Amy Bei became intrigued with the combination of human genetics and ethics when she was in high school. Initially working in the tropical disease research unit at University of California, San Francisco, she later segued into global public health. “Having the opportunity to research neglected diseases that we don’t hear much about in the United States but that are actually killing hundreds of thousands of people around the world, and to connect how science has to work with cultures and communities to help prevent and treat these diseases is what inspires and excites me,” says Bei.
After spending a year conducting field work in Tanzania, Bei pursued her PhD at the Harvard School of Public Health and later took a postdoctoral fellow position in Senegal researching genetic diversity and implications for immunity while guiding scientific training initiatives. “Senegal definitely became home. I lived there eight years, my children were born and grew up there and we go back regularly to stay connected with friends and family.”
In order to do her research effectively, Bei realized she needed to truly understand the culture and communities in which her work was based. In Tanzania, she became fluent in Kiswahili for this reason. When in Senegal, she wanted to learn the local language of Wolof to better interact with patients, and more effectively teach the trainees. She petitioned the head of the Harvard program to start a course in Wolof, he told her if she could get enough people interested, he would start a course. She did, and the course is still ongoing.
Her desire to stay close to Senegal and to malaria endemic communities is what led her to Yale School of Public Health. She heard about a job at Yale involving pathogen genomics and field epidemiology that perfectly matched her work approach and goals. “This is the only school I’ve found that encourages researchers to spend significant time in the field, involved in research and mentoring.” She says seeing the people she has helped train progress into professors and have flourishing careers in science in Africa among her most exciting career moments.
Bei hopes to impact how vaccines are created through testing the impact of genetic diversity in candidates earlier in the pipeline, ultimately contributing to a more effective and globally protective malaria vaccine.