The Johns Hopkins Translational ImmunoEngineering (JH-TIE) is part of the National Centers for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NCBIB) network and the first to focus on the development of tools and methods for the advancement of immunoengineering. The tools and technology developed by JH-TIE will catalyze advances in the research of cellular engineering technologies to specifically modulate the immune system in an antigen-specific fashion with broad applications to human health. The program will serve as a hub and interface between bioengineers, immunologists, material scientists, and bioscientists, promoting new collaborations, providing training for scientists at the graduate and post-graduate levels, and maximizing the potential of immunoengineering and engineered cellular therapies.
Research in Immunology and Immunoengineering has created exciting scientific advances that will revolutionize many fields including cancer, infectious disease, autoimmunity, and immunetolerance, among others. These advances will lead directly to new treatments and enhance the efficacy of existing and emerging therapeutics and devices. Immunoengineering has the potential to profoundly impact fundamental bioscience, translational research, and human health.
Despite this potential, immunoengineering remains a nascent field. Significant knowledge gaps, inadequate technology, and barriers in practice prevent these advances from realizing their potential. For example, in adoptive immunotherapy – currently one of the most promising therapeutic avenues – it can take up to 6-10 weeks to expand T cell populations to sufficient numbers for therapeutic use. The prolonged ex vivo T cell manipulation, high costs, and challenging quality control for cell production hinder the wider range of clinical use of adoptive cellular immunotherapy. Other bioengineering challenges include methods for effectively stimulating engineered T cells, such as CAR- T cells, with targets of interest, optimizing the safety and efficacy of engineered T cells, and overcoming host counter measures that hinder the use of immunotherapy.
In addition to these technological barriers, fundamental differences in nomenclature, practice, and communication channels stand between engineers, immunologists, and other partners who could collaborate and innovate. The situation has limited the creation and adoption of bioengineered technologies and the translational research and development opportunities that these resources could enable.
The goals of JH-TIE are the following:
- Develop products, techniques, and methodologies to streamline the stimulation and expansion of functional T cells to provide a greater number of therapeutic cells faster and with greater proliferative potential, including a GMP-compliant batching methodology for scale-up;
- Develop new enabling technologies, techniques, and products for more effective stimulation and modification of immune cells, including via biomaterials-based gene transfer and use of novel small molecule activators and inhibitors;
- Develop new biotherapeutics for cellular engineering to increase T cell efficacy in vivo, including increased robustness of cytotoxic T cells against immunosuppressive counter-effects as well as complementary technology to engineer regulatory T cells for potential use for autoimmune diseases;
- Expand the reach of immunoengineering principles by offering training courses, seminars, and curricula for researchers, industrial practitioners, clinicians, and students, including a new certificate program in immunoengineering for graduate students;
- Advance the field of immunoengineering by hosting conferences, short courses, and other targeted offerings;
- Serve as an interface and liaison for communities of engineers, immunologists, and other stakeholders.
JH-TIE has defined three Technology Research and Development (TR&D) projects that will serve as a foundation for the center. The collective mission of the TR&D projects is to advance knowledge and develop innovative technology platforms in support of its immunoengineering mission. JH-TIE will bridge gaps among bioscientists, engineers, and clinicians with a team that spans and represents the diverse research community that JH-TIE seeks to reach.
The three TR&Ds represent an integrated, complementary set of both foundational and translational projects. The chosen research areas focus on specific gaps in our knowledge that prevent immunoengineering from moving forward. For example, metabolism is a long missing element of engineering efficient and effective cellular therapies.