James Harker completed his BSc in Biochemistry and MRes in Molecular Mechanisms of Infection at Imperial College London . He subsequently undertook a MRC sponsored PhD in the lab of Professor Peter Openshaw at St Marys Hospital studying the immune response to Respiratory Syncytial Virus, where he was particularly focused on distinct immune responses elicited by this virus in infants versus adults and the role cytokines played in this process.
On completion of his PhD he moved to the west coast of the U.S. to take up a postdoctoral position at the University of California San Diego in the lab of Dr. Elina Zuniga studying inhibitory immune pathways active during chronic viral infections. Using a murine model of chronic viral infection he made a novel observation regarding the high frequency of a subset of CD4 T cells, T follicular helper cells, at late stages of chronic infection, findings later translated into human infections including HIV-1 and Hepatitis C virus. T follicular helper cells are vital in promoting high affinity antibody production by B cells and James determined that the cytokine interleukin-6 played an essential role in this process and was critical for the development of anti-viral antibodies and viral containment. In 2011 he was awarded an Irvington Institute fellowship from the Cancer Research Institute to extend his research into the interplay between the IL-6 family of cytokines and T follicular helper cells.
In 2013 James was awarded a Sir Henry Dale Fellowship by the Wellcome Trust and the Royal Society to establish a research group investigating the molecular mechanisms involved in the generation of T follicular helper cells, and in October, 2013 he re-joined Imperial College London as a member of the Section of Leukocyte Biology within the National Heart and Lung Institute. James's current research focuses on studying the development of humoral immunity in response to respiratory viral infections and the effects of age on this process.