New Division Chief: Joel Ernst

We are delighted to welcome Joel Ernst, MD to the department as the Chief of the Division of Experimental Medicine, our flagship unit that performs cutting-edge research and training on the human immunology of chronic infectious diseases.

Joel trained in Internal Medicine, Infectious Diseases, and Hematology and Oncology and joined the UCSF faculty in the mid-1980s where he established a research program in host-pathogen interactions and immunity. He also cared for infectious disease patients, including some of the earliest AIDS patients at Zuckerberg San Francisco General (ZSFG).  He was recruited to the New York University School of Medicine in 2003, where he has served as Professor of Medicine, Pathology, and Microbiology, Director of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, as well as Director of the Graduate Program in Immunology and Inflammation.  His awards include election to the Association of American Physicians, and an honorary doctorate from the University of Linköping, Sweden.

Joel’s research focuses on immunity to Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) to inform the rational design and development of new TB vaccines. This research includes basic studies of mechanisms of immunity and immune evasion in TB using animal models and human studies of immunity to TB. He discovered that in contrast to pathogens that employ antigenic variation to evade immunity and cause persistent infection, the human T cell antigens and epitopes of MTB are highly conserved, even in strains that diverged from a common ancestor thousands of years ago.  More recently, his lab has identified rare antigens of MTB that show evidence of diversifying selection, and he has initiated studies to test the hypothesis that T cell responses to those antigens are associated with superior protective immunity compared with T cell responses to conserved antigens. Joel joins UCSF and ZSFG at a time when tuberculosis has emerged as a global health challenge of urgent importance because of the burden it inflicts across the globe.

Joel has mentored young scientists with great impact. Graduates of the Ernst Laboratory include a HHMI Investigator and a Lasker Award recipient in clinical medical research, as well as faculty at many prestigious national and international institutions.