• Researcher Profile

    Kai W. Wucherpfennig, MD, PhD

    Kai W. Wucherpfennig, MD, PhD
    Chair, Department of Cancer Immunology and Virology
    Director, Center for Cancer Immunotherapy Research

    Professor of Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School
    Professor of Microbiology and Immunobiology, Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology, Harvard Medical School

    Office phone: 617-632-3086
    Fax: 617-582-9164
    Email: kai_wucherpfennig@dfci.harvard.edu
    Website: Wucherpfennig Lab

    Preferred contact method: email

    Research Department

    Cancer Immunology and Virology

    Area of Research

    Innovative Research in T cell Biology and Cancer Immunology

    One Jimmy Fund Way
    Smith 736
    Boston, MA 02115


    Dr. Wucherpfennig received his MD in 1986 and his PhD in 1987 from the University of Goettingen, Germany. He completed research fellowships at Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University. In 1995, he joined DFCI, where he is principally involved in basic laboratory research that focuses on T cell immunology and the role of T cells in cancer immunology. 

    Recent Awards

    • Transformative RO1, NIH Director's Transformative Research Award Program, 2012

    • Elected as Fellow, American Society for the Advancement of Science, 2009
    • Elected as Member Henry Kunkel Society, Rockefeller University, 2007
    • Elected as Member of American Society for Clinical Investigation, 2006
    • Langheinrich Prize, University of Berlin, 1995
    • Harry Weaver Neuroscience Scholar, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 1992


    Innovative Research in T cell Biology and Cancer Immunology

    T cells have the unique capacity to specifically detect and selectively destroy cancer cells based on T cell receptor-driven recognition of tumor antigens. All therapeutic approaches that have shown efficacy in the clinic are fundamentally based on enhancing the function of cytotoxic T cells. The Wucherpfennig lab aims to develop the next generation of cancer immunotherapies by in-depth mechanistic studies that identify the critical molecular switches controlling the ability of T cells to destroy cancers in highly immunosuppressive tumor microenvironments.

    We recently reported a novel in vivo approach that enables discovery of negative regulators of T cell function in tumors. The genes we discovered provide exciting opportunities to mechanistically understand key regulatory mechanisms in T cells. Furthermore, they provide an opportunity to enhance the anti-tumor activity of adoptive T cell therapies, for example with T cells that express a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR).

    We have also developed novel approaches to investigate immune responses in patients responding to cancer immunotherapies. A subset of patients generates antibodies against immunosuppressive molecules, and we developed a technique for isolation of memory B cells that produce such antibodies. A single cell PCR procedure provides the sequences of the antibody heavy and light chain genes, enabling production of recombinant antibodies for in depth mechanistic studies. We have found that such patient-derived antibodies can have intriguing functional properties and strong anti-tumor activity in humanized mouse models. This approach thereby enables us to directly learn from patients who respond to cancer immunotherapies and to develop human therapeutic antibodies.


    • Sethi, Dhruv, PhD
    • Zhou, Penghui, PhD
    • Pos, Wouter, PhD
    • Harvey, Christopher, PhD
    • Shaffer, Don, PhD
    • Moffett, Howell, PhD
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