Vaccine Developer Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett Delivers Marie Daly Lecture
On Tuesday, February 2, 2021, more than 200 members of the Einstein community logged onto Zoom to hear from a scientist whose groundbreaking work may bring us closer to ending the COVID-19-inspired era of Zoom meetings and social distancing. Kizzmekia Corbett, Ph.D., delivered this year’s keynote address at the seventh annual Marie Daly Lecture, discussing how the Coronavirus Vaccines & Immunopathogenesis team that she leads at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Vaccine Research Center has contributed to the development of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.
In delivering “SARS-CoV-2 mRNA Vaccine Design Enabled by Prototype Pathogen Preparedness,” Dr. Corbett detailed her team’s journey in developing a vaccine aimed at combatting the novel coronavirus.
Prior to the pandemic, her team had been researching and developing vaccines for other members of the coronavirus family. Their efforts related to previous outbreaks, such as MERS and SARS.
Dr. Corbett described how their years of work provided her team with a template technology for coronavirus vaccines, which only required further specification to the COVID-19 virus once the push to quickly develop vaccines to combat COVID-19 began. Dr. Corbett’s team provided key data that revealed the structure of the COVID-19 spike protein, a crucial step for vaccine development.
Combining preparation and rapid yet rigorous work, Dr. Corbett’s team was able to develop the vaccine technology at an impressive pace. In describing this process Dr. Corbett offered insight into the phases of vaccine development. She stressed that although the vaccine development had been rapid, “every step was taken with the utmost care and responsibility.”
Filling an Information Void
As the pandemic took over national headlines, many Americans looked to scientists to demystify the science of viruses and vaccines. Dr. Corbett was among those who gained a following as they hosted open question and answer sessions to debunk myths and address vaccine curiosities and concerns over Twitter and Instagram.
“I fell in love with how she educated her social media followers and made groundbreaking research digestible for a wide audience,” said Margarette Mariano, a graduate student and Einstein Minority Scientist Association (EMSA) board member.
Dr. Corbett, who is Black, has also notably worked to renew trust between the African American community and medical professionals, partnering with community leaders and including minorities in the vaccine trials.
Honoring a Legacy
The Marie Daly Lecture is hosted annually by EMSA and the Einstein Graduate Division of the Biomedical Sciences. The event commemorates the legacy of Marie Daly, Ph.D., the first African American woman in the United States to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry.
A native New Yorker from Queens, Dr. Daly received her doctoral degree from Columbia University in 1947. She was later on the faculty at Einstein, leading investigations into the effects of diet on the vascular system. She also championed greater representation of minority scientists in medicine and science, including naming a scholarship in her father’s memory at her undergraduate alma mater Queens College. (Her father had curtailed his own dream of earning a Ph.D. in chemistry, at Cornell, when he lacked sufficient funds to continue his education.)
In his opening remarks, Gordon Tomaselli, M.D., the Marilyn and Stanley M. Katz Dean, said of Dr. Daly, “She was a brilliant scientist, educator, and committed activist.” at the College of Medicine.
Commenting on the honor of giving a lecture in memory of Dr. Daly, Dr. Corbett said, “I can’t express how important it is to step into the shoes of giants and fulfill the legacy of my ancestry in science.”
Following the lecture, Dr. Corbett met with EMSA members to discuss her professional insights and provide from her own experiences as a minority scientist.
“Seeing Dr. Corbett in the position she’s in and the success she’s had encourages me to create my own space,” said Ms. Mariano, who felt a special kinship with Dr. Corbett as a woman of color in science.
“She is proof of what happens when you give people from disadvantaged backgrounds opportunities to succeed,” observed Tonya Aaron, M.D./Ph.D. candidate and EMSA diversity and inclusion representative who left the session feeling a renewed commitment to diversity in academic institutions. “There is so much untapped potential and investment from mentors, and resources are necessary for increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in medicine and science.”
Posted on: Wednesday, March 03, 2021