014, we’ve received funding from NIH to collaborate with a vaccine company using our laboratory findings to formulate a new, more effective vaccine for shingles.

Q: How is your work in UCR’s new School of Medicine serving the community?
We’re establishing partnerships between the UCR School of Medicine and community health centers in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, where there are high populations of aging individuals that are largely underserved. For my shingles project, I’ve partnered with Air Force Village West, a local retirement community near campus. The residents have agreed to be participants in our research, which is just one example of how UCR is well integrated into the community and is able to leverage the resources around us.

Q: What’s next for your research?
UCR is one of the leading institutions for genomics, which is one of the reasons I joined UCR: to have access to these amazing facilities and collaborations with other scientists. The next step for my research is moving into genomics for whole genome sequencing, understanding our DNA, the genes that are transcribed and how they affect health and disease.

Q: Why is UCR a great place to do research?
The scientists, the faculty, and the students at UC Riverside really understand what “team science” is all about – there is this great spirit of helping one another to ask a bigger question. I think UCR really exemplifies the statement “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Q: What does “Living the Promise” mean to you?
I really like the phrase, actually, because I came here as an immigrant in 1993 to go to college to become a microbiologist like Louis Pasteur. I was fortunate enough to have people support me in various parts of my life – as an undergraduate, graduate student, as a postdoctoral fellow, all the way to my job at UCR. So for me, living the promise is making opportunities available for other people as well, and also paying back to society. I’ve been fortunate enough to get all this training and do research at this great institution, and so part of what I hope to do is to pay society back with my work.
Ilhem Messaoudi “Age, exposure to environmental toxins, and what we eat and drink all affect how our immune system works.”

—Ilhem Messaoudi
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