Ai Ing Lim, Ph.D.

Principal Investigator,
Incoming Assistant Professor, C.V.

How a single cell divides and differentiates into specialized tissues and organs, constituting a whole organism, is a seminal scientific question that has ceaselessly fascinated me. Specifically, I am intrigued by how a single hematopoietic stem cell gives rise to diverse immune cells with distinct coordinating functions to optimally respond to a multitude of infectious and environmental challenges.

After my early education in Malaysia, I moved to Hong Kong for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. As a European Union Marie Curie Fellow, I joined Prof. James Di Santo at Pasteur Institute (Paris) for my PhD training. There, we identified innate lymphocyte precursors from the blood of healthy individuals. These precursors can give rise to diverse mature innate lymphocytes within tissues, depending on microenvironmental signals. This finding sparked my interest in tissue immunity, where I was eager to understand how immune cells integrate with tissue development, and how tissue microenvironments and resident microbiota reciprocally wire immune function.

A critical boost to my scientific career was being recognized as an International Rising Talents by the L’Oreal-UNESCO and the best European Immunology Thesis (Acteria Doctoral Prize) by the European Federation of Immunological Societies. These awards, together with Human Frontier Science Program fellowship, allowed me to join the laboratory of Dr. Yasmine Belkaid at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for my postdoctoral training.

Given that the development of the immune system begins in utero, the central question driving my research is how maternal environmental exposures impact offspring tissue immunity and predisposition to diseases. We showed that maternal infection can provide pre-birth immune education to the offspring in a tissue-specific manner. My research team at Princeton University aims to further dissect the mechanisms underlying maternal-offspring immune crosstalk.