Welcome to the Irvine Group Home Page. Our laboratory works at the interface of materials science and immunology. Synthetic materials can be applied in two major ways to 'immunobioengineering': (1) Synthetic materials can modulate the function of immune cells by mimicking signals derived from the immune system or foreign pathogens, both as a probe for cell function and as a tool for immunotherapy- both in vitro and in vivo . (2) Synthetic materials can be used to create in vitro and in vivo models of the microenvironment present in lymphoid and non-lymphoid tissues, to better understand immunobiology in health and disease. To meet our goals, engineering must be married to an in-depth appreciation for the biology of these problems.  Our laboratory is thus deeply interdisciplinary in every project. Key to our approach is a balanced emphasis on both the engineering and immunological aspects of the problems we have chosen to address: In each of these projects, state of the art chemistry, polymer science, physics and immunology are combined to address critical biological questions and medical challenges.  

Our ongoing research focuses in 2 major directions:

Our first area of focus is in the development of a vaccine for HIV.  We are developing nanoparticles and microparticles that can be used to deliver vaccine antigens and immunostimulatory adjuvant molecules, and testing these in collaboration with colleagues in the Boston area in relevant preclinical models.  We are also applying model systems developed in our lab for studying T-cell activation to understanding the properties of immune cells that may be important to control HIV infection.  Much of this work is in collaboration with investigators of the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard.

Our second focus is in cancer immunotherapy.  Using our lab’s expertise in drug delivery particles and gels, we are exploring strategies to promote, amplify, and maintain anti-tumor immune responses by controlling where and when cells of the immune system are triggered to respond to tumor cells, and seeking to overcome the immunosuppressive milieu developed in solid tumors.




(Left) pH-responsive gel particles (blue) disrupt endolysosomes (purple) in dendritic cells, allowing a small molecule (calcein, green) flood throughout the cytosol of these cells.  These particles may be useful as delivery agents for vaccines, RNA interference-based therapeutics, or gene therapy.  (Right) Injectable hydrogels (purple) are being explored to deliver immunomodulatory drugs to solid tumors.  These synthetic polysaccharide gels are infiltrated by immune cells (green) that subsequently attack the neighboring tumor.