Katherine Fitzgerald

Women in STEM
Women in STEM
Katherine Fitzgerald

Specialty: Immunology 

Major Contributions:

Studying receptors of innate immune system

Co-director, UMass Program in Innate Immunity

2015 St. Patrick’s Day Science Medal recipient

Image Courtesy of UMass

For her research into innate immunology and her continued collaboration with scientists in Ireland, Dr. Katherine Fitzgerald was given the 2022 Thermo Fisher Meritorious Career Award from the American Association of Immunologists. 

Fitzgerald was born in Ireland and studied at the University College of Cork Ireland and Trinity College in Dublin from which she earned her doctorate in 1999. After spending three years as a postdoc researcher at Trinity she began her work in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 2001. Three years later she was appointed to the faculty at UMass and is currently a tenured Professor and Vice Chair of Medicine, Chief of the Division of Innate Immunity, and the Worcester Foundation in Biomedical Sciences Research Chair.

The work in the Fitzgerald lab is focused on understanding the molecular basis of host defense and the inflammatory process. The team there has been studying particular receptor cells that can recognize the DNA of microbes and create an inflammatory response to protect the human body.  These receptors are part of the innate immune system – the one that humans are born with that responds quickly to the detection of an antigen in the body. While this system is designed to ward off pathogens it can sometimes incorrectly read our own DNA and create dangerous inflammations when no real threat is present.

Dr. Fitzgerald and her team are working to understand how dysregulation of innate immunity underlies the pathogenesis of infectious, inflammatory and autoimmune disease in humans. Or in more simple terms they hope to be able to develop ways to block or boost DNA reactions as needed. In cases where the body is giving off an immune response to its own DNA, think autoimmune diseases like Lupus, these receptors can be blocked, stopping the response. And in cases where a greater immune response is needed the receptors can be ramped up and the body will have a better chance at having a successful immune response. 

In addition to the career award, Dr. Fitzgerald has also earned a BD-Investigator Award, an Eli Lilly and Elanco Company award, an NIH Merit award and has been elected as a member to the Royal Irish Academy, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Academy of Medicine.

Written by Angela Goad


UMass Profiles: Katherine A. Fitzgerald

Malaria immune response may do more harm than good (YouTube)

Irish researcher Katherine Fitzgerald receives St. Patrick’s Day Science Medal

See Also:

Fitzgerald Lab

UMass Program in Innate Immunity

The Milstein Awards: Dr. Katherine A. Fitzgerald