Defense by design: Creating antibodies against COVID-19

LLNL Scientist(s)
Dan Faissol,
Tom Desautels,
Feliza Bourguet
Katherine Huang
Teacher's School
Dougherty Valley High School


Abstract: Antibodies are proteins made by the human immune system to identify and defeat invaders like viruses and bacteria. Sometimes, our immune systems are not able to make the right antibodies to protect against the invader. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is developing a way to engineer antibodies to quickly provide protection in cases when our bodies cannot. LLNL scientists will explain how they are using antibodies from the nearly 20 year old SARS-1 outbreak to engineer antibodies for COVID-19. The team draws upon expertise at LLNL in biology, high-performance computing, and machine learning to create possible countermeasures for COVID-19 and to prepare for future outbreaks.



Dan Faissol received a B. S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles and a Ph. D. in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Georgia Tech. He is a Staff Scientist in the Engineering Directorate. At LLNL, he has worked on various projects including simulation analysis for detecting and preventing nuclear terrorism, statistical analysis for detecting cyber attacks, and systems analysis for disease outbreaks. His current work focuses on the intersection of simulation and machine learning for scientific discovery; in particular, for bioscience problems. Currently, he leads an initiative in computational design of therapeutic antibodies and vaccine development. 


Tom Desautels received a B. S. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of California, Davis and a Ph. D. in Mechanical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology. He is part of the Machine Learning group in the Computational Engineering Division at LLNL, providing machine learning expertise to project teams. He currently leads a project on the design of vaccine antigens and therapeutic antibodies via computational and machine learning methods and is now designing antibodies to counter the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.


Feliza Bourguet received an M. S. in Applied Biosciences from the University of Arizona. She is a molecular biologist at LLNL. She has spent 15 years engineering proteins to study host-pathogen interactions and bioremediation. She is currently working to perform experimental validation of rationally designed antibodies for SARS-CoV-2 spike protein neutralization using synthetic biology, biochemistry, and live virus assays.


Katherine Huang received a B. S. in Biology from the University of California, Los Angeles and an M. A. in Teaching: secondary science at University of California, Irvine, and is currently pursuing her Ed. D in Educational Sustainability at Univ. of Wisconsin. She is a science teacher at Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon where she teaches Honors Anatomy and Physiology, the CTE: Biotechnology and Research Pathway, and AP Environmental Science.  She is a Faculty Scholar for the Science Education Program at LLNL where she has instructed in the Bioscience Teacher Research Academy and the Waksman Student Scholars Program.