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Karin Pelka, PhD

Assistant Investigator, Gladstone Institutes; Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, UCSF


Karin Pelka, PhD, is an Assistant Investigator at Gladstone Institutes. She is also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of California, San Francisco.

Pelka aims to understand how immunological processes are regulated in human tissues to leverage the immune system in the fight against diseases such as cancer. Using unbiased high-throughput and high-content technologies and deeply mechanistic studies, she intends to systematically dissect how immune and non-immune cells work together to shape immune responses.

She earned a PhD in innate immunity from the University of Bonn in Germany, where she discovered a key regulatory mechanism that controls the detection of infection- or danger-associated nucleic acids by sensors of the innate immune system. She also contributed to several studies on the role of innate immune sensors in autoimmune diseases such as lupus and in the Western Diet-mediated epigenetic reprogramming of the innate immune system.

As a postdoctoral fellow at Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, she shifted her interest to cancer immunology and systems biology. She led a cross-disciplinary, multi-institutional single-cell RNA sequencing and spatial profiling effort on human colorectal cancer. She discovered that these seemingly heterogeneous tumors contained several conserved and spatially organized multicellular interaction networks between malignant cells and immune cells.

She is a member of the American Association for Cancer Research and the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer.

Education & Training

  • 2021: Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Postdoctoral Fellowship, Cancer Immunology and Systems Biology
  • 2016: UMass Medical School, Research Fellowship, Innate Immunity
  • 2016: University of Bonn, PhD, Innate Immunity
  • 2010: University of Bonn, MS, Molecular Biomedicine

Awards & Honors

  • 2021: NIH Pathway to Independence Award K99/R00, National Cancer Institute
  • 2020: SU2C Phillip A. Sharp Innovation in Collaboration Award with Matthew Hellmann
  • 2019: SU2C Peggy Prescott Early Career Scientist Award in Colorectal Cancer Research
  • 2019: BroadIgnite Award supporting bold ideas of early-career scientists
  • 2018–2020: Research Fellowship, German Research Foundation
  • 2005–2010: Scholar of the German Academic Scholarship Foundation