Nilabh Shastri has devoted his decades of research to understanding what he describes as the "the very enduring mystery of the immune system."
Precisely, he's worked to decipher how our immune system recognizes quickly changing foreign elements to gear up for an effective response. Shastri has become known as a pioneer in this field, finding innovative ways to identify antigens that uniquely mark certain viruses, microbes, tissues, and diseases—including cancer.
In his new position as a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University, Shastri plans to go deeper in his exploration of the medical implications of these discoveries.
"It allows all sorts of new directions that can only be done here, with clinical applications," he says. "Being at a university with a renowned medical school and hospital means more interaction with people who already are at the forefront of dealing with patients."
Shastri joins Johns Hopkins after more than 30 years at the University of California, Berkeley, where he headed the Division of Immunology and Pathogenesis.
At Hopkins, he'll work within the Department of Pathology at the School of Medicine and the Department of Biology in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. He also expects to form connections with the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, among others.
"Dr. Shastri's appointment places Johns Hopkins at the forefront of groundbreaking research in immunology," says Sunil Kumar, the university's provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. "As a world-class, interdisciplinary scientist known for innovation, he embodies the exact intent of the Bloomberg Distinguished Professorship."
Shastri was born and raised in India, in the Himalayan valley of Dehradun. Naturally inclined toward the sciences in his youth, he studied chemistry at Panjab University for his bachelor's and master's degrees, then zeroed in on biochemistry for his doctoral studies at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi.
He moved to the U.S. to advance his career, taking post-doc fellowships at UCLA and Caltech before joining the faculty at UC Berkeley in 1987. He has also held visiting professorships at Yale University and the University of Oxford.
Over the past three decades, Shastri has become recognized as a leader in the area of immune surveillance, exploring the molecular mechanisms behind T-cell activation. His recent work has focused on manipulations of the so-called "antigen presentation pathway," which triggers immune responses by displaying snippets of intracellular proteins on the surface.
This line of research could yield a wide range of clinical applications, Shastri says—including the treatment of autoimmune disorders and the development of vaccines—but it has especially promising implications for cancer immunotherapy.
Among other honors, Shastri has been recognized as a Pew Scholar in the biomedical sciences and won the Distinguished Teaching Award from UC Berkeley.
"Dr. Shastri is doing groundbreaking work on a fascinating and extremely important question—how exactly do immune cells recognize friend from foe, at a molecular level," says Paul Rothman, dean of the School of Medicine and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine. "We are very excited for him to continue that work here at Hopkins."
Added Beverly Wendland, dean of the Krieger School: "Dr. Shastri's research has been defined by a distinctly creative, multidisciplinary approach. We expect to see many new connections and collaborations flourish from his new platform at Hopkins. Dr. Shastri's expertise in immunology is an especially exciting addition to our curriculum for our students."
Shastri is the 38th Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins and will take his place among an interdisciplinary cohort of scholars working to address major world problems and teach the next generation. The program is backed by a $350 million gift from Michael R. Bloomberg, a Johns Hopkins alumnus, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, World Health Organization Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases, and former New York City mayor.