Department of Pathology, School of Medicine
Department of Biology, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences
Nilabh Shastri has devoted his decades of research to understanding what he describes as the “the very enduring mystery of the immune system.” He is a leader in basic T cell biology and his work has significant applications to human diseases. At Hopkins, he is translating his immunology research to immunotherapy in cancer.
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 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 joined Johns Hopkins in 2018 after more than 30 years at the University of California, Berkeley, where he headed the Division of Immunology and Pathogenesis. At Hopkins, he is working within the Department of Pathology at the School of Medicine and the Department of Biology in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.
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.