Shiv Pillai, MD, PhD

Lab Info:

Principal Investigator: Shiv Pillai, MD, PhD

Office/Location: 400TS 894

Phone: (857) 268-7005

Email: pillai@helix.mgh.harvard.edu

Category: Core Members, Ragon Members

Dr. Shiv Pillai is a Professor of Medicine and Health Sciences & Technology (HST) at Harvard Medical School. He is the Program Director of the NIH-funded Autoimmune Center of Excellence at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Director of the Harvard immunology PhD and Master in Medical Sciences programs. Dr. Pillai is also Director of MD-student research for the Harvard-MIT HST program. He is a Group Leader at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard; a Member of the MGH Cancer Center; and an Associate Member of the Broad Institute.


Dr. Pillai is a world leader in the study of fundamental B-cell immunology. He coined the term surrogate light chains for proteins that he identified (with David Baltimore) as part of a novel receptor, now known as the pre-B receptor, that drives early B-cell development. His laboratory at MGH postulated and provided evidence for the first ligand-independent signaling model during lymphocyte development, now a widely accepted mechanism for both pre-B receptor and pre-T receptor signaling. Dr. Pillai’s laboratory also showed that Btk, the product of the gene mutated in X-linked agammaglobulinemia, is functionally linked to the pre-B receptor and the B-cell receptor. Btk inhibitors are now widely used in lymphoid malignancies and autoimmunity. In addition, his group defined a functional niche for B cells (around sinusoids in the bone marrow); identified the first two mutants that abrogate marginal-zone B-lymphocyte development; developed the concept of a follicular versus marginal zone B-lymphoid cell-fate decision; and discovered two new defined stages of peripheral B-cell development, the marginal zone precursor (MZP) B cell and the follicular type II B cell.


In addition, Dr. Pillai’s work has contributed to breakthroughs in understanding the pathogenic mechanisms underlying an autoimmune fibrotic disorder, IgG4-related disease, with ongoing investigations involving the study of systemic sclerosis and common variable immunodeficiency (CVID). These findings have generated several clinical trials targeting the activated lymphocytes responsible for chronic inflammation and fibrosis in patients with these autoimmune disorders. Pillai is also interested in the role of DNA methylation in lymphocyte biology and the relevance of DNA methylation to memory, autoimmunity, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.


Dr. Pillai is the author of a monograph “Lymphocyte Development” and co-author with Abul Abbas and Andrew Lichtman of two widely used textbooks of immunology. He is the course director of immunology courses at Harvard Medical School and Harvard College and for the Federation of Clinical Immunology Societies. Dr. Pillai has been the recipient of a number of teaching awards at Harvard, including the Irving M. London Award for Teaching and the Thomas McMahon Mentoring Award, and he has been included on The Harvard Crimson’s list of Professors of the Year.


Dr. Pillai received a medical degree from Christian Medical College in Vellore, India, and a doctorate in biochemistry from Calcutta University. He subsequently completed postdoctoral training in the lab of David Baltimore at MIT.

Click here to view a recent lecture series in which Dr. Pillai discusses some of the fundamental questions in immunology.


Course syllabi:
Immunology 201 (Fall 2019)

Immunology 202 (Spring 2019)

Immunology 204 (Spring 2019)

Immunology Seminar Series 301 (Fall 2019)



Vinay S. Mahajan, M.D. Ph.D, Instructor | Vinay.Mahajan@mgh.harvard.edu
Vinay received his medical degree from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi and did his graduate work at the MIT Department of Biological Engineering. He did his residency training in Clinical Pathology at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he is now an Instructor of Pathology. He has been a part of the Pillai group since 2011 and is keen on applying his knowledge and skills to problems in human translational immunology. He likes wildlife and enjoys birding and growing orchids.


Cory Perugino | cperugiono@partners.org
Cory is an Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School and practicing rheumatologist in the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Originally from northern New Jersey, Cory completed his internal medicine training at the Cleveland Clinic followed by his rheumatology fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital. He has been a post-doctorate fellow in the Pillai lab since July of 2015. His primary research focuses on the mechanism of IgG4-related disease and in particular, the antigens driving the disease. Every moment he’s not in the hospital or at the bench, he spends with his wife, Jessie, 2-year-old son, Jack and 6-month-old son, Theo. He enjoys smoky scotches, espresso, cooking, and playing some blues or jazz on the upright bass in the few minutes of time he has to himself.


Jocelyn Farmer, M.D. Ph.D, Postdoctoral Fellow |
Jocelyn Farmer earned her MD/PhD degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor before moving to Boston in 2013 to pursue residency training in the Department of Internal Medicine followed by fellowship training in the Department of Allergy and Immunology at the Massachusetts General Hospital. She joined the Pillai lab as a post-doctoral research fellow in 2016 and continues to enjoy her work both treating patients with primary immunodeficiency in the clinic and studying the bridging gap between human primary immunodeficiency disorders and the development of autoimmune disease pathology in the lab.


Grace Yuen, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow | 
Grace joined the Pillai lab in 2016 as a Research Fellow, with interests in transcriptional programs regulating T follicular helper cell function and the immune system at large. She received her Ph.D. in immunology at Harvard and S.B. in biology at MIT. Her graduate thesis focused on the genetic regulation of innate immunity in C. elegans. Outside the lab, Grace enjoys amateur entomology, practicing Tae Kwon Do, running, and playing the flute.


Hugues Allard-Chamard, M.D., Ph.D, Postdoctoral Fellow | allard-chamard@mgh.harvard.edu
Hugues Allard-Chamard earned his medical degree in adult rheumatology as well as his Ph.D. in pharmacology in Canada from the University of Sherbrooke. His Ph.D. thesis topic was the implication of prostanoids and phospholipases A2 in the biology of osteoclasts. During his residency training, he extended his interest to the clinical aspect of bone pathologies as well as ocular manifestations of rheumatic diseases and uveitis. He then joined the lab of Dr. Pillai in 2016 with a broad interest in the understanding of autoimmunity and its triggers with a special focus on epigenetics. His current work in the lab focuses on the discovery of biomarkers to predict IgG4 related disease response to treatment and unraveling the early immune dysfunction that triggers MRL/lpr mice to develop Lupus. Hugues came to the United States with his beloved tree cats. Outside of the lab, Hugues appreciates art, music, and never misses new exhibitions in the various Boston museums. He is a strong advocate for museum bonding experiences as a lab.


Na Sun, Bioinformatician | nsun2@mgh.harvard.edu
Na joined the Pillai lab as a bioinformatics specialist since May 2017. She received her Master degree from Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2013, and worked as a research associate at CAS-MPG Partner Institute for Computational Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. She mainly focused on high-throughput sequencing data analysis using computational approaches. Besides research in the lab, she likes to read books and play with her daughter.


Marshall Karpel, Graduate Student | mkarpel@mgh.harvard.edu
Marshall received his BS in Biochemistry from Bates College, then moved to Boston and worked on developing chimeric proteins for filovirus infections with Dr. Ian Michelow, therapeutic nanoparticles with Dr. Bob Langer, and humanized mouse models with Dr. Todd Allen. Marshall joined the Virology program at Harvard Medical School in 2015, and the Pillai Lab in 2016, where he is studying the determinants of B cell memory longevity and the contribution of B cell tolerance in HIV vaccine development. He likes gardening and building functional lab equipment out of legos.


Kelsey Finn, Graduate Student | kkfinn@partners.org


Hang Liu, Graduate Student | hliu34@mgh.harvard.edu


Candace Gregg, Staff Assistant | cgregg@mgh.harvard.edu