Kizzmekia S. Corbett-Helaire

Kizzmekia Corbett in white lab coat saying "Hey ya'll"

I am an assistant professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Freeman Hrabowski Scholar. I also hold a Radcliff Institute Shutzer assistant professorship and Ragon Institute associate membership. I am a North Carolina native who comes to Boston via Maryland so yes if I pass a group of students in the hallway, I say “Hey ya’ll”. You can take the girl out of the South, but you can’t take the Southern out of the girl… right?

From RSV to Dengue…

Interning at UNC | 2002 | Chapel Hill, NC

A viral immunologist by training, I started in science at the tender age of 16 when I interned at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). Having then been convinced I was going to be a scientist when I grew up, I went to University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), where I was a Meyerhoff scholar and National Institutes of Health (NIH) scholar. In undergrad, I interned at the NIH’s Vaccine Research Center (VRC) studying host responses to respiratory syncytial virus, all the while also serving as a data collection lead for a health disparities project called “Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity Across a Lifespan” (HANDLS). Following obtaining my BS in Biological Sciences with a secondary major in sociology in 2008, I took my love of virology and vaccinology back home to NC, to UNC as a Director’s Scholar, where I obtained a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology in 2014. My dissertation work involved understanding the intricacies of immunogenic vs. pathogenic antibody responses following dengue virus infection, which was a conundrum to be solved in order to advance dengue virus vaccine development.

… to Influenza to Coronaviruses…

The NIH VRC Coronavirus Team | 2019 | Bethesda, MD

Prior to my coming to Harvard, I spent 7 years as a research fellow at the VRC and scientific lead for the coronavirus vaccine team. There, I applied my viral immunology expertise to inform influenza and coronavirus vaccine design and led pre-clinical investigations for the VRC’s coronavirus vaccine and antibody programs. At the onset of the 2019 SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, the team leveraged prior knowledge, patent-pending technologies, and collaborations to fuel development of the first-in-human SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, mRNA-1273 (Moderna’s “SpikeVax”). SpikeVax encompasses previously described prefusion-stabilizing spike mutations, entered Phase 1 clinical trial in an unprecedented 66 days following the release of the SARS-CoV-2 sequence, and is currently approved in multiple countries. Additionally, we isolated the first-in-human therapeutic monoclonal antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 which, upon development by Eli Lilly, are currently being used globally as well. The current interests of my laboratory combine my years of experience with RSV, dengue, influenza, and coronaviruses to answer critical questions about host immune responses to coronaviruses and other emerging and re-emerging viruses.

…and Beyond.

Mentoring at Career Day, Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy | 2020 | Washington DC

In addition to my scientific accomplishments, I take pride in mentoring and advocating for burgeoning scientists, both in my laboratory and externally through programs such as the Keystone Symposia Fellows Program. Additionally, I have long been invested in community STEM activism, which includes bringing STEM awareness to local youth. I also use public service, such as outreach to vaccine “inquisitive” communities, to propel public health interventions. Together, these knacks for service allow me to represent on several boards, including the COVID-19 Advisory Board for Boston’s Mayor, Michelle Wu.

In my spare time, I enjoy spending quality time with my husband and son, facetiming my nieces and nephews, kicking it with fellow members of the “Boston While Black” community, socializing in the Boston performance arts sphere, discovering new underground hip-hop, R&B, and jazz artists, spreadsheeting the tiniest details about everything, and having a glass of wine (or two… or three).