Decoding the Immune System’s Protective Abilities

Basic research that underlies the possibility of better vaccines in the future

Vaccines have been the most effective medical intervention of our time. Take for instance the eradication of small pox. However, there are many diseases for which conventional strategies for vaccine design have not been successful. Dr. Ananda Goldrath, Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of California, San Diego, is investigating new ways to induce the immune system to provide protection from infections and eradicate malignancies. By decoding the genetic instructions that direct the immune system to remember past encounters with pathogens and provide robust protection from reinfection, she and her team are making strides towards understanding the fundamental knowledge necessary for advancing medicine. In short, they are advancing discoveries that will ultimately lead to vaccines for diseases for which there are currently current strategies for designing vaccines have not been successful such as malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV.

With numerous important findings in the pipeline, Dr. Goldrath’s team is only limited by the funding that controls the amount of personnel that can work on any given project. She explains, “new discoveries are around the corner everyday” as she and her team focus on the most fundamental questions of T cell immunity and interact with many colleagues around the world with ranging expertise. Dr. Goldrath adds an unparalleled molecular approach to the conversation surrounding immunity. She and her team have put together many tools that allow them to answer questions that are at the center of solving how to make good immunity for both infectious diseases and malignancy. Therefore, it is Dr. Goldrath’s hope that through the fundamental work produced in her lab, she may provide valuable information that can touch the lives of many people including patients and families affected by infectious disease and cancer.

Dr. Goldrath is illuminating the mechanisms that would allow researchers to program T cells to fight infection and tumors. Current projects include:

  • Understanding the Process: One of the greatest goals of the lab is to understand the transcriptional programs that allows T cells to fight infection by recognizing viruses, bacteria, and eliminating them before disease occurs. Dr. Goldrath is working to enhance immunological memory, thereby providing long-lived immunity that it can respond to pathogens quickly and effectively.

  • Fighting Infection and Tumors: By applying their knowledge about the process behind transcriptional programs, Dr. Goldrath and her team hope to rev up the immune system to eradicate infected and malignant cells by exploiting their knowledge of programming robust T cell responses.


Some of Dr. Ananda Goldrath’s earliest childhood memories involve riding along with her mom on her visits to patients as a home health nurse. Her mother cared for homebound individuals with a range of illnesses and Dr. Goldrath became fascinated with the causes of disease and potential cures. Therefore, as an undergraduate, she was convinced that she would continue her academic journey to become a medical doctor. However, as she began to study biology, it was the mechanistic understanding of disease that appealed to her rather than the medical treatment. Dr. Goldrath became passionate about resolving the basis of disease to better identify strategies for new treatments that, and therefore pursued graduate work in biology and immunology instead.

Dr. Goldrath’s interest in immunology stems from the fact that so many diseases converge on inflammation and stem from immune associated pathologies. She believes that by exploring the basic mechanisms behind the immune response, she can make a difference in the lives of thousands of patients. In fact, when her husband was diagnosed and subsequently passed away due to melanoma, Dr. Goldrath learned first hand, that despite tremendous advances in immunotherapies to treat cancer, there are big gaps in knowledge needed to inform translational medicine. Since her husband’s passing, Dr. Goldrath has become even more passionate about deciphering the programs that control the immune system so that new approaches in exploiting the immune system to fight disease can be discovered.

As a mother of two, Dr. Goldrath keeps busy whether in the lab or at home. Just as her mom used to bring Dr. Goldrath on her rounds at work, Dr. Goldrath can be found at the pizza restaurant she owns, Regents Pizzeria, with her children in La Jolla. She also spends much of her time at the beach and traveling as she hopes to make sure that her children “know the world really is a big place.” With gratitude she shares the role her family has played in her scientific career. “It puts things in a really clear perspective,” she says as she explains balancing her rigorous research with her role as a mother and a small business owner. It is therefore clear, no matter what her role, Dr. Goldrath is a dedicated and persistent woman filled with passion.



Leukemia Lymphoma Scholar 2011-2016

Pew Scholar 2007-2011

Cancer Research Institute, New Investigator Award 2005-2009

V Foundation, Scholar Award 2005-2007

Irvington Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (2001-2004)