Shabaana A. Khader, PhD, has been appointed Professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology at the University of Chicago, effective September 1, 2022. She joins UChicago from Washington University in St. Louis, where she was most recently the Theodore and Berta Endowed Professor in the Department of Molecular Microbiology. She joined the faculty there in 2013, and served as the Program Director of the Molecular Microbiology and Microbial Pathogenesis Graduate Program and Interim Chair from 2018-2019. Prior to her time in St. Louis, Khader was on the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine from 2007 to 2013. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and a recent alum of the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM).
Khader is an internationally recognized expert on tuberculosis (TB), its pathogenesis, and the microbiological and immunological aspects of TB infection. The focus of research in Prof. Khader’s lab is on the interaction of the host immune system with the causal agent for TB infection, Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb). A central feature of the immune response to Mtb, and indeed to many human inflammatory diseases, is the formation of the granuloma, organized aggregates of immune cells that form in response to the inflammatory stimulus. Granulomas play dual roles during infection; they regulate the immune response and minimize tissue damage, but also can aid in the expansion of infection. Prof. Khader’s research focuses on the complex host-pathogen interaction mechanisms by which the bacterium escapes the protective casing of the granuloma where it can be constrained for long periods in a latent state, and then spreads as a pathogenic organism throughout the host environment.
Khader’s group leverages fundamental discoveries in TB research to develop novel approaches to vaccine development, diagnostics and biomarkers, and defining new treatments for TB in humans. This ongoing work, in collaboration with academic and industry partnerships aims to build new platforms for developing and testing the next generation of TB vaccines. She has trained students at undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral levels, teaching highly-interactive courses in pathogen interactions with the immune system and vaccines, and plans to incorporate new topics highly relevant to the current times, such as vaccine hesitancy, pandemic preparedness, climate change and impact on microbial diversity, and antibiotic resistance.
Prof. Khader earned a PhD in Biotechnology from Madurai Kamaraj University in Tamil Nadu, India, and completed her postdoctoral training with Andrea Cooper at the Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake, New York. She succeeds the previous chair of the department, the late Prof. Olaf Schneewind, a world-renowned expert on pathogenic bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus anthracis (anthrax) and Yersinia pestis (the black plague). Dr. Schneewind was the department’s founding chair, serving from 2004 until 2019.