SCI Innovation Awardee
March 2023 - SCI Pancreatic Cancer Innovation award
Xiaojing Gao, PhD, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, was awarded a $50,000 SCI Pancreatic Cancer Innovation award for his project entitled “Enhance the precision of adoptive cell therapy using modular, post-transcriptional synthetic receptors.” Dr. Gao innovates synthetic circuits, “circuits” as metaphors for collections of biomolecules engineered to regulate each other in living human cells
Two threads converge onto the project supported by the SCI Pancreatic Cancer Center Innovation award— the production challenge of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells and their targeting precision. The premise is to equip T cells with engineered receptors (CAR) so that they can detect and destroy cancer cells that display CAR-targeted signals on their surface. However, the current paradigm involves extracting T cells from the patients and then engineering them ex vivo, a complex and expensive process and a privilege restricted to a small number of patients. Furthermore, a cell-surface signal rarely suffices to unambiguously distinguish cancer cells from normal tissues, so additional receptors are often needed to simultaneously interrogate multiple signals. No existing synthetic receptor can both be delivered on an RNA vector and control CAR expression/activation in a modular way. Building on his invention of a platform for creating synthetic receptors that do not operate at the DNA level, Dr. Gao will engineer the receptors to fit potential therapies for pancreatic cancers, deliver each as a single transcript on RNA vectors, and validate their function in primary T cells.