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Katherine Fitzgerald focuses on novel discoveries in innate immunity

The Women in Science video series on UMassMedNow highlights the many areas of research conducted by women at UMass Medical School.

Katherine A. Fitzgerald, PhD, is recognized as an international leader in the field of innate immunity. Her long career studying the molecular basis of host defense and the inflammatory process was launched when, as a teen growing up in Ireland, she enrolled in a summer research internship at a local hospital.

“I was doing pretty simple experiments, but I enjoyed seeing the process through and getting a result with my own hands. From that point I was pretty much hooked,” said Dr. Fitzgerald, the Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research Chair, professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, and director of the Program in Innate Immunity.

Fitzgerald joined the medical school in 2001, after completing her PhD and post-doctoral training at Trinity College in Dublin. Her groundbreaking insights have helped to advance the understanding of inflammasome activation in health and disease.

Her lab focuses on uncovering the molecular basis of host defense and the inflammatory process with the ultimate goal of understanding how dysregulation of sensing, signaling and gene regulation in innate immunity underlie the pathogenesis of infectious, inflammatory and autoimmune disease in humans. Using an interdisciplinary approach and a highly collaborative style, she has made numerous novel discoveries including the identification of Toll-like receptor adapter molecules and uncovering new evidence for the importance of regulatory long-coding RNAs in innate immune cells.

Her work includes seminal discoveries in the mechanisms of the innate immune system that underlie inflammatory and autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as host defenses against infection.

“We now appreciate that inflammation underlies the pathogenesis of large numbers of diseases. By understanding these innate pathways, I think we can gain important insight into inflammatory diseases more broadly,” said Fitzgerald.

Her work has been broadly recognized; most recently, she was named a Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researcher two years in a row.

In addition to her lab work, Fitzgerald said what she enjoys most about her career is working with graduate students.

“I really enjoy my time here at UMass Medical School. I think engaging with students, training students is one of the most rewarding parts of my experience here,” she said.

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