Akiko Iwasaki, PhD

Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Immunobiology and Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology; Professor of Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology; Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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Years active at Yale: 2000-present

Dr. Iwasaki is being recognized for her research into how the innate immune system recognizes viruses and how it uses that information to generate protective adaptive immunity. 

She studies immune responses to herpes simplex viruses in the genital tract and influenza infection in the lung. Recently, her lab has also focused on how autophagy mediates innate and adaptive immune responses to these and other viral pathogens. The goal is to use this knowledge to design vaccines or microbicides to prevent transmission of viral and bacterial pathogens. 

Her lab’s focus is on mucosal surfaces, major sites of entry for infectious agents. Those surfaces are intricately lined with cells and lymphoid organs that provide protective antibody and cellular immunity. A key area of study is how antigens in the mucosa are taken up, processed, and presented by antigen-presenting cells. Iwasaki and her team are trying to understand how immunity is initiated and maintained at the mucosal surfaces, particularly by the dendritic cells through natural portals of entry for pathogens that can lead to disease. 

While still a graduate student at the University of Toronto, Dr. Iwasaki was among the first to demonstrate that antigen-presenting cells were found in the blood, not in muscle. Until then, muscle cells were thought to play a key role in alerting the immune system to foreign proteins, or antigens.