Sept, 2013

Molecular engineering vision expands into reality

In 2011, Tirrell became the founding Pritzker Director of the University’s new Institute for Molecular Engineering

The immune system is a network of molecular agents, cells, organs, and physiological structures that must work in concert to defend the body against infections of all types, as well as against cancer, while leaving healthy cells unaffected. It is both essential for mammalian life and generally extremely effective. Scientists have learned a tremendous amount about how the immune system works, though many challenges remain.

Immunology is central to many of the questions of biological science and medicine and the University of Chicago has broad and deep strengths in it. As understanding of the immune system deepens, immunobioengineering will become an increasingly powerful way to understand, manipulate, stimulate, and eventually control the immune system to address many conditions ranging from cancer and infections to allergies and auto-immune diseases.

IME brings the engineering design and fabrication component. Several laboratories have created synthetic (non-biological) vaccines that have been shown to be effective in stimulating the immune system against certain types of cancers (lymphoma) and pathogenic bacteria strep. The fact that these synthetic nanoparticle vaccines are non-biological and do not require additional chemicals to activate them removes many of the complications sometimes encountered in viral-based, or adjuvant-activated vaccines. This approach can be extended to other cancers and pathogen types (potentially HIV, staph, malaria). IME will also seek to engage the systems and computational bioengineering necessary to understand, as well as fluid mechanics and transport expertise to understand fluid and cellular movement through tissues to the lymph system. Hiring in this bioengineering theme in IME, combined with existing efforts at the University of Chicago, will revolutionize approaches to developing more potent therapies for the human immune system.


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