Professional Profile: Immunologist Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett

by Erica Mitchell | March 1 2021 | 0 Comments

dr corbett-01In the fight against COVID-19, there are many heroes. From healthcare workers to grocery store cashiers, so many people have worked hard, and taken risks, to keep our lives safe and as normal as possible. Some heroes work behind the scenes, however, and sometimes don't get the recognition they deserve. One of those heroes is Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, an immunologist whose area of expertise made her the perfect person to lead the team that developed the Moderna vaccine. In today's post, we'll profile this exceptional scientist and leader.

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, who goes by Kizzy, was always an exceptional student. From a young age, growing up in a large family in North Carolina, Kizzy loved math and science, winning science fairs and earning merit scholarships along the way. Her involvement in Project SEED, which enabled talented STEM students to experience real laboratory work while still in high school, introduced her to the world of microbiology and immunology. During her college years, Kizzy held research positions at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in a lab examining innovative delivery platforms for vaccines, a speciality should would focus on as she completed her degree. After receiving her PhD in microbiology and immunology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2014, Dr. Corbett completed her fellowship in Sri Lanka, focusing on dengue fever pathogenesis.

It would not take long for Dr. Corbett to return to the ranks of the NIH, this time as a research fellow in viral immunology, focusing on vaccines for novel coronavirus. At this time, MERS and SARS were the novel coronaviruses in the news, and Dr. Corbett worked within a very narrow focus on these two viruses, identifying how to best make the spike protein necessary to stimulate an immune response. For the past six years, this has been Dr. Corbett's singular focus. And thank goodness she was - when SARS-CoV -2 began its global spread, Dr. Corbett's discoveries provided the missing link between a novel vaccine platform - mRNA - and a much-needed vaccine.

Dr. Corbett and her team at the Vaccine Research Center collaborated with researchers from Moderna to solve the spike protein unique to this virus, SARS-CoV-2. All her previous work meant that progress was quick, just when the world needed her. Dr. Corbett's work extends beyond the laboratory, where she has taken on a role of public outreach and education about the unique vaccine delivery platform she helped create,  in efforts to reduce vaccine hesitancy. And today, her work has led to over 40 million doses of the vaccines to the US alone, giving our nation the needed intervention to help us return to normal.