Aaron P. Esser-Kahn, Ph.D.


Aaron P. Esser-Kahn, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Molecular Engineering
The Institute for Molecular Engineering
University of Chicago
Eckhardt Research Center, 5640 S. Ellis Ave.
Suite 299
City, State, ZIP
Chicago, IL 60637
[email protected]
Research field
Chemical biology
Award year


The aim of my research is to untangle the molecular mechanisms that guide the immune response, with an eye toward designing effective, long-lasting vaccines. The innate immune system serves as the first line of defense against disease, detecting and responding to molecular signs of infection. This reaction, necessary for effective vaccines, is triggered by the activation of specific receptors found on the surface of a variety of immune cells. But how does binding to these receptors on different cells, in different combinations, and in different parts of the body elicit a specific immune response? In my lab, we have engineered a series of light-activated tools that allow us to switch on specific combinations of receptors rapidly and with laser-like precision. We seek to unravel the receptor-activation sequences, or activation "code", that leads to different immune responses and identify which molecules can enhance or dampen these reactions. This work could lead to new approaches for treating infections or autoimmune disorders.

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