Sarah J. Schlesinger, M.D.Senior Attending Physician and Associate Professor of Clinical Investigation
Cellular Physiology and Immunology
Dr. Schlesinger's research is focused on the clinical manipulation of the immune system’s dendritic cells to elicit immunity to diseases ranging from HIV to cancer. Although much research on dendritic cells has been primarily conducted in mice, the causes of human disease can differ considerably from mouse models. Dr. Schlesinger is directing phase I clinical studies that employ the methods of immunology and dendritic cell biology, in which patients set the standards needed to understand diseases and their treatments. Dr. Schlesinger has been involved in the clinical trials of four HIV vaccines, including ADVAX and ADMVA. She is now conducting the first HIV vaccine trial based on dendritic cells, which were discovered at Rockefeller in 1973 by Dr. Ralph Steinman and his mentor, Dr. Zanvil Cohn.
In the steady state, dendritic cells capture antigens and travel to immune or lymphoid tissues, where they present to T cells, stimulating a robust immune response. Recent research has shown that dendritic cells also are responsible for a seemingly opposite role called immune tolerance, which silences dangerous immune cells and prevents them from attacking the body's own tissues. Working closely with Dr. Steinman, Dr. Schlesinger has used dendritic cells to study and design treatments that can harness the immune system, either to enhance or silence its functions, in an antigen- or disease-specific manner.
In addition to leading clinical trials, Dr. Schlesinger chairs the research education and training committee of the Center for Clinical and Translational Science at The Rockefeller University Hospital. She is also codirector of the Clinical Scholars program and the Certificate in Clinical and Translational Sciences program.
Dr. Schlesinger received her bachelor's degree from Wellesley College, spending her college summers performing research in Dr. Steinman's lab at Rockefeller. She received her M.D. from Rush Medical College before taking a residency at New York Hospital, where she ascended to chief resident of the department of pathology. In 1996, she became a research physician/pathologist in the division of retrovirology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, and then worked as a scientist in vaccine research and design at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. In 2003, she returned to Rockefeller as a research associate professor in Dr. Steinman's lab with a joint appointment at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center. In 2007, she became associate professor of clinical investigation at Rockefeller.