Rebecca Rudicell '05

With three patent applications, 22 peer-reviewed publications, and four journal-published papers, it was no surprise that Rebecca Rudicell ’05 won Warren Wilson College’s esteemed Young Alumni Award in 2017. In fact, Rudicell’s research has helped create potential HIV vaccines and an HIV antibody that has entered human clinical trials.

Rudicell graduated from Warren Wilson in 2005 with a double major in Biology and Chemistry with a concentration in Biochemistry. “My close relationships with professors challenged and supported me,” she said. “Biology was more than just memorizing names and disconnected factoids. In my junior year, Professor Jeff Holmes taught us how to puzzle through the molecular workings of the world. It intrigued me and fascinated me so much that it is still the field I work in today.”

After her time at Warren Wilson, Rudicell earned her doctorate in Microbiology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, studying the origins of HIV from a virus in wild-living chimpanzees in sub-Saharan Africa. She transitioned to a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Health Vaccine Research Center, studying HIV vaccines. There she helped design potential vaccines and helped develop an anti-HIV antibody that has recently entered human clinical trials.

Rudicell was one of the founding scientists in the Breakthrough Lab, which takes high-risk, high-reward projects quickly through the early research phases and pushes projects toward human trials. There, she works on next-generation, universal influenza vaccines and immune-oncology projects. Through that work, she became a co-inventor on three patent applications related to HIV treatments and vaccines.

“I think my two years on the Autoshop Crew were the most impactful part of my time at WWC,” Rudicell said. “Not only did I learn the mechanical side, and how to use tools, a very useful skill personally and professionally, but it was there that I really developed a strong sense of adventure combined with a strong work ethic can take you anywhere.”

Even as she delved into this professional research, Rudicell maintained her commitment to supporting her community. One of her biggest non-scientific accomplishments in graduate school was helping to create an emergency medical fund for graduate students. It is this dedication to supporting the people leading scientific breakthroughs, in addition to the important innovations themselves, that separates Rudicell as more than a results-only scientist, but as a Warren Wilson scientist – working to improve the world around her through both scientific innovation and compassion.

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Biology and Chemistry
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