Christopher Benedict, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Center for Autoimmunity and Inflammation, Center for Vaccine Innovation
"As an immunologist, my hope is that something I am working on is going to make a difference to human health. That’s what interests me – the possibility to combat human disease."


My laboratory studies the strategies that viruses use to escape detection by our immune system. These strategies facilitate viral replication, and in some cases help them establish lifelong infections that we can never clear. We are intrigued by virus-employed tricks that target members of the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) family, as these proteins released by our immune cells are fundamentally important in fighting infection. We also have a particular interest in cytomegalovirus (CMV), which is a member of the herpesvirus family similar to ‘mono’ (Epstein-Barr) and the chicken pox/shingles (Varicella Zoster) viruses. CMV encodes one of the largest known viral genomes (~230,000 base pairs), and more than half of it is dedicated to throwing up smoke screens that fool our immune systems, including many that block the TNFs. We believe that studying the unique CMV strategies that allow it to evade detection by our immune system facilitates fundamental new discoveries about our health. In addition, our lab is focused on finding new ways to combat the diseases that CMV can cause in certain settings. CMV is the No. 1 infectious cause of birth defects in the U.S. today, causing severe disease if immunity is naïve or compromised (e.g. infection of babies in the womb and transplant patients), and we are developing new vaccine strategies to combat this. If you have a healthy immune system, CMV infection is largely benign. However, like the chicken pox that can reemerge 50 years later to cause shingles, CMV ‘hides’ in your body for life and can pop-out again when your immune system is weakened or older. Consequently, CMV is a likely contributor to auto-inflammatory disorders such as vascular disease and immune senescence, and may even contribute to some cancers. One of our recent discoveries could aid efforts in the development of a CMV vaccine.

Featured publications

Show more publications

Lab Members


Research Projects

CMV Interfaces with The Trail Cytokine System

We have recently discovered a novel connection between the TNF-related apoptosis inducing ligand (TRAIL) cytokine system and CMV. TRAIL is

CMV Targets the Immune Checkpoint Inhibitor BTLA

Virulent isolates of CMV encode the ul144 orf, and we identified UL144 as an orthologue of the herpesvirus entry mediator

T Cell Immunity and CMV

HCMV-specific CD8 T cells protect bone marrow transplant patients when used in cellular immunotherapy, and their long-term maintenance is enhanced

The Lymphotoxin-Interferon Antiviral Immunity Axis

Over the last 15 years our lab has been studying the link between lymphotoxins (LT) and the regulation of type


From the lab

Mar 25, 2020 Immune Matters
Know Your Enemies

They help us digest food, balance our immune system, and keep our hearts and brains healthy. But harmful viruses and

Read More
Mar 29, 2017 Immune Matters
Q&A with Dr. Benedict

As a scientist Chris Benedict, Ph.D., came of age during the heyday of gene therapy. But when the first clinical

Read More
Show More

Awards & Honors

  • Arthritis National Research Foundation Eng Tan Scholar, 2006
  • American Heart Association ‘Promising Young Scientist’ (recipient of Scientist Development Grant), 2001
  • Smoot Pre-Doctoral Fellow, 1992