DENVER — There are scientists all over the world working nonstop to come up with a cure for COVID-19.
One of them has found a fun way to tell the world about her research using the app TikTok.
Dr. Anna Blakney, 30, has around 210,000 followers on TikTok who have watched her dance, take a science quiz, describe RNA vaccines, anything to make research and information a little more palatable for those of who are “science challenged.” One of her videos has been viewed 16.2 million times.
Blakney is currently an Assistant Professor in the Michael Smith Labs and School of Biomedical Engineering at the University of British Columbia where she runs her own research lab, although she wasn’t always so focused on science in her early years in Centennial, Colorado, where she attended Arapahoe High School.
“I liked science growing up, but I also liked art, and I think if I hadn’t gone into engineering, I would have studied art," Blakney said. "I wouldn’t say growing up I was pure science. I always did well in school. I was also involved in sports, did lots of different things.”
Blakney went on to the University of Colorado Boulder where she earned a degree in chemical and biological engineering and worked in a research lab on tissue research. From there, she earned a PhD at the University of Washington in Seattle, which led her to vaccine research at Imperial College London.
“When I moved to London, I went there specifically to work on RNA vaccines, actually a special type called self amplified RNA, really a fancy way of saying once RNA gets into your cells, it's able to make copies of itself,” Blakney said.
Her timing couldn’t have been better. Researchers around the world have discovered the RNA vaccines are the key to combating COVID-19. So many more people are now aware of the RNA research.
“It’s a relatively new way to make vaccine technology compared to the old ways of making vaccine," Blakney said. "You can make them really quickly, it’s easier to scale up. The big risk before was nobody knew how well they worked, and nobody had done a phase three trial before, but they both work very well, and that is really promising.”
Blakney is really excited about her field of work, and you can see it in her eyes when she talks about the ability to take on a pandemic.
“The motivation for most of us is having a positive impact on human health. The science is interesting, figuring out stuff is invigorating.… some people wait their whole career to get something tested in a clinical trial, and that happened super early for me in my career," Blakney said. "I’m just super grateful to have landed there and to be a part of the team.”
One question Blakney often receives: was the vaccine rushed since it normally takes five to 10 years to develop a vaccine?
"That’s true, and I say 'when else in history, in our lifetime, have all scientists, clinicians, all been in focus on the same disease all at the same time?'” Blakney said.
Right now, Blakney is starting her own lab and sees opportunities to continue working on RNA vaccines to see how they can be applied to an assortment of diseases.
In the meantime, she’s like the rest of us, waiting on her turn to get vaccinated.
“I’m waiting for the day. I’m 30, so I’m pretty low on the priority list,” Blakney said with a laugh.