Kizzmekia Corbett, PhD, a vaccine scientist formerly at the National Institutes of Health and UNC School of Medicine Alumna, was named one of Time magazine’s Heroes of the Year for her work on developing a COVID-19 vaccine. She is now an assistant professor at Harvard University.
Time’s 2021 Heroes of the Year recognition honors the scientists whose work produced COVID-19 vaccines, including Corbett; Barney Graham, MD, PhD, former deputy director of the NIH Vaccine Research Center; Katalin Kariko, PhD, biochemist and adjunct professor of neurosurgery at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine; and Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research in the Perelman School of Medicine.
As a student in the UNC School of Medicine, Corbett’s mentor was Aravinda de Silva, PhD, professor in the UNC Department of Microbiology and Immunology. Corbett focused on vaccine development and studied dengue virus at UNC. She won an off-campus dissertation fellowship from the UNC Graduate School and conducted research in Sri Lanka, and she was involved in extracurricular activities, including serving as a representative on the UNC Student Congress, a delegate to the UNC System Association of Student Governments, a staff member in the Honor System Attorney General’s office, and as a member of the science policy advisory group.
“Kizzmekia studied the human immune response to dengue viruses as a graduate student,” de Silva said. “She was a very talented, independent and highly motivated student. Her discoveries at UNC about how the human immune system controls dengue viruses are now being used by researchers to develop dengue vaccines. I consider her to be one of the most promising young scientists studying emerging RNA viruses.”
In 2014, Corbett was appointed to serve as the team lead for coronavirus research within the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Vaccine Research Center’s Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory. Corbett’s team partnered with Moderna to create a vaccine using state of the art mRNA technology in. The FDA cleared Moderna’s vaccine for emergency use in December 2020.
Today, Corbett is an assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Her work has garnered several prestigious awards, including the Benjamin Franklin Next Gen Award and the Salzman Memorial Award in Virology. Additionally, the Board of Commissioners in Corbett’s hometown of Hillsborough, North Carolina, declared Jan. 12, 2021, as “Kizzmekia ‘Kizzy’ Corbett Day.”
In February 2021, Corbett was named to Time Magazine’s 2021 TIME100 Next List, and in May 2021, Corbett and Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the NIAID, delivered UNC-Chapel Hill’s Spring Commencement Address.