Meet CMC's Alumni Global Leaders

2020 Annual Report Interview: Dr. Shiv Pillai


In his interview with Foundation Board Chair, Dr. Philip Ninan (Batch ‘69), Dr. Pillai discusses the values of a CMC education, as well as COVID-19 and the future of the pandemic. Dr. Pillai currently serves as Professor of Medicine and Health Sciences and Technology (HST) at Harvard Medical School.


Professor of Medicine and Health Sciences and Technology (HST), Harvard Medical School

Shiv Pillai is a Professor of Medicine and Health Sciences and Technology at Harvard Medical School. He studied medicine at Christian Medical College in Vellore, completed his PhD with Bimal Bacchawat, and was a Postdoctoral Fellow with David Baltimore at the Whitehead institute and MIT. He is the Program Director of an NIH-funded Basic Autoimmune Center of Excellence at Massachusetts General Hospital, the Director of the Harvard Immunology PhD and Master’s in Medical Sciences Programs and director of the HMS-HST MD student research program. He has been the recipient of a number of teaching awards at Harvard including the Irving M. London Award for Teaching, the Thomas McMahon Mentoring Award, and has been listed on Harvard Crimson’s Professors of the Year. 

Dr. Pillai coined the term “surrogate light chains” for proteins that he identified as part of the pre-B receptor, that drives early B cell development. His laboratory postulated and provided evidence for the first ligand-independent signaling model during lymphocyte development and showed that BTK, the product of the gene mutated in X-linked agammaglobulinemia, is functionally linked to the pre-B receptor and the B cell receptor. Btk inhibitors are now widely used in lymphoid malignancies and autoimmunity. Apart from the pro-B to pre-B cell transition, his group developed the concept of the follicular versus marginal zone B lymphoid cell-fate decision, has recently identified a metabolic transitional to follicular B cell switch that is blocked in human common variable immunodeficiency, and identified a block in T follicular helper cell development in COVID-19 that prevents the formation of germinal centers. His laboratory actively studies the dysfunctional extra-follicular B cell response and its link to cytotoxic CD4+T cells in autoimmune and inflammatory diseases that include IgG4-RD, systemic sclerosis, fibrosing mediastinitis, COVID-19 and disorders involving human single gene mutations in CTLA4, NFKB1, PI3KCD and more. Dr. Pillai is the author of a monograph “Lymphocyte Development” and co-author with Abul Abbas and Andrew Lichtman of two widely used textbooks of immunology.