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Kizzmekia Corbett

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Kizzmekia Corbett
Kizzmekia Shanta Corbett

(1986-01-26) January 26, 1986 (age 38)
Alma materUniversity of Maryland, Baltimore County (BS)
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (MS, PhD)
Known forCOVID-19 vaccine
Scientific career
InstitutionsHarvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Harvard Radcliffe Institute
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Thesis"Characterization of Human Antibody Responses to Dengue Virus Infections in a Sri Lankan Pediatric Cohort" (2014)

Kizzmekia "Kizzy" Shanta Corbett (born January 26, 1986)[1] is an American viral immunologist. She is an Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Shutzer Assistant Professor at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute since June 2021.[2]

She joined Harvard following six years at the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health (NIAID NIH) based in Bethesda, Maryland.[3][4] She earned a PhD in microbiology and immunology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) in 2014.[5]

Appointed to the VRC in 2014, Corbett was a postdoctoral scientist of the VRC's COVID-19 Team,[6] with research efforts aimed at COVID-19 vaccines.[7][8] In February 2021, Corbett was highlighted in the Time's "Time100 Next" list[9] under the category of Innovators, with a profile written by Anthony Fauci.[10]

Early life and education[edit]

Corbett was born in Hurdle Mills, North Carolina on January 26, 1986, to Rhonda Brooks.[4] She grew up in Hillsborough, North Carolina,[11] where she had a large family of step-siblings and foster siblings.[3]

Corbett went to Oak Lane Elementary School in Roxboro[12] and A.L. Stanback Middle School in Hillsborough.[11][13] Her fourth grade teacher, Myrtis Bradsher, recalls recognizing Corbett's talent at an early age and encouraging Kizzy's mother to place her in advanced classes. "I always thought she is going to do something one day. She dotted i's and crossed t's. The best in my 30 years of teaching," Bradsher said in a 2020 interview with The Washington Post.[12]

In 2004, Corbett graduated from Orange High School in Hillsborough, North Carolina.[11] In 2008, Corbett received a B.S. in biological sciences and sociology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), as a student in the Meyerhoff Scholars Program.[3] Corbett is among a cohort of recent UMBC graduates (also including Kaitlyn Sadtler) who have risen to prominence in biomedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic.[14][15] In 2014, Corbett received a PhD in microbiology and immunology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For her doctoral work, Corbett worked in Sri Lanka to study the role of human antibodies in dengue virus pathogenesis.[5]


While in high school, Corbett realized that she wanted to pursue a scientific career, and as part of an American Chemical Society-sponsored program called Project SEED, spent her summer holiday working in research laboratories, one of which was at UNC's Kenan Labs with organic chemist James Morkin.[1][3][11] In 2005, she was a summer intern at Stony Brook University in Gloria Viboud's lab where she studied Yersinia pseudotuberculosis pathogenesis. From 2006 to 2007, she worked as a lab tech in Susan Dorsey's lab at the University of Maryland School of Nursing.[12]

After earning her bachelor's degree, from 2006 to 2009, Corbett was a biological sciences trainer at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where she worked alongside Dr. Barney S. Graham. At the NIH, Corbett worked on the pathogenesis of respiratory syncytial virus as well as on a project focused on innovative vaccine platform advancement.[1]

From 2009 to 2014, Corbett studied human antibody responses to dengue virus in Sri Lankan children under the supervision of Aravinda de Silva at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill).[5][16] She studied how people produce antibodies in response to dengue fever, and how the genetics of dengue fever impact the severity of a disease. From April to May 2014, as part of her research for her dissertation, Corbett worked as a visiting scholar at Genetech Research Institute in Colombo, Sri Lanka.[1]

In October 2014, Corbett became a research fellow working as a viral immunologist at the NIH. Her research aims to uncover mechanisms of viral pathogenesis and host immunity.[13] She specifically focuses on development of novel vaccines for coronaviridae.[13] Her early research considered the development of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) vaccine antigens.[17][18] During this time, she identified a simple way to make coronavirus spike proteins that are stabilized in a conformation that renders them more immunogenic and manufacturable, in collaboration with researchers at Scripps Research Institute and Dartmouth College.[19]

In December 2021, Corbett was assigned to Boston's COVID-19 advisory committee by mayor Wu.[20]

Development of COVID-19 vaccine[edit]

