Facundo Batista,   PhD

Associate Director


Professor of Microbiology and Immunology

Harvard Medical School

Contact


Dr. Batista is the first Associate Director of the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard, as well as the first Phillip T. and Susan M. Ragon Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Harvard Medical School.

Most vaccines work by driving B cells to produce high-affinity antibodies; over the course of his career, Prof. Batista has expanded our understanding of the fundamental biology of these key immune cells. B cell activation begins when an antigen binds to the B cell receptor (BCR). As an EMBO Postdoctoral Fellow with Michael Neuberger at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge, UK, Dr. Batista elucidated the relationship between B cell responses and antigen affinity (Batista & Neuberger, Immunity, 1998) and identified how membrane-bound antigens are collected at BCRs for extraction and presentation to T cells (Batista & Neuberger, EMBO J, 2000; Batista et al., Nature, 2001). This body of work still influences ongoing research into the production of high-affinity antibody responses.

Dr. Batista established his own research group in 2002 as a Member of the Francis Crick Institute (formerly the London Research Institute), simultaneously holding a Professorship at Imperial College London; he earned tenure in 2006. In an immensely productive fifteen-year span, he performed seminal experiments on the mechanisms of BCR-antigen interactions (e.g., Fleire et al., Science, 2006; Depoil et al., Nature Immun, 2008; Weber et al. 2008). He also moved into more in vivo studies, which allowed him to: identify how pathogen-engulfing macrophages are critical to ferrying antigen to B cells in the lymph nodes (Carrasco & Batista, Immunity, 2007), how the depletion of these macrophages after an initial infection can dampen the response to secondary infections (Gaya et al., Science, 2015), and how these macrophages are deeply entwined with T cells in the context of innate immunity (Barral et al., Nature Immun, 2010). His contributions in this period were recognized through the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) Young Investigator and Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Awards—and through election to Membership in both EMBO and the UK Academy of Medical Science.

In 2016, he joined the Ragon Institute to start a new research program applying his expertise in B cells and antibody responses to vaccine development. Part of his work at the Institute has involved the genetic engineering of mice with humanized BCRs. These animal models can be used for the rapid preclinical testing of vaccine candidates. Previously, the generation of such specialized mouse lines was an arduous procedure that could take several years; Batista’s lab has made major technical innovations using CRISPR/Cas9 to drastically simplify the process and cut the timeline to a few weeks (Lin et al., EMBO J, 2018; Wang et al., EMBO J, 2021). The lab’s mouse lines have generated new insights into vaccination strategies for currently intractable pathogens, such as malaria, influenza, and HIV (e.g., Steichen et al., Science, 2019). Dr. Batista’s new emphasis on vaccine research has not slowed his basic biological research: he recently described, for the first time, the role of natural killer T cells in initiating the production of high-affinity antibodies after viral infection (Gaya et al., Cell, 2017). After his move to the US, the American Academy of Microbiology elected him to Fellowship. 

In addition to his own contributions from the lab, Dr. Batista is dedicated to improving the dissemination of immunological research as a whole: He is the current Chief Editor of The EMBO Journal, and his prior editorial board experience extends across the prominent journals in the field, including seven years at Science. Beyond scholarly audiences, he has worked to bring immunology to the wider community. Dr. Batista’s publicly available MIT course on COVID-19, for example, brought together global experts to combat misinformation on the pandemic; viewership has topped 300,000 and is still rising.

Dr. Batista received his PhD from the International School of Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy, and his undergraduate degree from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina.