Active Research Projects

T cell mechanosensing

How do T cells sense the mechanical properties of their environment?

Mechanical forces play critical roles in physiology, directing molecular activation to human health. Our group provided some of the initial studies that T cells can sense the stiffness of cell culture surfaces, mimicking the phenomenon of matrix mechanosensing observed in adherent cell types, but in an entirely different molecular setting. In particular, T cells can exert force on their surroundings without engagement of integrin receptors, using instead the TCR/CD3 complex for force generation.

Biomaterials for growing T cells

Reengineering bioreactor materials can improve cellular immunotherapy

Leveraging our discovery that T cells can sense the mechanical properties of a cell culture surface, our group is developing new systems to improve activation and growth of T cells for cellular immunotherapy. Replacing the mechanically stiff materials typically used for cell culture with soft counterparts increases the number of cells that result from a round of cell growth.

Capturing diversity in cancer

Cancer is a multifaceted disease. Can we find patterns in presentation that improve research and treatment?

Quite often, T cells from cancer patients are difficult to activate and grow, complicating the use of cellular immunotherapy. This phenomenon resembles T cell exhaustion in response to chronic stimulation, but the underlying mechanisms are not well understood. Our group applied a multi-factor data analysis approach to produce an algorithm that can predict the long-term growth of cells from a set of biomarkers and short-term measure of live cell function.

Spatially-resolved cell signaling

Revealing how cells modulate molecular signaling at the sub-cellular level

Cells have the remarkable ability to control their shape and function at the scale of micrometer, suggesting that the chemical reactions underlying these processes are also spatially modulated. Using multi-component, micropatterned surfaces, we demonstrated that T cells are sensitive to the relative co-localization of TCR/CD3 and CD28 (costimulatory) signaling. Moreover, convergence of these pathways is modulated by the lateral mobility of molecules in the cell membrane.

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