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Corbett started working on a vaccine to protect people from coronavirus disease.[3] Recognizing that the virus was similar to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, Corbett's team utilized previous knowledge of optimal coronavirus proteins to tackle COVID-19.[21][22] S proteins form a "crown" on the surface of coronaviruses and are crucial for engagement of host cell receptors and the initiation of membrane fusion in coronavirus disease. This makes them a particularly vulnerable target for coronavirus prophylactics and therapeutics. Based on her previous research, Corbett's team, in collaboration with Jason McLellan and other investigators at The University of Texas at Austin,[23] transplanted stabilizing mutations from SARS-CoV S protein into SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.[19] She was part of the NIH team who helped solve the cryogenic electron microscopy (CryoEM) structure of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.[24] Her prior research suggested that messenger RNA (mRNA) encoding S protein could be used to excite the immune response to produce protective antibodies against coronavirus disease 2019.[19][25]

To manufacture and test the COVID-19 vaccine Corbett's team partnered with Moderna, a biotechnology company, to rapidly enter animal studies. Subsequently, the vaccine entered Phase 1 clinical trial only 66 days after the virus sequence was released. The trial, to be completed in at least 45 people, is a dose escalation study in the form of two injections separated by 28 days.[26] In December 2020, the Institute's Director, Anthony Fauci said: "Kizzy is an African American scientist who is right at the forefront of the development of the vaccine."[27] In the Time's profile, Fauci wrote that Corbett has "been central to the development of the Moderna mRNA vaccine and the Eli Lilly therapeutic monoclonal antibody that were first to enter clinical trials in the U.S." and that "her work will have a substantial impact on ending the worst respiratory-disease pandemic in more than 100 years."[10] Corbett's work afforded her the opportunity to be a part of the National Institutes of Health team that had Donald Trump at the Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center in March 2020.[4][28][29][30] When asked about her involvement with the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, Corbett said, "To be living in this moment where I have the opportunity to work on something that has imminent global importance…it's just a surreal moment for me".[31][32] Corbett stated she cried when the efficacy results showed the mRNA-1273 Moderna vaccine worked.[33]

Public statements related to COVID-19[edit]

Corbett has called for the public to be cautious and respectful of one another during the COVID-19 pandemic, explaining that regular hand washing and sneezing into one's elbow can help to minimize the spread of the virus. She has also emphasized that we should not stigmatize people who may be from areas where the virus started.[11]

Corbett has worked to rebuild trust with vaccine-hesitant populations such as the Black community.[34][35][36] For example, she presented education about the COVID-19 vaccine development to Black Health Matters in October 2020.[37][38] Her race has been a focus of government outreach; after a study released by the NAACP and others revealed that only 14% of black Americans believe a COVID-19 vaccine will be safe, NIAID Director Fauci was explicit: "the first thing you might want to say to my African American brothers and sisters is that the vaccine that you're going to be taking was developed by an African American woman."[39]

Controversial tweets[edit]

In May 2020, The Washington Post reported that Corbett had been scrutinized for tweets lamenting the lack of diversity on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, as well as for her responses to other tweets about data that African Americans were disproportionately dying from the virus. Responding to a tweet in which someone else claimed that the virus "is a way to get rid of us," Corbett responded: "Some have gone as far to call it genocide. I plead the fifth.".[12] Fox News news host Tucker Carlson read several of Corbett's tweets on his show, accusing her of "spouting lunatic conspiracy theories."[12] Another Fox News article said she "adopts a strikingly casual and conspiratorial tone."[40] After the controversy, Corbett scaled back her use of social media and stopped appearing on television.[12] Texas Southern University professor Robert Bullard and president of the National Medical Association (an organization of Black physicians) Oliver Brooks defended Corbett overall, although Brooks expressed concern about her tweet on genocide, saying "It's subjective. I wouldn't want to go there. I really don't believe that. We're dying at a higher rate but … that one just doesn't fit.".[12]

Academic service[edit]

Corbett regularly shares information on Twitter and takes part in programs to inspire youth in underserved communities.[13]


