Steven Zeichner

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Steven Zeichner has a diverse set of research interests related to understanding and preventing infectious disease. Among other work, he conducted the one of the first comprehensive mutational analyses of the HIV promoter, the Long Terminal Repeat; he completed one of the first gene expression profiling studies for a virus, Kaposi Sarcoma Associated Herpesvirus; and he provided one of the first comprehensive descriptions of the cellular transcriptional response to HIV infection. He showed that some viruses capable of long-term latency, like HIV and KSHV, “listen” to the health of their host cells, and then exit latency if they sense that the host cell is about to undergo apoptosis. In his clinical research activities, Steve is active in pediatric antiretroviral drug development, including serving as Principal Investigator for the first-in-child phase 1 study of tenofovir disoproxil fumarate.

Currently, Steve’s research interests include characterizing the control mechanisms of viral gene expression, particularly in the context of identifying new HIV cure strategies. He is also developing new antigen evaluation technologies – to this end, he has invented a new technology, converting the microbiome of the mouse GI tract into a screening device to distinguish between more and less immunogenic antigens.

Steve’s lab is also developing a new, rapid, ultra-low-cost synthetic biology-based vaccine technology: expressing vaccine antigens using a Gram-negative autotransporter on the surfaces of bacteria that have had a large fraction of their genomes removed, which enhances immune recognition. The technology can be used to produce vaccines in existing factories around the world using abundant, low cost starting materials at a cost of <$1/k dose, and can produce a testable candidate vaccine in about 3 weeks from the initial identification of a new antigen target, making the technology ideal for pandemic/biothreat response and customized cancer immunotherapy. Steve is now working to apply the technology to make variant-resistant/universal coronavirus and HIV vaccines, as well as cancer immunotherapies.

Steve, a native New Yorker, received his undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Chicago, and continued on at Chicago to receive his MD and PhD in Microbiology through the Medical Scientist Training Program. He trained in Pediatrics and Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and then spent several years as a principal investigator in the NIH Intramural Program before moving to Children’s National Medical Center/George Washington University. He is now the McLemore Birdsong Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Microbiology, Immunology, and Cancer Biology at the University of Virginia. Steve is married to Rachel Moon, MD, also a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Virginia. They have two adult daughters.


Find out more about Steven Zeichner’s research at the University of Virginia here.