Congratulations to Shreyas Dahotre for becoming the second LSI Ph.D. graduate!
Congratulations to Ian Miller for being the first Ph.D. graduate from LSI! Ian successfully defended his thesis in front of a virtual crowd on June 23, 2020. We look forward to your future success!
LSI undergrads McKenzie Tuttle, Melanie Su, and Haley Liakakos part of winning team at EGHI/GT HACK COVID-19
Congratulations to McKenzie, Melanie, Haley, and the rest of their team for their winning app at EGHI/GT HACK COVID-19! The team developed CAPACIT, an app that communicates current population density at businesses to potential shoppers. Users can plan their day from live updates on current capacity of public spaces through the app.
Watch their pitch video below and follow the progress of the team here.
The Next Frontier in Immunoengineering
By Georgia Parmelee
Gabe Kwong’s research focuses on engineering immunity to transform human health
For patients undergoing transplant surgeries, there is always the immediate concern of the body rejecting the new organ – be it a lung, kidney or heart. There are a few different ways the body can reject an organ, one type being T cell mediated rejection. T cells are immune cells that recognize diseases, or in this case foreign organs, and attack because they sense a danger to the body. In the worst case scenario, the newly transplanted organ is rejected, leaving the patient back at square one.
Traditionally, to track and manage T cell response to organ transplants, also known as grafts, a biopsy is done to look at the tissue to monitor the health of the graft. These biopsies are highly invasive, using large needles that can lead to pain and excessive bleeding. They are also just a moment-in-time static snapshot of the health of the graft. That’s where Gabe Kwong’s research comes in with his Laboratory for Synthetic Immunity.
“What you really want to know is patient trajectory,” said Kwong, associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech. “With traditional biopsies, you don’t know if the transplant organ is getting better or if it’s going to get worse. The non-invasive platform that we are developing measures T cell activity. If T cells are being overactive, you can track that with our miniaturized biological sensors that probe the graft for early signs of transplant rejection. Our approach is a noninvasive solution to the biopsy.”
An Immunoengineering Lab
One part of Kwong’s lab is focused on immune sensing, like the T cell sensor for organ transplants, but his work goes further, including engineered T cell therapies for cancer.
“An exciting area of my lab is designing next-generation T cell therapies,” said Kwong. “We treat them like a living drug, a smart drug, because those T cells know where to go, can recognize tumor cells, and kill them.”
Although T cell therapies have the potential to cure patients of disease, a major challenge is that tumors have the uncanny ability to evade immune recognition and even set up a suppressive environment that turn-off T cells once they arrive in the tumor.
When a T cell moves into a tumor to try to suppress it, the tumor will switch off the T cells’ cancer-killing abilities. To address this, Kwong is developing remote-controlled T Cells that leverage a light beam to control the T cells and turn them back on. The first-generation platform involves making the T cells sensitive to local increases in heat.
“You can use the laser light to heat a tumor and then communicate with the T cells and see if you can make them kill tumor cells better,” explained Kwong. “In preclinical models, we are able to induce durable and curative responses.”
Students in Kwong’s Laboratory for Synthetic Immunity
Kwong’s work isn’t happening in a vacuum. In 2015, he co-founded a company called Glympse Bio with the goal of transforming disease monitoring and treatment response. Glympse creates sensors designed to replace the biopsy, with the first focus being on liver biopsy. Recently, the company had its first human trials on healthy volunteers.
According to Kwong, with liver fibrosis or fatty liver disease, drug responses aren’t instantaneous. With oral drug therapies, it can take months to see any sort of potential change in the progression of the disease. For pharmaceutical companies, they still rely on a liver biopsy and sometimes don’t know for months or even up to two years if the drug works and is ready for mass consumption. This is one of the reasons the drug approval process takes so long. But Glympse is trying to change that.
“The long-term goal of the company is to create products that are non-invasive, replacing the biopsy,” said Kwong. “That should help pharma accelerate drug trials. The sensors we are creating have the potential to be predictive so you can get a read out within two weeks of the state of the patient versus waiting twelve months for a biopsy read to determine patient response to drugs.”
Kwong is dedicated to his research, with a passion that started as early as his undergraduate education at UC Berkeley. And it makes him an uncommon engineer as well, given his dedication to the long-term, tireless work that immunoengineering requires.
“You have to be at the top of your game the whole time, and be exceedingly patient,” said Kwong. “The timeline for translational research in the life sciences is long, and you aren’t going to get instantaneous results. But in 10 years of working with this technology, I haven’t lost my drive or passion, and it hasn’t gotten less interesting.”
Congratulations to Anna for winning a fellowship from the NSF GRFP! The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. Read more here.
Congratulations to Kevin Tao for receiving a 2020 Barry Goldwater Scholarship! The Goldwater Scholarship is the preeminent undergraduate award for outstanding students pursuing careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering. Goldwater Scholars have been awarded 92 Rhodes Scholarships, 137 Marshall Awards, 159 Churchill Scholarships, 104 Hertz Fellowships, and numerous other distinguished awards like the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.
Gabe Kwong Promoted to Associate Professor with Tenure
Kwong’s lab pioneers powerful new technologies to address frontier clinical challenges – including ultrasensitive diagnostics for early detection of disease, engineered T cells as curative therapies, and high-throughput tools to study rare immune cells. His research directly impacts a broad range of complex human diseases including cancer, organ transplant rejection, and infectious diseases. Kwong’s innovative research has been recognized by the NIH New Innovator Award, Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award at the Scientific Interface, and the Shurl and Kay Curci Foundation Award.
Congratulations to Dr. Kwong and the rest of the LSI team for Gabe’s promotion!
Our paper on developing synthetic biomarkers for non-invasive early detection of organ transplant rejection won the 2020 Sigma Xi Best Faculty Paper Award at Georgia Tech. Congrats to Gabe and to Quoc for spearheading the research!
Read the announcement from the BME Department here.
Recognizing & Celebrating the Innovation Powering a Healthier World
Progress towards a healthier world begins with individuals who are willing to break the limits of convention, and to challenge the status quo. These innovators embrace imagination and aren’t afraid to explore both chaos, clarity, and the space between in order to discover new paths to a healthier world.
This mindset is catalyzing exciting innovations across health and medicine in areas like life science and therapeutics, medical tech and devices, digital and mobile health, healthcare systems, care delivery, reimbursement models and IT, public health, advancing science, and more.
Each year, TEDMED celebrates the ideas behind progress in health and medicine through a program called The Hive, which is dedicated to celebrating the power of imagination and human potential.
Q&A with Gabe Kwong, co-founder of Glympse Bio
What’s the most inventive, innovative, or disruptive aspect of your initiative?
Physicians continue to lack reliable indicators of disease to help guide clinical decisions. This absence is due to fundamental limitations in disease biology – not from lack of interest or effort by the research community. Our disruptive approach is to not rely on Nature, but to engineer our own disease indicators. This approach not only solves current challenges, but allows us to gain deep insights such as how patients respond and develop resistance to treatments.
If you had a theme song, what would it be and why?
The Disney theme song “It’s a Small World”. Surprised? If you take it literally, we marvel at the possibilities when science occurs at a small scale. At Glympse Bio, we are miniaturizing biological sensors to glimpse inside the body – building a bigger and better future for patients everywhere.
Congratulations to Jun and Henry for winning a President’s Undergraduate Research Awards (PURA) for Spring 2020! PURA fund student salaries to conduct undergraduate research with Georgia Tech faculty and offset travel expenses for undergraduates to present their research at professional conferences. Between two hundred and three hundred competitive awards are offered on campus each year. Read more about PURA here.