My long-term career goal is to develop translational technologies for cancer research that can accelerate discoveries from the benchtop to the clinic to make a real impact on clinical trials and patient management. My current research leverages engineering advances in biomaterials, microsystems, and biomanufacturing for new and improved clinical solutions to emerging problems in cancer biology and immune engineering. Specific examples include lab-on-a-chip systems for single-cell sensing and immunomonitoring, glioblastoma brain tumor microenvironment modeling for rapid cancer diagnosis and prognosis, and micromechanical systems for exploring stem and immune cell mechanobiology. I proposes to expand on my work in new capacity in translational cancer research for novel engineering systems for on-site immunotherapeutic patient screening. With the recent FDA approval of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell immunotherapies for B-cell malignancies, CAR T-cell therapies are a promising strategy to cure relapsed and refractory leukemia as well as solid tumors. However, the clinical benefit of CAR-T immunotherapy varies tremendously in many clinical trials and overall patient responses reported in trials of relapsed/refractory leukemia remain unfavorable. Factors that contribute to variable clinical responses may arise from early steps like CAR T-cell manufacturing or administration, CAR T-cell exhaustion and immunological resistance in the leukemic niche, but the key elements leading to variations in CAR T-cell efficacy are not fully understood. The objective of our research is to develop novel engineering systems to probe and analyze both the immunological and biomechanical attributes of CAR T-cells and map the leukemic BM niche for advancing current CAR T-cell immunotherapies. First of all, we aim to reconstruct a novel organotypic leukemic BM immunity niche ex vivo model to dissect the heterogeneity of immunosuppression mechanisms of different B- ALL subtypes and pre-clinically evaluate and optimize CD19 CAR T-cell immunotherapy efficacy. Secondly, we aim to develop and integrate in situ cellular and molecular immunophenotyping systems at single-cell level and/or in a 3D organotypic setting so as to provide a reliable and accurate screening to characterize the functional status of CAR T-cells. Lastly, we will explore CAR T-cell mechanosensitive mechanisms that regulate CAR T- cell activation and killing process to improve the CAR T-cell efficacy. Based on the new insights from CAR T-cell mechanobiology, we aim to engineer a remote ?mechanical switch? and incorporate a ?mechanical promoter? to effectively control CAR T-cell activation and cytotoxicity for improved CAR T-cell immunotherapy efficacy and safety. Altogether, we propose an innovative framework to precisely map the spatiotemporal immunological and biomechanical dynamics during CAR T-cell activation and killing, aiming to construct ex vivo leukemic BM niche and mechanical signature of CAR T-cells, ultimately optimize CAR T-cell administration, safety, and efficacy.
B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL) is a common, aggressive and reoccurring cancer of bone marrow among children. CAR T-cell immunotherapy has emerged as a successful therapy for relapsed and refractory B- ALL, yet the cure rate of childhood B-ALL remains not improved. In this study we will dissect and engineer the immunological and biomechanical attributes of CAR T-cells as well as the leukemic bone marrow immunity niche for the development of more efficient yet safe CAR-T immunotherapy.