Humans have an adaptive immune system which is remarkable in that it enables us to mount pathogen – specific responses against a diverse and evolving world of pathogens. The central focus of our group is to understand the mechanistic underpinnings of the adaptive immune response to pathogens, and harness this understanding to help design better vaccines and therapies. Our work represents a crossroad of the physical and life sciences. The adaptive immune response is mediated by collective dynamic processes with many participating components. These collective processes span a spectrum of scales, from molecules to the scale of the organism (a human), and are inherently stochastic in character. We work on developing and applying theoretical and computational approaches (rooted in statistical physics) to study these processes. A hallmark of these efforts is the close synergy and collaboration between our theoretical/computational studies and experimental investigations in leading immunology laboratories and by clinicians in medical schools. Current interests can be divided into three broad categories. We are interested in understanding the molecular interactions that enable T cells, orchestrators of the adaptive immune response, to translate engagement of surface receptors to pathogens in to function. We are interested in how T cell development in the thymus results in T cells that are specific for unknown and emerging pathogens. We work on understanding the human immune response to HIV, with the goal of aiding efforts to design a vaccine against this scourge on the planet. Our group is also interested in cell membrane biophysics.
Arup K. Chakraborty is the Robert T. Haslam Professor of Chemical Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, and Biological Engineering at MIT. He is the founding Director of MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science. He is also a founding steering committee member of the Ragon Institute of MIT, MGH, and Harvard, and an Associate Member of the Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard. After obtaining his PhD in chemical engineering and postdoctoral studies, he joined the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley in December 1988. He rose through the ranks, and ultimately served as the Warren and Katherine Schlinger Distinguished Professor and Chair of Chemical Engineering, Professor of Chemistry, and Professor of Biophysics at Berkeley. He was also Head of Theoretical and Computational Biology at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. In September 2005, Chakraborty moved to MIT. His entire career has been focused on research at the intersection of disciplines. After an early career in engineering of polymers and catalysts, since 2000, Chakraborty’s work has focused on bringing together immunology and the physical and engineering sciences; more specifically, the intersection of statistical mechanics and immunology. His interests span T cell signaling, T cell development and repertoire, and a mechanistic understanding of HIV evolution, antibody evolution, and vaccine design. Chakraborty’s work at the intersection of disciplines has been recognized by numerous honors, including the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, the E.O. Lawrence Medal for Life Sciences from the US DOE, the Allan P. Colburn and Professional Progress awards from the AIChE, a Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar award, and a National Young investigator award. Chakraborty was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering for completely different bodies of work. He is also a member of the National Academy of Medicine, making him one of a small number of individuals who are members of all three branches of the US National Academies. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and serves on the US Defense Science Board. Chakraborty has received four teaching awards at Berkeley and MIT.