Working at the intersection of chemistry and biology, Stephen C. Harrison excels at creating the chemical “blueprints,” or architectural drawings, of complex macromolecular structures such as proteins and nucleic acids to understand their biological functions. His insights into the workings of viruses and the human immune response system are helping develop better vaccines and treatments of diseases such as the common cold, influenza, HIV, West Nile Virus, dengue and yellow fevers, and Ebola, among others.
Dr. Harrison determined the first atomic-level structure of a virus and later the structures of key proteins from viruses that are human pathogens, such as dengue virus and HIV. He also has discovered principles of virus assembly and detailed the various mechanisms viruses use to infect cells – for both viruses with membranes and those without.
In other work, he has helped explain how cells control expression of specific genes, and he is currently studying the architecture of kinetochores, key organelles for accurate cell division. In studying protein complexes with DNA, Dr. Harrison determined the first atomic structure of sequence-specific protein DNA complexes and deciphered the principles of base-pair recognition. His structural studies have helped recognize the sites on DNA where proteins attach and the consequences of these interactions for regulating gene transcription.
Dr. Harrison is professor of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology and of pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, and investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He earned both his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard University, and he has served on its faculty for many years.