The David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MITThe David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

National Cancer Institute Cancer Center

Science + Engineering... Conquering Cancer Together

Michael Birnbaum

Michael Birnbaum is an Assistant Professor of Biological Engineering

Assistant Professor of Biological Engineering

Ph.D. 2014, Stanford University


KI Research Areas of Focus:
Cancer Immunology; Personalized Medicine

Professor Birnbaum’s research combines protein engineering, structural biology, and bioinformatics to understand and manipulate immune-cell responses to antigenic stimuli in cancer and infectious disease. His lab is interested in understanding and manipulating immune recognition, using protein engineering to create novel immune tools and treatments, and developing methods to better study and engineer diverse repertoires of molecules.

Further Information

Research Summary

The immune system leverages immense molecular diversity in the T, B, and NK cell receptor repertoires to distinguish between normal cells and cells altered by infection or cancer. This molecular diversity often makes understanding exactly what is recognized during the course of an immune response extremely challenging. As a result, efforts to study antigen recognition have often been limited to working with model antigens.        

Our group focuses on understanding and manipulating ‘natural’ adaptive immune responses in the context of cancer and infection. We use a variety of strategies and techniques including protein biochemistry, protein engineering, sequencing, and bioinformatics to 1) identify immune cells of interest, 2) determine the sequences of their antigen receptors, 3) directly determine what the immune response is ‘seeing’ in response to cancer or infection, and 4) answer questions about how the immune system composition and dynamics affect the success or failure of an immune response. This type of systematic, unbiased examination of the antigen recognition repertoire of any given T or NK cell receptor has, until recently, been extremely difficult. With this information, we will be able to rationally engineer new methods to more specifically and potently mount a potent immune response.

We are also interested in adapting what we learn about immune recognition to better understand other systems that rely upon diverse molecular recognition, as well as to engineer novel diverse protein repertoire systems.

Selected Publications:

Adams, Jarrett J., Samanthi Narayanan, Michael E. Birnbaum, Sachdev S. Sidhu, Sydney J. Blevins, Marvin H. Gee, Leah V. Sibener, Brian M. Baker, David M. Kranz, and Christopher K Garcia."Structural interplay between germline interactions and adaptive recognition determines the bandwidth of TCR-peptide-MHC cross-reactivity." Nat Immunol (2015).

Birnbaum, Michael E., Juan L. Mendoza, Dhruv K. Sethi, Shen Dong, Jacob Glanville, Jessica Dobbins, Engin Ozkan, Mark M. Davis, Kai W. Wucherpfennig, and Christopher K Garcia."Deconstructing the peptide-MHC specificity of T cell recognition." Cell 157, no. 5 (2014): 1073-87.

Birnbaum, Michael E., Richard Berry, Yu-Shan Hsiao, Zhenjun Chen, Miguel A. Shingu-Vazquez, Xiaoling Yu, Deepa Waghray, Suzanne Fischer, James McCluskey, Jamie Rossjohn et al. "Molecular architecture of the αβ T cell receptor-CD3 complex." Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 111, no. 49 (2014): 17576-81.

Contact Information

Michael Birnbaum

room 76-353D
phone (617) 715-2355

Birnbaum Lab

phone (617) 715-5686

Administrative Assistant:

Isadora Deese
phone (617) 324-3938