Selected works and publications[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Corbett continues quest for dengue fever vaccine". UNC Health Talk. February 14, 2014. Archived from the original on April 13, 2020.
  2. ^ Rura, Nicole (May 11, 2021). "Leading coronavirus scientist, Kizzmekia S. Corbett, to join Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to continue vaccine development research". Harvard School of Public Health News. Retrieved June 28, 2021. Her first day will be June 14, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e Givens, Dana; Blanco, Lydia; Corbett, Kizzmekia (March 26, 2020). "Meet The Black Woman Taking the Lead to Develop a Vaccine For COVID-19". Black Enterprise. Archived from the original on March 26, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c Ross, Janell (April 12, 2020). "Scientist Kizzmekia Corbett leads the way on COVID-19 vaccine trials with dedication and humor". NBC News. Archived from the original on April 12, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c "Congratulations to M&I 2014-2015 Graduates! (Part 2 of 3)". Department of Microbiology and Immunology. May 12, 2015. Retrieved February 21, 2021.
  6. ^ "Former M&I Graduate Student, Kizzmekia Corbett, Developing a Vaccine against the Coronavirus". Department of Microbiology and Immunology. January 30, 2020. Archived from the original on August 12, 2020. Retrieved December 13, 2020.
  7. ^ Sheikh, Knvul; Thomas, Katie (January 28, 2020). "Researchers Are Racing to Make a Coronavirus Vaccine. Will It Help?". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 29, 2020.
  8. ^ Stein, Rob; King, Noel; Corbett, Kizzmekia (February 21, 2020). "NIH Lab Races To Create Coronavirus Vaccine In Record Time". Morning Edition. NPR. Archived from the original on February 21, 2020.
  9. ^ "How We Chose the 2021 TIME100 Next". Time. Retrieved February 17, 2021.
  10. ^ a b c "2021 TIME100 Next: Kizzmekia Corbett". Time. February 17, 2021. Retrieved February 17, 2021.
  11. ^ a b c d e Edwards, Dale (February 19, 2020). "She has our back: Vaccine push has local connection". The News of Orange County.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Fears, Darryl (May 6, 2020). "Kizzmekia Corbett spent her life preparing for this moment. Can she create the vaccine to end a pandemic?". Washington Post. Retrieved May 7, 2020.
  13. ^ a b c d "Keystone Symposia: Kizzmekia S. Corbett PhD; NIH, NIAID, Vaccine Research Center". Virtual Keystone Symposia. October 2018.
  14. ^ Dzirasa, Letitia Dzirasa, Delali (February 15, 2021). "It's time to expand affordable high-quality higher ed at places like UMBC that have a proven track". COMMENTARY. Baltimore Sun. Retrieved March 19, 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Hrabowski, Freeman A.; Tracy, J. Kathleen; Henderson, Peter H. (August 4, 2020). "Opinion: At a Crossroads: Reimagining science, engineering, and medicine—and its practitioners". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 117 (31): 18137–18141. doi:10.1073/pnas.2013588117. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 7414165. PMID 32669431.
  16. ^ Corbett, Kizzmekia S.; Katzelnick, Leah; Tissera, Hasitha; Amerasinghe, Ananda; de Silva, Aruna Dharshan; de Silva, Aravinda M. (February 15, 2015). "Preexisting Neutralizing Antibody Responses Distinguish Clinically Inapparent and Apparent Dengue Virus Infections in a Sri Lankan Pediatric Cohort". The Journal of Infectious Diseases. 211 (4): 590–599. doi:10.1093/infdis/jiu481. PMC 4375390. PMID 25336728. Wikidata ()
  17. ^ Sims, Megan (March 29, 2020). "Black woman immunologist leads charge to develop COVID-19 vaccine". TheGrio.
  18. ^ Beaumont, Peter (February 1, 2020). "Researchers make strides in race to create coronavirus vaccine". The Guardian.
  19. ^ a b c Neergaard, Lauran (March 8, 2020). "Behind the scenes, scientists prep for COVID-19 vaccine test". The Washington Times. Associated Press.
  20. ^ "COVID-19 Advisory Committee". Boston.gov. December 6, 2021. Retrieved December 6, 2021.
  21. ^ "Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett Leads Effort To Find COVID-19 Cure". NewsOne. March 28, 2020.
  22. ^ Pollak, Suzanne (February 3, 2020). "NIH Working to Develop Vaccine for Coronavirus". Montgomery Community Media.
  23. ^ Kramer, Jillian (December 31, 2020). "They spent 12 years solving a puzzle. It yielded the first COVID-19 vaccines". National Geographic. Archived from the original on February 20, 2021.
