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Galit Alter, PhD

Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Galit Alter is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a group leader at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard.

Alter’s work focuses on the development of systems biology tools to define the correlates of immunity against infectious diseases that ravage the globe. To this end, Alter developed a novel, ever-evolving approach to probing humoral immunity that she termed “systems serology.” Alter uses this novel -omics platform to profile the remarkable diversity of antibodies generated in response to pathogens or vaccines and their abilities to leverage the immune system to fight disease. Capturing hundreds of datapoints, this approach provides unprecedented resolution into the unique humoral immune fingerprints that exist among individuals. Her group then interrogates these antibody profiles, using machine learning and other high-dimensional tools to define the specific antibody profiles/features that track with favorable patient outcomes in diseases such as HIV, Ebola virus, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, malaria, etc. These data raise often unexpected hypotheses on antibody mechanism of action that have led to the accelerated understanding of new therapeutic or vaccine-design approaches.

Through this work, Alter seeks to advance rational vaccine design, as well as begin to define the rules by which vaccines may fully leverage the breadth of functionality of the humoral immune response. By increasing the understanding of humoral immunity, she aims to expand the focus of vaccine development from effective antigen design to include the frequently overlooked role of antibodies in directing innate immune activity. This novel direction in systems immunology also may point to innovative engineering strategies to enhance the bioactivity of the monoclonal therapeutics aimed at selectively driving clearance, control, or eradication of diseases beyond those caused by infectious agents, including malignancies and autoimmune disorders.

Most recently, Alter has become particularly interested in the role of post-translational modulation of antibody functionality, via alterations in the glycans that are added to antibodies. Like all glycoproteins, antibody glycosylation changes rapidly during inflammatory diseases. Interestingly, these changes in glycosylation have direct effects on tuning antibody effector function. Alter’s work points to directed changes in antibody glycosylation linked to disease control. Understanding the rules by which antibody glycosylation, and more broadly all protein glycosylation, is controlled to direct immunologic activity may unlock new avenues to manipulate antibody function in a targeted manner through vaccination.

Alter is a two-time recipient of the prestigious MGH Research Scholars Award, and she was elected a member of the American Association of Microbiology in 2019.

Alter received a BSc and PhD at McGill University and completed postdoctoral training in the Partners AIDS Research Center at MGH.