We are thrilled to introduce Laura Santambrogio, M.D., Ph.D., our new Associate Director for Precision Immunology at the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine. She will also hold appointments as Professor of Radiation Oncology, and Professor of Physiology and Biophysics at Weill Cornell Medicine.
Dr. Santambrogio comes to us from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where she was Professor in the Department of Pathology and Professor in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology. She received her Ph.D. from Padua University in Italy, and trained as a post-doctoral Fellow at New York University and Harvard Medical School, where she trained with Jack Strominger.
“We are very excited to have Dr. Santambrogio join the EIPM as our new Associate Director for Precision Immunology, she brings a wealth of experience and talent to our team,” said EIPM Director Olivier Elemento, Ph.D. “Her important work holds the potential for valuable collaborations within the EIPM and across the wider Weill Cornell Medicine research family.”
We hope you enjoy learning about her background and research interests, and we encourage you to introduce yourself to her soon.
What attracted you to Weill Cornell Medicine?
I was very attracted to the atmosphere of professionalism and the great spirit of collegiality. I have only just begun working here and already many people have invited me to their meetings and discussed exciting potential collaborations.
Weill Cornell Medicine is obviously a great institution and the facilities are fantastic. For example, I have done a lot of work in proteomics and in the past, we would have to send out our experiments to other institutions around the country. But at WCM its possible to do all of the experiments in-house.
While at Einstein you studied the mechanisms of antigen processing and presentation, peptide binding to MHC class II molecules and the overall role of dendritic cells in innate and adaptive immune responses. Will you continue that research at WCM?
Yes, the research program will not change. This has been the focus of my laboratory since my time at Harvard, and my field of research for a number of years. And this is one of the reasons why I wanted to come here, there is a great opportunity to branch-out the analysis of the antigenic peptides presented by dendritic cells from autoimmunity to cancer.
Learning the basic mechanisms of the MHC antigen processing and presentation machinery is important towards our understanding of immune responses, from physiology to pathology. Similarly, learning how to build an immune response to a pathogen, which self-peptides are presented in autoimmunity, and how you select immunogenic peptides for cancer immunotherapy are very important. This is the main reason why people were interested in having me join the faculty at WCM.
How does all of this work fit into the world of Precision Medicine?
Good question. Each one of us has a different MHC haplotype; these are among the most polymorphic proteins in the human body. So the peptides that you bind and present to the immune system are different than the ones that I bind and present to my immune system. Each MHC presented peptide is specific to individual patients. Understanding how to harness the MHC peptidome to drive cancer immunotherapy or build a better vaccination strategy or fighting autoimmune diseases is an important and “personalized” endeavor.
What other kinds of research projects will you be working on?
I’m very interested in expanding the work on dendritic cells antigen processing and presentation and the mechanisms that control peptide generation and MHC II binding. Additionally, we will continue our work on the analysis of the lymphatic fluid; its proteins, peptides, vesicles, and immune cell composition and its relation to nodal immune responses.
This is one of the reasons why I was thrilled to have a secondary appointment in the basic science department of Physiology and Biophysics.
Do you have specific goals you’d like to accomplish at EIPM and WCM?
Yes, I’d like to work with people at the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine and WCM that are engaged in proteomic analysis, those who are working on the characterization of MHC epitopes, neo-epitopes and peptides with oxidative post-translational modifications. I would like to help implement this kind of analyses that could benefit the scientists working in these fields.
Is there anything you’d like your new colleagues to know about your work?
Yes, I’m very interested in collaborations. If there is anyone who is interested in these topics and my professional expertise, I’d be very interested in meeting with them and exploring collaborations.
Did you always want to work in academic medicine?
Yes, I did. I really like the academic setting. There is a lot of freedom in terms of what you can do, what you can explore, and setting your own goals. Industry doesn’t always afford those same opportunities. I’m also trained as a medical doctor, I passed all of the exams to work as an M.D. in this country, but I never really wanted to pursue that field. I wanted to work in academic research.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Well, I love to travel, especially to my home country of Italy. And when I’m in New York I love the theater and museums, and I really love the opera.