Kole Roybal, PhD
Recent clinical trials have demonstrated the remarkable promise of adoptive T cell immunotherapy for cancer. T cells engineered to express chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) - artificial receptors containing an extracellular antibody against a tumor antigen, fused to the intracellular region of the native T cell receptor - are able to target and kill certain leukemias. The major challenge facing these innovative therapies, however, is the lack of control over these engineered cells; cross-activation and hyperactive immune responses have led to severe adverse effects in patients. In the case of solid tumors, T cell therapies have been largely ineffective due to problems with infiltration of the cells into the tumor and immunosuppressive tumor microenvironments. Thus, the safety and effectiveness of T cell therapies must be improved in order to expand their therapeutic utility.
With these challenges in immune cell therapeutics in mind, the Roybal lab harnesses the tools of synthetic and chemical biology to enhance the therapeutic potential of engineered immune cells. We take a comprehensive approach to cellular engineering by developing new synthetic receptors, signal transduction cascades, and cellular response programs to enhance the safety and effectiveness of adoptive cell therapies. We also study the logic of natural cellular signaling systems, and the underlying principles of cellular communication and collective cell behavior during an immune response. These interests are complimentary as cell engineering is often informed by knowledge obtained from studying natural mechanisms of cell regulation refined by evolution.