Growing up, Amber Moore dreamed of seeing the world. So in middle school, she began storing money in a rain forest–print papier-mâché box she called the Amber’s Going to Africa Savings Fund. Raised in San Diego by a single mom who worked as an animal-care attendant, Moore loved animals early on, but it would be years before she’d envision herself as a scientist. Yet research would become her ticket around the globe.
The first in her family to attend university, Moore says she probably used her middle school savings on a plane ticket to Bryn Mawr College, where she double-majored in anthropology and chemistry. But soon she was studying traditional medicine in Swaziland, HIV in Japan, and transplant immunology at the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health in Maryland.
Now a Stanford doctoral student in immunology, Moore investigates how challenges to the maternal immune system affect development of the placenta; her hope is to reduce pregnancy complications. The finishing touches to her research are on hold because of the novel coronavirus outbreak. So in April, she stepped up to help analyze data in a makeshift lab at the Palo Alto Sheraton as part of the COVID-19 antibody testing in Santa Clara County.
‘I’m fascinated by pregnancy. It’s beautiful and scary. It requires so many things to go right.’
“In high school, my favorite teacher told me I could travel through science. At first, I didn’t know what he meant. Now, going to conferences, I’ve been to Paris, Australia, Argentina. So I keep joking that the placenta has been taking me places.
“To me, the placenta is a fascinating organ because it comes from the baby, and it’s there to be the all-in-one organ for nine months. It establishes and maintains the tolerance that needs to occur between mom and baby in order for the pregnancy to be successful. I like to compare it to an organ transplant. You’re putting this foreign material in [a recipient’s] body, and it sometimes rejects it, even though [the] body really needs it to survive. When you’re pregnant, you have this semiforeign fetus growing inside of you, but your body doesn’t reject it.
“From an immunological perspective, I am interested in what distinguishes healthy pregnancies from those with complications. Pregnancy complications can be attributed to genetic or endocrine abnormalities and infection, but many still remain [unexplained]. We hope to tease out some of the immunology behind [those] complications.
“Being raised by a black woman, you learn pretty early on how much harder you have to work. Dealing with racism, sexism, discrimination—it takes a toll, because it doesn’t magically disappear when you get on Stanford’s campus. One of the ways I respond is that I mentor. I try to show [other students of color] that I’m here, so you can be here, too, and give them the support and resources they need.
“Day in and day out, when you’re [a biosciences student] pipetting one liquid into another, you can kind of lose sight of why you’re doing this. But [helping with COVID-19 antibody testing] is a prime example of why I’m studying immunology. This work helps serve this larger purpose and can have a global impact.”
Melina Walling, ’20, is an editorial intern at Stanford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.