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Principal Investigator


Assistant Professor of Medicine | Harvard Medical School
Division of Rheumatology, Inflammation, and Immunity
Co-Director, Human Immunology Center | Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Deepak’s research uses high dimensional analyses of patient samples, coupled with mechanistic studies, to define immunologic pathways that drive autoimmune diseases. He recently led a study published in Nature that discovered a unique T cell population called ‘peripheral helper T cells’ that promotes inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis. His efforts are directed at identifying immune cell pathways that can serve as biomarkers of treatment response or new therapeutic targets in rheumatic diseases.

Current Lab Members
Vanessa Wacleche

Vanessa is a post-doctoral research fellow in the Rao lab. She first obtained a bachelor’s degree of Science in Microbiology and Immunology from McGill University, then continued her training at the Université de Montréal where she received a Masters (2010) and PhD degree (2016) in Microbiology and Immunology. Her research background is focused on the basic immunology of HIV pathogenesis, where she gained and expertise in characterizing T-cell and dendritic cell populations. In the Rao lab, Vanessa is working on characterizing the transcriptional regulation of Tph using cutting edge technologies, including CRISPR and single-cell RNA-seq, and on identifying novel T cell populations that are altered in autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis


Diana is a post-doctoral research fellow in the Rao lab. She graduated in 2013 after clinical training in rheumatology in Bogota-Colombia. She obtained a Masters’ Immunology degree at Harvard Medical School (2020) and completed her dissertation in the Rao lab about the role of type I interferon in human T helper cells. In the Rao lab, Diana is working on characterizing different inhibitory receptors’ abilities to modulate specific effector functions of human T cell subsets from RA and SLE patients using CRISPR/Cas9 and other in vitro approaches.

Alice Headshot
Cyanne Cao

Cyanne is a post-doctoral research fellow in the Rao lab. She obtained a PhD from the Chinese University of Hong Kong studying splicing regulation in cancer cells, and has experience studying the genome methylation of HIV. She joined the Rao lab in 2019 and brings and expertise in transcriptomic and bioinformatic analyses. In the Rao lab, she is analyzing mass cytometry datasets of T cell dysregulation in lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as RNA-seq analyses of Tph cells and T regulatory cells.

Mehreen Elahee

Mehreen is a post-doctoral research fellow in the Rao lab. She completed her clinical training in Internal Medicine from Bridgeport Hospital – Yale New Haven Health in 2019. Her research in the lab involves using high dimensional immunophenotyping to characterize the circulating immune cells. The goal of this project is to use mass cytometry to identify cellular biomarkers that can be used to predict response to different therapies in RA patients.

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Lin is a research assistant in the Rao Lab. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Cell and Molecular Biology from Boston University in 2020. Lin manages patient recruitment and IRB-related administrative tasks for the PROSET biorepository and other Rao Lab studies. She is also responsible for sample processing/inventorying and clinical data collection. In her free time, she enjoys making lab memes.

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John obtained his PhD from the University of Cambridge under the supervision of Professor Ken Smith and Dr Paul Lyons, where he studied the function of Blimp-1 isoforms in the immune system and the role of Nbeal2 in immunity. He was also involved in several other wide-ranging projects that studied novel gene function, B cell regulation in autoimmunity, and primary immunodeficiency. After his PhD, John stayed in Cambridge to continue his project on Blimp-1, and to work with Dr Eoin McKinney, investigating the modulation of T cell exhaustion. John joined the Rao lab at the end of 2020 where he hopes to use his technical knowledge and experience to help understand the development and function of TPH cells, as well as assist in projects relating to T cell exhaustion.

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Kathryne is a post-doctoral research fellow in the Rao lab. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from University of Central Florida in 2014 and her PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in 2020. During her PhD, she focused on the molecular regulation of Th17 cells in the context of autoimmune disease. Her research projects in the Rao lab are focused on rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and checkpoint inhibitor arthritis with a focus on high dimensional immunophenotyping utilizing mass cytometry and flow cytometry. Other focuses include analyzing Tph-B cell interactions utilizing an in vitro fibroblast model.


Taka is a post-doctoral research fellow in the Rao lab. After completing clinical and research training in rheumatology, he obtained his PhD from Keio University School of Medicine in 2020. During his PhD, he focused on the mechanism of inflammation in IgG4-RD and also investigated clinical characteristics and prognostic factors of the disease. His research in the Rao lab is focused on systemic lupus erythematosus and the Undiagnosed Disease Network to identify the molecular mechanism using high dimensional immunophenotyping technologies.


Garrett Dunlap is a graduate student in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS) Ph.D. program at Harvard University. He previously earned his bachelor’s degree in Biology from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Garrett is interested in using computational analyses to better understand autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Outside of the lab, Garrett is interested in science writing and science policy, and participates in both Science in the News and the Graduate Student Science Policy group at Harvard.


Sabrina is a graduate student in the Immunology Ph.D. program at Harvard Medical School. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Biology and Neuroscience at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Sabrina is interested in the migration of lymphocytes into sites of inflammation and utilizes computational and wet lab approaches to better understand migratory programs in the context of autoimmune disease.

Yidan Gao

Yidan Gao is a master’s student studying immunology at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from the University of Rochester and obtained her B.S. in Microbiology and B.A. in Psychology. In Rao lab, she is working with John and Runci on the role of Tph cells in mouse models of lupus.

Runci Wang
rao lab personal photo Ifeoluwakiisi

Ifeoluwakiisi is a research assistant in the Rao Lab. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Biology from Howard University in 2021. She assists Vanessa with the characterization of Tph transcriptional regulation as well as the identification of novel T cell populations that are altered in autoimmune disease. Ifeoluwakiisi participates in patient recruitment, sample processing, clinical data collection and data analysis for the Rao lab and associate lab clinical studies. She also works with Kathryne on immunophenotyping and flow cytometry. Additionally, Ifeoluwakiisi helps with general lab maintenance.

Former Lab Members

Sandra graduated from University of Virginia with a degree in Biochemistry and went on to pursue her medical degree at Duke Medical School. She is currently in her fourth year of medical training, after which she will pursue a Medicine-Pediatrics residency with a focus in childhood autoimmune disease and transitions care. In the Rao lab, Sandra studied the interactions between Tph cell types with various B cell subsets within autoimmune disease states.

Zhihan is a technician in the Rao lab. She is completing her degree from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell campus with with a focus on biological sciences and English. In the Rao lab, she is focused on

identifying stimuli that induce T cell acquisition of B cell helper functions. She runs a wide range of cellular immunology studies and generally helps to keep the lab running smoothly.

Isaac is a second year Immunology Masters student at Harvard Medical School completing his dissertation in the Rao lab. Previously, he obtained his bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Boston University in 2018. In the Rao lab, he focused on dissecting the regulation of Tph functions through the use of CRISPR/Cas9.

Greg is a senior research assistant in the Rao lab. He graduated from Salve Regina University with a degree in Biology. He manages patient recruitment, coordination of clinical projects, ethics approvals, and the logistics of human subjects research. He also participates in sample processing and design of mass cytometry phenotyping studies.

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