Faculty

Drew Weissman, M.D., Ph.D.

Drew Weissman, M.D., Ph.D.

Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, Director of the Penn Institute for RNA Innovation, Director of Vaccine Research in the Infectious Diseases Division

he/him/his

Dr. Weissman, 2023 Nobel Laureate in Medicine, is the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania and Director of the Penn Institute for RNA Innovations.  He received his B.A. and M.A. from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1981 and his M.D./Ph.D. from Boston University in 1987 before completing his medical Residency at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts in 1990. He completed his Fellowship in Immunology at the Lab of Immunoregulation in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease of the National Institutes of Health, serving in the lab of Dr. Anthony Fauci. Following his Fellowship, Dr. Weissman became an Assistant Professor in the Division of Infectious Disease at the University of Pennsylvania in 1997. In 2005, he was promoted to Associate Professor, and to full Professor in 2012.

His major contributions to the scientific field include the identification of the mechanism by which RNA activates the innate immune system, and that naturally occurring modified nucleosides were the mechanism used by the cell to distinguish foreign RNA from self RNA. Further, Dr. Weissman and his colleagues identified that nucleoside modified mRNA not only did not cause inflammation, but that it was also more stable and efficiently translated than conventional mRNA and went on to develop nucleoside modified mRNA as a delivery system for therapeutic proteins. Building on this work, Dr. Weissman and his colleagues began using nucleoside modified mRNA complexed to lipid nanoparticles to deliver therapeutic mRNA as a vaccine platform, resulting in high titers of neutralizing antibodies against many different pathogens with minimal doses. In addition, Dr. Weissman and his collaborators analyzed the mechanisms that HIV envelope uses to suppress the immune system and proceeded to alter the envelope immunogen to improve responses against it when used in an encoding vaccine.

Dr. Weissman’s work has resulted in the publication of more than 100 papers. He holds many patents, including the ones which detail the modifications required to make mRNA suitable for vaccines and other therapies. 

Elena Atochina-Vasserman, M.D., Ph.D.

Elena Atochina-Vasserman, M.D., Ph.D.

Research Assistant Professor of Medicine

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Dr. Atochina-Vasserman is a Research Assistant Professor of Medicine in the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.  An expert in pulmonary therapeutics, Dr. Atochina-Vasserman joined the laboratory of Dr. Weissman in 2018, where she leads the project on novel delivery system to targeting mRNA therapeutics to the lung in vivo. She is also leading the project on developing mRNA vaccine for Norovirus.

Dr. Atochina-Vasserman began her research career focusing on targeting delivery of therapeutics to the pulmonary angiotensin-converting enzyme. She then completed her post-doctoral training at the Institute for Environmental Medicine at University of Pennsylvania under supervision of Dr. Aron B. Fisher and Dr. Vladimir Muzykantov, studying selective targeting of enzyme therapeutics to the lung for containment of oxidative stress and inflammation during ischemia-reperfusion. Following three years as a Research Associate in the laboratory of Dr. Michael F. Beers, Dr. Atochina-Vasserman was appointed as a Senior Research Investigator at the Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Division at the University of Pennsylvania where her work was focused on lung host defense, inflammation, and innate immunity. 

Dr. Atochina-Vasserman earned her M.D. from Tomsk Medical School, Russia and a Ph.D. from Cardiology Research Center, Moscow, Russia.  Dr. Atochina-Vasserman is a peer reviewer in multiple scientific journals and grant applications (AHA, CEET at UPENN and Asthma UK Grants), her work has resulted in the publication of more than 60 papers (h-index 31) and several patents. 

Sita Awasthi, Ph.D.

Sita Awasthi, Ph.D.

Visiting Faculty / Associate Professor Research

Dr. Awasthi is an Associate Professor Research in the Department of Medicine, Infectious disease division, Perelman School of Medicine (PSOM) at the University of Pennsylvania.  She has been studying human herpes viruses and their strategies to evade host immune systems for about two decades. In the laboratory of Dr. Friedman, she has exploited the viral immune evasion mechanisms to develop vaccine candidates against genital herpes. In more recent years, she combined mRNA-LNP vaccine technology and immune evasion strategy and led a candidate vaccine for prevention of genital herpes from preclinical to early phase clinical trial.

She is currently doing her sabbatical in Dr. Weissman’s laboratory and engaged in developing mRNA encoded monoclonal antibody therapy for treatment of viral encephalitis and neonatal herpes infection.  Dr. Awasthi is an active participant in the wider scientific community in many educational and advisory capacities including biotech companies. She has served on many national and international grant review study sections. She had been on the board of Association of Women in Science, Philadelphia Chapter.