Valencia Watson

Position: Graduate Student


B.S. Biomedical Engineering 2016, Georgia Institute of Technology

M.S. Chemical Engineering 2019, University of Maryland, Baltimore County


Alopecia Areata (AA) is an autoimmune disease affecting ~2% of the world population. It manifests as inflammatory response of the hair follicles where immune cells, cytotoxic T cells in particular, attack self-tissue, resulting in hair loss. The mechanism underlying this autoimmune reaction is incompletely understood, and the antigen(s) recognized by the specific T-cell receptors (TCRs) are unknown. The objective of my project is to identify and characterize AA-specific and force sensitive antigen(s) and cognate TCRs. It is widely accepted that the disease is induced by a loss of immune privilege in hair follicles, leading to the loss of immune tolerance of a subpopulation of CD8+ T cells that recognize self-antigens. It is hypothesized that the self-antigen peptide-histocompatibility complex (pMHC) interaction with TCR is stronger than those that provide tonic signals for T cell survival but weaker than the pathogenic-pMHC-TCR interactions. I aim to identify AA-driving antigen(s) and their cognate TCRs in human and mouse, to characterize the force-dependent AA-pMHC-TCR interaction and compare it with self- and pathogenic-pMHC-TCR interactions using the biomembrane force probe technology of our lab.


Wilder CL, Walton C, Watson V, et al. Differential cathepsin responses to inhibitor-induced feedback: E-64 and cystatin C elevate active cathepsin S and suppress active cathepsin L in breast cancer cells. Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2016; 79:199-208. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocel.2016.08.030

Holzberg T, Watson V, Brown S et al. Sensors for biomanufacturing process development: facilitating the shift from batch to continuous manufacturing. Curr Opin in Chem Engin. 2018; 22: 115-127. DOI: 10.1016/j.coche.2018.09.008

Shockey W, Kieslich C, Wilder C, Watson V, Platt M. Dynamic Model of Protease State and Inhibitor Trafficking to Predict Protease Activity in Breast Cancer Cells. Cell. and Mol. Bioengineering. 2019; DOI: 10.1007/s12195-019-00580-5