Distinguished Speaker Seminar – Arup K. Chakraborty

Time & Date:
1:00PM Mar 11, 2022

Location: CHBE Room 102



Efforts to develop effective vaccines against highly mutable pathogens have largely been unsuccessful. HIV is a prominent example. We also do not have a universal vaccine that can protect us from diverse strains of influenza or SARS-CoV-2. I will describe how bringing together theory/computation (rooted in learning algorithms and statistical physics) with basic and clinical immunology can help address such challenges. Using such an approach, we translated data on HIV protein sequences to knowledge of the HIV fitness landscape – i.e., how the virus’ ability to propagate infection depends on its sequence. Predictions emerging from the fitness landscape were then tested against in vitro and clinical data. I will discuss how a potentially potent T cell-based therapeutic vaccine was designed based on these findings and tested positively for immunogenicity in rhesus macaques. I will also describe work aimed toward eliciting antibodies that can protect against diverse strains of mutable pathogens. This is a problem at the intersection of statistical physics, immunology, and learning theory. General principles that can guide the design of vaccination strategies that may elicit “variant proof” antibodies will be described, and illustrated in the context of influenza and SARS-CoV-2.


ARUP K. CHAKRABORTY is one of the 12 Institute Professors at MIT, the highest rank awarded to a MIT faculty member. He is also a Professor of Chemical Engineering, Physics, and Chemistry at MIT. He served as the founding Director of MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, and he is a founding member of the Ragon Institute of MIT, MGH, and Harvard. For over two decades now, Chakraborty’s work has largely focused on bringing together approaches from immunology, physics, and engineering. His interests span T cell signaling, T cell development and repertoire, and a mechanistic understanding of virus evolution, antibody responses, and vaccine design. Since 2016, Chakraborty has also been deeply interested in the role of phase separation in gene regulation. Chakraborty is one of only 25 individuals who are members of all three branches of the US National Academies – National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Medicine, and National Academy of Engineering. He is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and has received many other honors including the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, the E. O. Lawrence Medal (DOE), a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Colburn, Professional Progress, and Prausnitz Institute Lectureship from the AIChE. Chakraborty has received 6 teaching awards for his classroom teaching, and 24 of his former lab members are now faculty members at universities around the world. He is a co-author of the recent book “Viruses, Pandemics, & Immunity”. Chakraborty previously served on the US Defense Science Board and is a member of the Board of Governors of the Wellcome Trust. He also serves as an advisor, consultant, or board member of a few biotechnology companies.