In October, her and her team concluded work creating the world’s first ever cell map of the developing immune system in certain human organs. The comprehensive study on the skin, kidney and liver is expected to help further understanding of diseases affecting the immune system and leukaemia. Before creating the map, Haniffa was busy pioneering the Human Cell Atlas, which aims “to create comprehensive reference maps of all human cells”, according to its website. This is hoped to help with the study of tissue formation, how diseases change the body and the molecular activity of different types of cells.
Haniffa – who also works with the Wellcome Sanger Insititute in London – said “I couldn’t quite believe it when I heard that I was this year’s winner of the Foulkes Foundation Medal - I am thrilled! This award makes me feel increasingly driven to discover more about the immune system, by creating open access cell maps which can be used to better understand health and disease”.
Haniffa has received many awards throughout her career. In 2013, she was given a Silver Award by the European Society for Dermatology Research, and in 2016 was shortlisted for a North Eastern Woman Entrepreneur of the Year award. The same year, she received a £200 000 fellowship from the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine for her work into white blood cells. Last year proved equally busy: Haniffa accepted the Early Career Prize in Allerlology (the study of allergies) from the 5th European Congress on Immunology, alongside working on a major research breakthrough. Her lab found a type of kidney cell capable of a mutation that leads to cancer in the organ, and conducted a study of 70 000 cells from the placenta that is hoped will help avoid miscarriages. The study was hailed as the world’s first single (human) cell reconstruction of the interface between mother and fetus.
Even the most pedestrian glance over her career – including this latest milestone – reveals Professor Haniffa’s passion. In her own words, “Whenever I look into the inner-workings of the human body I feel like an explorer going into the depths of space. I cannot think of anything more exciting than working to uncover all of the secrets of the body’s immune system.”