Max Essex

Max Essex

Mary Woodard Lasker Professor of Health Sciences

Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases

Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases

651 Huntington Avenue
FXB Building, Room 401
Boston, Massachusetts 02115
Phone: 617.432.2334


Our laboratory conducts research on the virology, immunobiology, and molecular epidemiology of HIV-1 viruses. The research is oriented to the evolution of new viruses, both circulating recombinant forms and variants that emerge by accumulation of mutations. The studies are usually linked to questions of vaccine design, disease pathogenesis, drug efficacy, and transmission efficiency.

In addition to the laboratory in Boston, we maintain a laboratory in Gaborone, Botswana, to support field trials in southern Africa. The latter include chemoprophylaxis to block mother/infant transmission of HIV, vaccine trials to evaluate safety and efficacy of new vaccine candidates, and drug trials, where different regimens of drugs are used to treat AIDS patients.

The design of HIV vaccines is focused on the identification of immunodominant epitopes of HIV-1C, which predominates in Botswana, and an evaluation of the antigens for immunogenicity, efficacy, representativeness, and cross-reactivity. The antigens are presented by various mechanisms, including linkage to a non-toxic anthrax delivery protein. Candidate immunogens are also evaluated in people by analyzing acutely infected individuals and determining how their responses relate to viral load and rate of disease progression.

Cohorts of pregnant women infected with HIV are also studied to identify genomic viral signatures that determine the timing and efficiency of neonatal transmission, including the parameters of why transmission occurs by different routes such as in utero and by breastfeeding. The identification of genomic determinants of transmission are then linked to designs for reducing transmission through chemoprophylaxis. Drugs are also studied in adults with clinical AIDS to identify and characterize drug resistance mutations and how such patterns of viral mutation may alter fitness of newly emerging HIV-1’s in Africa.


D.V.M., 1967, Michigan State University
Ph.D., 1970, University of California, Davis

Harvard School of Public Health AIDS Initiative – The Harvard School of Public Health AIDS Initiative is dedicated to conducting and catalyzing research to end the worldwide AIDS epidemic.