Katherine A. Fitzgerald
Univ. of Massachusetts Chan Med. Sch.
Katherine (Kate) A. Fitzgerald, Ph.D. (AAI ’06), University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, is the recipient of the 2022 AAI-Thermo Fisher Meritorious Career Award in recognition of her outstanding research contributions in the area of innate immunity.
The overarching theme of Dr. Fitzgerald’s research is to understand the molecular mechanisms that control inflammation in response to a variety of self- and pathogenic antigens, with four main foci. One arm of research studies how nucleic acids drive inflammation by their intracellular localization. Fitzgerald’s laboratory works to understand how the nucleic acid-sensing pathways drive inflammation in response to pathogenic and autoimmune triggers resulting from inappropriate intracellular localization of nucleic acids. Nucleic acids accumulating in the cytosol activate sensors following intracellular infiltration of pathogens, and likewise activate their attempts to elude immune detection. This inappropriate intracellular localization of nucleic acids can also drive autoimmune inflammation.
Her group’s second focus studies how inflammasomes, specifically AIM2 and NLRP3, are activated and regulated. Once stimulated, inflammasomes activate caspase-1—and in turn control interleukin (IL)-1 and IL-18—and and rapid cell death (pyroptosis).
A third area of study works to describe how long non-coding RNAs regulate the function of both macrophages and dendritic cells. Lastly, Fitzgerald and her colleagues study the innate immune response to malaria. This fourth area of study has suggested that innate immune responses are triggered by the recognition of parasitic DNA by phagocytes.
Ann Marshak-Rothstein, Ph.D., DFAAI (AAI ’85), professor, University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, says, “Dr. Fitzgerald is an extremely talented, creative, and highly productive investigator whose contributions are exceptional both for their scope and overall impact on the field of innate immunity. She has consistently and fearlessly expanded her research program in new directions, and in each case, her innovative approach and clever insights have rapidly identified her as a true super star in that discipline.”
Fitzgerald completed her Ph.D. in biochemistry and postdoctoral fellowship at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. Since 2001, she has risen through the ranks at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School. She currently is a professor of medicine and the vice chair for research in the Department of Medicine and director of the Program in Innate Immunity in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology. She also served as an adjunct professor at the Norwegian Institute of Science and Technology from 2014 to 2019. She is the founder of Danger Bio, LLC, and serves or has served on numerous scientific advisory boards.
Fitzgerald was the 2014 recipient of the AAI-BD Biosciences Investigator Award. Her numerous additional honors include election as a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Microbiology, and the Royal Irish Academy. She has received the Saint Patrick’s Day Medal, awarded by the Irish Government and Science Foundation Ireland, and is a recipient of the Wellcome Trust International Research Award. She is also the recipient of a National Institutes of Health-National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases MERIT Award and is the current president of the International Cytokine and Interferon Society.