Rafi Ahmed, Ph.D.

Vaccine Development
Emory University
Recruited: 1995

The founding and current director of the Emory Vaccine Center, Rafi Ahmed leads a team of 280 scientists. Together, they have been awarded more than $500 million in grants, including funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Ahmed's area of discovery focuses on immunology. Immunologists had long believed that plasma cells – the B cells that produce the antibodies that fight infection – had a short lifespan. But Ahmed proved otherwise.
He showed that B cells live a very long time, perhaps through the entire lifetime of the organism. He also added to the scientific understanding of how T cells become memory cells, ready to mount a fierce response when the body is later exposed to the same virus.
Now, he’s showing how the body’s immune cells get sidelined by chronic viral infections – and how they can be reactivated to renew their fight.

The more Ahmed uncovers about the nature of viral infection and long-term immunity, the closer he gets to developing effective vaccines against HIV, hepatitis C, malaria, tuberculosis – and maybe even a therapy for cancer. A recent breakthrough in the study of influenza holds promise for creating a universal flu vaccine, one that works to protect against the deadliest flu viruses without needing a regular update for the various strains expected to circulate during a particular flu season.


  • The ability of immune inhibitor protein PD-1 (programmed death 1) to turn off T-cells, and the use of CD4 T-cells or other methods to turn off this protein, thereby rescuing exhausted CD8 T-cells during chronic viral infection
  • AIDS vaccine, progressing through human clinical trials
  • Broad antibody protection against influenza based on the 2009 H1N1 flu virus

Choosing Georgia

GRA recruited Ahmed to Georgia to become director of a world-class vaccine center. GRA invested $10 million to create the center and added significant investments in technology and talent over time.