Graduate School of Medical Sciences
A partnership with the Sloan Kettering Institute

Joseph Sun

Dr. Sun Headshot
My lab is interested in the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying innate and adaptive cytotoxic lymphocyte responses to infectious diseases and cancer.


The mammalian immune system responds to infectious diseases and cancer by introducing a complex interplay of cells and soluble factors, whose goal is to eliminate the intruding pathogen or tumor. Among the most potent effector cells in the immune response are the natural killer (NK) cell and CD8+ T cell, which secrete inflammatory cytokines and directly kill infected or transformed target cells.  

The focus of our research is aimed at defining the underlying cellular and molecular signals that NK cells and CD8+ T cells require to mount an effective immune response against pathogens and cancer. We are also exploring the regulatory mechanisms keeping these cytolytic lymphocytes in check, thereby safeguarding against potential autoimmunity. 

Understanding the biology of NK cells and T cells, and how these innate and adaptive cytotoxic lymphocytes of the immune system specifically attack pathogen infected and cancerous cells, but not healthy cells, we will be able to develop more effective preventative and therapeutic approaches in the battle against infectious diseases and cancer. 

Current Projects:

  • NK cell biology 
  • Innate immune memory 
  • T cell memory 
  • Antiviral immunity 
  • Antitumor immunity 


Joseph Sun received his PhD in immunology in 2005, having trained with Mike Bevan in CD8+ T cell memory as a graduate student at the University of Washington. As a postdoc with Lewis Lanier at UCSF from 2006-2010, he discovered that natural killer cells possess adaptive immune features including clonal expansion and long-lived memory following viral infection. He was recruited to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in 2010 by Jim Allison, and his lab has been interested in defining the underlying epigenetic, transcriptional, and metabolic signals that govern innate and adaptive lymphocyte responses in host defense against pathogens and cancer.  


  • Weill Cornell Graduate School Teaching and Mentoring Award (2022)
  • American Cancer Society Research Scholar (2017)
  • Burroughs Wellcome Fund Investigator in Infectious Disease (2016)
  • Boyer Young Investigator Award for Basic Research (2015)
  • Geoffrey Beene Junior Faculty Chair (2014)
  • AAI Pfizer-Showell Early Career Investigator Award (2012)
  • Searle Scholar Award (2011)
  • Cancer Research Institute Investigator Award (2011)

Current Areas of Focus

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