A native of Ticino, Davide Robbiani obtained a medical doctorate from the University of Bern, Switzerland, in 2000 and a PhD in immunology from Cornell University, New York, in 2005. During his medical training, he was a research intern at the Theodor Kocher Institute under the guidance of Marco Baggiolini and at the Rockefeller University in Ralph Steinman’s laboratory. Robbiani returned to Rockefeller in 2005 to start his postdoctoral training in Michel Nussenzweig’s laboratory, where he continued as a member of the faculty from 2009 to 2020. Robbiani’s research focuses on two areas of human immunology: the sources of DNA damage underlying the development of cancers of the immune system and the immune response to emerging pathogens, with emphasis on flaviviruses and coronaviruses. Robbiani joined the IRB in 2020, succeeding the Institute’s founding Director, Antonio Lanzavecchia. At the IRB Robbiani heads the laboratory of Immunology and Infectious Disease and he is Professor in the Faculty of Biomedical Sciences of the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI).
Davide Robbiani studies B lymphocytes, which are crucial to immune defense because they produce infection-fighting antibodies—the key to the efficacy of most vaccines. Using a combination of experiments with human samples, high throughput antibody cloning, and models of vaccination and infection, Robbiani aims to understand how protective antibodies are formed and to use this information to advance vaccine design. His current work focuses on immune responses to emerging pathogens, including coronaviruses (SARS-CoV-2) and flaviviruses (Zika, Powassan, tick-borne encephalitis, and others). These studies are conducted in association with scientists in the United States and researchers in South and Central America, Asia and Europe. Robbiani is also interested in the malignant biology of B lymphocytes. B lymphocyte–derived cancers—leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma—frequently bear characteristic DNA aberrations. To understand the genesis of lymphoma-associated chromosome aberrations, particularly the contribution of immune enzymes such as RAG1/2 and AID to the genomic damage associated with these events, Robbiani and his colleagues use genetics along with deep-sequencing techniques and computational analysis of human cancer genomes.