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Celebrating Black Scientists: Kizzmekia Corbett

We're celebrating Black History Month by highlighting black scientists! Each Thursday of the month on the blog, we'll feature a new black scientist that has or is changing the world as we know it (also featured on our Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn). Our fifth and final highlighted black scientist is Kizzmekia Corbett; learn about her work and accomplishments below!



Kizzmekia Corbett is an American viral immunologist, an Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the Shutzer Assistant Professor at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute since June 2021. She joined Harvard following six years at the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health (NIAID NIH) based in Bethesda, Maryland. She earned a PhD in microbiology and immunology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) in 2014.


Appointed to the VRC in 2014, Kizzmekia was a postdoctoral scientist of the VRC's COVID-19 Team with research efforts aimed at COVID-19 vaccines. In February 2021, Corbett was highlighted in Time Magazine's "Time100 Next" list under the category of Innovators, with a profile written by Anthony Fauci.


While in high school, Kizzmekia realized that she wanted to pursue a scientific career, and as part of an American Chemical Society-sponsored program called Project SEED, spent her summer holiday working in research laboratories, one of which was at UNC's Kenan Labs with organic chemist James Morkin. In 2005, she was a summer intern at Stony Brook University in Gloria Viboud's lab where she studied Yersinia pseudotuberculosis pathogenesis. From 2006 to 2007, she worked as a lab tech in Susan Dorsey's lab at the University of Maryland School of Nursing.


At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kizzmekia started working on a vaccine to protect people from coronavirus disease. Recognizing that the virus was similar to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, Kizzmekia's team utilized previous knowledge of optimal coronavirus proteins to tackle COVID-19. She was part of the NIH team who helped solve the cryogenic electron microscopy (CyroEM) structure of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Her prior research suggested that messenger RNA (mRNA) encoding S protein could be used to excite the immune response to produce protective antibodies against COVID-19.


Interested in learning more about Kizzmekia Corbett? Visit https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/profile/kizzmekia-s-corbett/. Come back next Thursday for a new blog and learn about more black scientists that are changing the world as we know it.

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