Welcome to Professor Collin Kieffer

Professor Collin Kieffer

Professor Kieffer was one of ten new faculty hires made in the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology in the last three years. Kieffer is an assistant professor of microbiology, and is also an affiliate of Infection Genomics for One Health (IGOH) theme at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB).

Tell us about your lab and your research focus, including how you came to choose or specialize in this area.

My lab is broadly interested in understanding how viruses interact with immune system in the body. We use the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) as a model system because HIV specifically targets immune cells during infection. HIV is the causative agent of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and even though it was discovered nearly 40 years ago, it remains a global health problem with an estimated 37 million individuals currently infected worldwide. Despite intense efforts, we still know very little about how HIV moves through tissues and interacts with the immune system in those tissues. My lab focuses on understanding relevant modes of virus dissemination, investigating latent virus reservoirs, and characterizing the effectiveness of anti-HIV therapies within tissues from animal models and human patients using advanced microscopy methods.

What is especially exciting about this particular area of research, at this time?

Tissues are complex and inherently difficult to image using light microscopy; however, the advent of powerful new microscopes, combined with computing power and applied physics, is allowing the visualization of biological phenomena at previously unattainable levels of volume and resolution. In applying these methods, we are verifying well established themes of HIV biology in tissues, while also uncovering new aspects of HIV pathogenesis that no one has previously encountered. My hope is that our findings will help guide the field toward a better understand HIV pathogenesis in tissues, and more effectively evaluate new HIV cure strategies. Additionally, the approaches we use are broadly applicable to other important diseases, including staph infections, COVID-19, and cancer.

What interested you the most about becoming a faculty member in the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology and the University of Illinois?

Even though UIUC is locally isolated as a research institution, the highly collaborative environment here allowed me to rapidly establish projects with other labs, encompassing other new faculty members all the way to long-term faculty with large, established labs. These opportunities allowed me to generate important new insights for well-developed biological research programs, while I simultaneously build the foundation for the research focus of my lab.

What are your teaching interests?

I teach MCB 100 (Introductory Microbiology). This is a fun course because it broadly covers cool aspects of the microbial world that directly apply to our everyday lives. We cover a lot of topics that many students were previously aware of, but didn’t understand how microbes were directly involved in those processes.

If any students (undergrad or grad) are interested in working in your lab, what’s your advice or how can they get in touch with you?

Send me an email and set up an appointment to talk with me. I am generally pretty friendly after 9 AM.

Tell us about someone who made a difference in your life, such as someone who sparked your interest in biology, who encouraged you to pursue a career in academia or challenged your thinking about a topic.

My postdoctoral advisor at Caltech, Pamela Bjorkman, showed me that it can be possible to be an amazing scientist while also pursuing other things that you love to do. She is the most efficient person I have ever met. She runs a large, world-renowned research lab, raised a family, regularly spends time adventuring in the outdoors, volunteers in AIDS orphanages in India, and teaches science to monks in India. Experiencing that during my post-doc always inspires me to do more.

What do you like to do in your free time?

When not in lab, I am usually spending time with family and moving around in the outdoors. I am avidly into biking, running, skating, camping, kayaking, and skiing.

Read a feature on the Kieffer Lab's research.

January 20, 2021 All News