Lab Alum Update: Sara Bolivar Wagers

Sara Bolivar Wagers during her summer internship in the Maldonado Epi lab.

Photos courtesy of the author

My first clinically relevant research project was in Dr. Yvonne Maldonado’s Lab in 2012 as part of the Stanford Summer Research Program/Amgen Scholars Program. That summer I studied the transmission of vaccine-related polioviruses through fecal shedding of oral poliovirus vaccines (OPV) in siblings of OPV vaccinees in order to study secondary household transmission. After processing samples from 90 siblings of OPV vaccinees living in Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe we found a 4.4% prevalence of OPV shedding. This signified that secondary transmission of OPV is minimal and is unlikely to jeopardize polio eradication.

I was so passionate about this research and the polio eradication efforts that I decided to collaborate with another undergraduate student (Jean Guo) and two medical fellows (Nita Srinivas, Marisa Holubar) from the Maldonado Epi Lab to conduct a systematic review of all recorded immunodeficiency related vaccine derived polioviruses (iVDPV) cases in the literature because despite the recognition that iVDPVs jeopardize eradication, its determinants were still not well understood.

Although I had to return to my undergraduate institution in Florida, we continued to work on this project for the following two years via Skype and email meetings. This work ultimately led to my first co-author publication

Dr. Maldonado’s lab went above and beyond to provide me with mentorship and guidance. In that short summer, they took the time to teach me how to read publications, teach me the basics in immunology, and took me with them into the pediatric infectious disease unit to see how they cared for patients. That summer was pivotal for my training as I learned about the MD/PhD career path and established many of the foundations that still serve me well today. As a first generation student, I have been guided and inspired by outstanding mentors like Dr. Maldonado to get to where I am today. 

Sara at the Oval during her summer internship.

Sara is currently a fifth year MD/PhD student at the University of Minnesota pursuing a PhD in Immunology. She is doing her thesis research in Bruce Blazar's lab studying the immunobiology of Graft versus Host Disease, a leading cause of morbidity and mortality following allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Specifically, she is studying regulatory T cells (Treg) and ways to harness their immunosuppressive function for therapeutic strategies.


Find more information about the Stanford Summer Research Program/Amgen Scholars Program on the Stanford Biosciences website.

Updated June 17, 2020.