Deepak A. Rao, MD, PhD

Associate Professor of Medicine | Harvard Medical School
Associate Physician | Division of Rheumatology, Inflammation, and Immunity
Co-Director, Center for Cellular Profiling | Brigham and Women’s Hospital

I am an immunologist and practicing rheumatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Our group aims to define and understand the immune dysregulation that drives disease in patients with autoimmune diseases. Our central approach uses broad immunophenotyping studies of samples from patients to identify prominent features of immune dysregulation that distinguish one disease from another, distinct subsets of patients within one disease, or even abnormalities in individual patients. The specific cell types and pathways that we identify then become the focus of functional and mechanistic studies to define their contributions to disease pathology and to identify therapeutic opportunities. This approach led to our description of T peripheral helper (Tph cells) in rheumatoid arthritis and lupus and to descriptions of distinct populations of cytotoxic T cells in systemic sclerosis and in immune-related adverse events induced by checkpoint inhibitor therapy. Our immunoprofiling efforts currently focus on identifying predictors of treatment response in RA and lupus patients and on identifying specific features of immune activation in patients with rare diseases in the Undiagnosed Diseases Network.

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

Postdoctoral Fellow

Kazuhiko Higashioka

Kazuhiko is a post-doctoral research fellow in the Rao lab. He obtained his PhD from Kyushu University School of Medicine in 2021. During his PhD, he focused on antibody-independent function of B cells, especially cytokine production, in the context of cognate T-B interactions. He also investigated the role of B cell-helper CD4+and CD8+T cells in autoimmune diseases. In the Rao lab, he is working on the mechanism of IL-21 production in T cells and function of different co-stimulatory/inhibitory receptors on human T cell subsets using an in vitro fibroblast model.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Kathryne Marks

Kathryne is a post-doctoral research fellow in the Rao lab. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from University of Central Florida 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.

Postdoctoral Fellow

John Sowerby

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.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Sabrina Bracero

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.

Graduate Student

Takanori Sasaki

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.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Rebecca Beuschel

Rebecca is a graduate student in the Immunology Ph.D. program at Harvard Medical School. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Biology and Neuroscience from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Prior to her current studies, she spent two years as an IRTA fellow in Dr. Ronald Germain’s lab at the NIH in Bethesda, Maryland. Rebecca’s research interests focus on understanding the lipid metabolic states of pathogenic active CD4 T cell populations within autoimmune settings. Apart from her academic pursuits, Rebecca also has a keen interest in Formula 1!

Graduate Student

Zandra Walton

Zandra grew up in Skaneateles, NY, in the Finger Lakes region of upstate NY. She studied chemistry at Amherst College and spent two years in a translational oncology lab at Dana-Farber following graduation. She completed her MD-PhD at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was mentored by Chi Van Dang, MD-PhD, for her PhD on cancer metabolism. She finished her Internal Medicine training at MGH and is currently a rheumatology fellow. Her research interests include studying antigen-specific immune cells. Outside of the lab and hospital, she enjoys running and sailing.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Yinan Xiao

Yinan is a research assistant in the Rao lab. She graduated from West China School of Medicine, Sichuan University in 2021 and completed her master’s degree in 2023 in the Rao lab through the Immunology program at Harvard Medical School. In her master’s work, she utilized computational analysis to study the development of Tph cells in mouse models. She now works with multiple people in the lab on various projects, including those involved in CXCL13 and IL21 regulation. Outside the lab, Yinan enjoys playing games and watching TV dramas!

Research Assistant

Eilish Dillon

Eilish works as a research assistant in the Rao Lab. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of Massachusetts Boston in Spring 2022. Eilish is in charge of patient recruitment and IRB-related administrative tasks for the PROSET biorepository, AIM for RA, and other studies conducted in the Rao Lab. Additionally, she is responsible for sample processing, inventorying, and clinical data collection. In her free time, she enjoys golfing and drawing.

Research Assistant




Former Lab Members

Postdoctoral Fellows

Alice Horisberger


Cyanne Cao


Diana Pena


Mehreen Elahee


Runci Wang



Qiyuan Zhou

HMS Immunology Program Masters 2024

Garrett Dunlap

Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS) Ph.D.

Yidan Gao

HMS Immunology Program Masters 2022

Sandra Bocharnikov

Duke University Visiting Medical Student

Isaac Benque

HMS Immunology Program Masters 2020


Research Staff

Ifeoluwakiisi Adejoorin

2021 – 2024

Viktoriya Skidanova

2021 – 2023

Lin Chen

2020 – 2022

Zhihan Li


Gregory Keras



Rao Lab

Brigham and Women's Hospital
Hale Building for Transformative Medicine
60 Fenwood Road
Boston, MA 02115