  24. ^ Wrapp, Daniel; Wang, Nianshuang; Corbett, Kizzmekia S.; Goldsmith, Jory A.; Hsieh, Ching-Lin; Abiona, Olubukola; Graham, Barney S.; McLellan, Jason S. (March 13, 2020). "Cryo-EM structure of the 2019-nCoV spike in the prefusion conformation". Science. 367 (6483): 1260–1263. Bibcode:2020Sci...367.1260W. doi:10.1126/science.abb2507. PMC 7164637. PMID 32075877. Wikidata ()
  25. ^ Corbett, Kizzmekia S.; Edwards, Darin K.; Leist, Sarah R.; Abiona, Olubukola M.; Boyoglu-Barnum, Seyhan; Gillespie, Rebecca A.; Himansu, Sunny; Schäfer, Alexandra; Ziwawo, Cynthia T.; DiPiazza, Anthony T.; Dinnon, Kenneth H. (2020). "SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine design enabled by prototype pathogen preparedness". Nature. 586 (7830): 567–571. Bibcode:2020Natur.586..567C. doi:10.1038/s41586-020-2622-0. ISSN 1476-4687. PMC 7581537. PMID 32756549.
  26. ^ Forster, Victoria (March 17, 2020). "First Person Injected With Trial Coronavirus Vaccine In Seattle". Forbes.
  27. ^ Romero, Laura (December 13, 2020). "Kizzmekia Corbett, an African American woman, is praised as key scientist behind COVID-19 vaccine". ABC News. Archived from the original on December 13, 2020. Retrieved December 13, 2020.
  28. ^ "First Campus Visit: Trump Gets Update on Coronavirus Research; Congressional Delegation Gets Coronavirus Update" (PDF). NIH Record. LXXII (6). National Institutes of Health: 1, 6, 7–9. March 20, 2020.
  29. ^ "The woman leading COVID-19 vaccine trials is 'not your average pocket-protector scientist'". NBC News. April 12, 2020. Retrieved December 13, 2020.
  30. ^ Silver, Johanna. "Dr. Fauci Spotlights Young Black Woman Who Helped Develop COVID-19 Vaccine, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett". NowThis News. Retrieved December 13, 2020.
  31. ^ a b Hansen, Sarah (March 2, 2020). "UMBC alumnae racing to develop coronavirus vaccine". UMBC Magazine.
  32. ^ Romero, Laura; Salzman, Sony; Folmer, Kaitlyn. "Kizzmekia Corbett, an African American woman, is praised as key scientist behind COVID-19 vaccine". ABC News. Retrieved December 13, 2020.
  33. ^ Ellis, Nicquel Terry (March 2, 2021). "These Black women are on the frontlines of the fight against Covid-19". CNN. Retrieved March 2, 2021.
  34. ^ "Lead vaccine developer says she wants to help rebuild trust brick by brick". CNN. December 16, 2020. Retrieved January 5, 2021.
  35. ^ Romero, Laura; Salzman, Sony; Folmer, Kaitlyn (December 13, 2020). "Kizzmekia Corbett, an African American woman, is praised as key scientist behind COVID-19 vaccine". ABC News. Retrieved January 5, 2021.
  36. ^ Subbaraman, Nidhi (February 11, 2021). "This COVID-vaccine designer is tackling vaccine hesitancy — in churches and on Twitter". Nature. 590 (7846): 377. Bibcode:2021Natur.590..377S. doi:10.1038/d41586-021-00338-y. PMID 33574597. S2CID 231900250. Retrieved February 14, 2021.
  37. ^ "COVID-19 Vaccine Kizzmekia S. Corbett, PHD Black Health Matters Fall Summit 2020". Youtube Black Health Matters channel. Retrieved January 5, 2021.
  38. ^ "The Race to Create a Coronavirus Vaccine". Black Health Matters. October 26, 2020. Retrieved January 5, 2021.
  39. ^ Kaur, Harmeet (December 10, 2020). "Fauci wants people to know that one of lead scientists who developed the Covid-19 vaccine is a Black woman". CNN. Retrieved January 9, 2021.
  40. ^ Re, Greg; Pfeiffer, Alex (April 17, 2020). "Lead NIH coronavirus researcher suggested pandemic could be 'genocide', said doctors would let blacks die". Fox News.
  41. ^ "Alumni". UMBC Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP). Retrieved February 21, 2021.
  42. ^ "PROJECT SEED PARTICIPANTS & MENTORS". The TarHelium. 33 (1). The North Carolina Section of the American Chemical Society (NCACS): 4–5. Fall 2002.
  43. ^ Sremaniak, Laura (August 2015). "Where are those SEED Alumni now? Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, SEED Alumna from 2004". The TarHelium. 46 (1). The North Carolina Section of the American Chemical Society (NCACS): 19.
  44. ^ "Meet the Scholars from 2006: Kizzmekia Corbett". Office of Intramural Training & Education at the National Institutes of Health. 2006.
  45. ^ "Graduate School Events: 2013 Graduate Student Recognition Celebration". The Graduate School at UNC-Chapel Hill. April 10, 2013.
  46. ^ Heath, Erin (December 2020). "2020: A Spike in Momentum". The Golden Goose Award. Retrieved March 22, 2023.
  47. ^ Lavigne, Lora (February 9, 2021). "Orange County original: Vaccine developer Corbett comes full circle with day named in her honor". WRAL. Retrieved February 9, 2021.
  48. ^ "Hillsborough Proclaims January 12 "Dr. Kizzmekia 'Kizzy' Corbett Day"". UNC Health Care. January 12, 2021. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  49. ^ "Meet USA TODAY's Women of the Year". USA TODAY Network. March 28, 2022. Retrieved June 30, 2022.

External links[edit]