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Robbiani studies B lymphocytes, which are crucial to immune defense because they produce infection-fighting antibodies—the key to the efficacy of most vaccines. Using a combination of experiments with human samples, high throughput antibody cloning, and in vivo animal models of vaccination and infection, Robbiani aims to understand how protective antibodies are formed and to use this information to advance vaccine design. His current work focuses on immune responses to emerging pathogens, including coronaviruses and flaviviruses (Zika, Powassan, tick-borne encephalitis, and others). These studies are conducted in association with Margaret MacDonald of Rockefeller’s Laboratory of Virology and Infectious Disease, and in collaboration with researchers in South America, Central America, and Europe.

Robbiani is also interested in the malignant biology of B lymphocytes. B lymphocyte–derived cancers—leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma—frequently bear characteristic DNA aberrations. To understand the genesis of lymphoma-associated chromosome aberrations, particularly the contribution of immune enzymes such as RAG1/2 and AID to the genomic damage associated with these events, Robbiani and his colleagues use mouse genetics along with deep-sequencing techniques, mouse lymphoma models, and computational analysis of human cancer genomes.