Prof. Li Tang gets an ERC Starting Grant

© 2018 EPFL

© 2018 EPFL

Prof. Li Tang, head of the Laboratory of Biomaterials for Immunoengineering at the School of Engineering of EPFL has obtained a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant, for his project entitled "Mechanical Immunoengineering for Enhanced T-Cell Immunotherapy".

Cancer immunotherapy harnessing the power of a patient’s immune system to fight cancer is transforming the standard-of-care for cancer. Adoptive cell therapy (ACT), a potent immunotherapy that directly infuses a large number of tumor-reactive T cells into patients, has elicited dramatic clinical responses against leukaemia and some melanoma. However, most solid tumors remain a major challenge as tumor employs a number of strategies to prevent effector T cells from reaching the tumor sites and attacking cancer by generating a highly immunosuppressive microenvironment. Safety concern represents another challenge that transferred T cells may react with healthy tissues causing on-target/off-tumor toxicities.

To address these challenges, current strategies are focused on controlling the immune system or the microenvironment using biochemical immunomodulatory reagents to enhance T cell based immunotherapy. However, these reagents given systemically are often toxic, and sometimes lethal. Approaches exploiting biophysical and mechanical cues may offer new opportunities for specific immunomodulation without toxicities but are largely underappreciated so far. In this proposal, Prof. Li Tang and team aim to exploit mechanical immunoengineering strategies through biophysical cues to develop novel immune related treatments to enhance the efficacy and safety of adoptive T cell therapy for cancer. They will apply mechanical forces to train T cells in order to obtain favourable properties for cancer cell killing. They will also utilize the intrinsic mechanical properties of T cells to design novel drug delivery systems to focus immunotherapies in tumor tissues and thus minimize toxicities.

This proposed project will open a new horizon for immunoengineering through biomechanical modulation of immunity for enhanced cancer immunotherapy and provide insight into the fundamentals of mechanotransduction of immune system in health and disease.