The Birnbaum lab is interested in decoding and manipulating immune recognition. We are particularly interested in developing and utilizing techniques to generate large amounts of molecular diversity, in order to better understand the diversity present in natural immune repertoires. We utilize skills and techniques from disciplines including protein engineering, structural biology, protein biochemistry, cellular immunology, sequencing, computational biology and bioinformatics.
Current projects focus on: engineering T cell signaling for engineered cell therapies, including CAR T cell therapies and engineered TCR therapies; developing platforms to capture repertoire-scale diversity on both sides of the TCR-pMHC interface; developing improved strategies for sequencing immune repertoires; and studying TCR-pMHC interactions in cancer, autoimmunity, and infectious disease.
Not only are we interested in relentlessly pursuing interesting and important scientific questions, we are dedicated to developing highly-skilled, rigorous, curious, and collaborative trainees.
Want to meet some of our prior team members? Check out our alumni page.
A.B., Harvard University, 2008
Ph.D., Stanford University, 2014
Michael went to Harvard for undergraduate and then to Stanford for a PhD in Immunology. He is now back in Cambridge, and interested in immune receptor recognition and engineering.
In his spare time, he tries every single new restaurant he can and convinces himself he likes running.
B.S., Boston University, 2021
Pallavi graduated from Boston University with a Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering and a minor in Electrical Engineering. She is interested in understanding immune recognition in the context of autoimmune diseases. Outside of lab, she can be found writing music, playing the piano, and convincing her long-suffering friends to sing along.
B.S., UCLA, 2021
Amanda graduated from UCLA with a degree in Bioengineering. After graduation, she spent a year as a postbac at the NIH studying the role of tissue resident memory T cells in HIV pathogenesis. She is interested in deciphering T cell recognition in various diseases and utilizing this understanding to develop immunotherapies.
Outside of lab, she likes to take long walks, bike, hike, and do pretty much any outdoor activity.
B.A.Sc., University of Toronto, 2017
M.Sc. and M.Sc. by Research, Univ of Oxford, 2018 & 2019
Stephanie received her BASc in Chemical Engineering from the University of Toronto in 2017. As a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, she completed an M.Sc. in immunology and M.Sc. in molecular cell biology (and planned a ball!). She is currently exploring the potential of a lentiviral-based tool to study the human immune response to infectious pathogens. Outside of lab, Stephanie can be found climbing, training hard in the gym for her next adventure, or puzzling over crosswords with ice cream.
B.S., MIT, 2020
B.A., Dartmouth College, 2017
B.E., Thayer School of Engineering, 2017
M.Sc., University of Oxford, 2018
Ellen graduated from Dartmouth College where she studied biomedical engineering. She received a master’s degree in Integrated Immunology from the University of Oxford and returned to the US to study antigen processing and presentation at the NIH. She is interested in developing therapies for autoimmunity and cancer and is working on engineering lentiviruses for gene delivery to specific immune cell subsets. Outside of research, Ellen enjoys exploring the outdoors, is inspired by music, and dreams of someday seeing the northern lights.
B.E., Stony Brook University, 2019
Jon graduated from Stony Brook University with a bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering and Applied Mathematics. His project is focused on designing binders to peptide-MHC using machine learning.
Outside of lab, he enjoys rowing, rock climbing, biking and playing computer games.
B.S., Johns Hopkins University, 2019
B.S., University of Washington, 2018
Caleb graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in bioengineering. He then traveled to Switzerland to study cancer vaccines as part of the Fulbright program before enrolling at MIT, where he is developing library-based platforms to optimize CAR T cell therapies. Outside of the lab, Caleb spends his time hiking, climbing, watching way too much NBA basketball, and partaking in dollar oysters. He also enjoys playing intramural sports, with his crowning achievement in grad school being the BE dodgeball team’s 2019 championship *flex emoji*.
B.S., Yale University, 2016
Blake graduated from Yale University with a degree in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. He spent two years following graduation working on targeted protein degradation using small molecule PROTACs. He is interested in utilizing library-based screens to better understand CAR T cell signaling dynamics, in addition to the intersection between protein turnover, antigen display, and recognition. Outside of lab, he enjoys gymming, coffeeing, and reading the NYT Opinion section.
BSc, Imperial College London, 2014
MSc, The University of Oxford, 2015
DPhil, The University of Oxford, 2019
Postdoctoral Researcher, The University of Oxford, 2021
Lucy completed her DPhil (PhD) and first postdoctoral position in the Professor Geraldine Gillespie and Professor Sir Andrew McMichael Labs at The University of Oxford, with a focus on structural immunology. In her current position Lucy is working on a number of projects, from multiplex serology to understanding unconventional TCR-pMHC interactions.Outside of the lab, Lucy enjoys a good game of tennis followed by a large glass of Pimm’s!
B.S., Georgia Institute of Technology, 2022
Henry graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in Biomedical Engineering. He is interested in building modular delivery systems for therapeutic purposes. In his free time, he enjoys watching detective movies and sitcoms, and exploring restaurants.
Our lab works to characterize and manipulate immune cell recognition and function. Since the immune system is breathtakingly complex, oftentimes our ability to understand it requires new methodology. We therefore often engage in the development of new technologies to enable our projects.
We conduct these studies for three reasons. The first is to improve people’s lives; many human diseases – cancer, infection, autoimmunity, and transplant rejection, among others – are either caused by the immune system or can be treated by engineering the immune system. Second, the immune system has long been an excellent proving ground for new technologies and approaches that can broadly impact the study of biology. We hope any tools we create can be taken up by others for their own studies. Third, the complexities of the immune system are captivating, and inherently beautiful. Conducting science to better understand these complexities is a worthy goal on its own.
My mentoring philosophy is simple, with obligations on both sides. I expect everyone in my group to learn fundamentals of research, including how to pick impactful problems to work on, how to rigorously and dispassionately analyze their results, and how to contextualize their advances relative to the field and the world at large. Science can be difficult: most of the best ideas fail, and many of the most compelling hypotheses are not borne out. I therefore am a strong believer in assessing progress by ensuring good processes rather than good outcomes. Despite stereotypes, research rarely progresses via individual brilliance: therefore, I believe in working together as lab and within the larger scientific community.
In exchange, I define my success in mentoring as your success in achieving your goals. The world needs more scientists and engineers who are curious, data-driven, and seek to use science to better the world. It also needs more people trained as scientists and engineers regardless of what they do. I will you define where you want to go, and I will work as hard as you do to get you there.
Science must be conducted for the betterment of all, with involvement by all. Discrimination against anyone on the basis of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, or any other factor unacceptably harms those individuals and weakens our society as a whole. Therefore, the Birnbaum lab stands against discrimination, bias, and racism in any form. We strive to address explicit biases wherever they are found, and to be mindful of our own implicit biases that shape how we perceive the world.
However, intention without action is not sufficient. We work to ensure our lab is a safe and welcoming place for all who are interested, and work to confront biases where they occur in our communities. We actively seek to ensure historically excluded voices are heard by advocating for more diverse representation in seminars and symposia, and work to improve diversity within our own lab, graduate and undergraduate programs, institution, and the scientific community at large.