Killer cells of the immune system identify cancer and pathogen-infected cells and kill them. These potent killers travel throughout the body, recognizing proteins and other molecules on the surface of cells. In order to differentiate between healthy and diseased cells, killer cells use a variety of receptors, which bind to specific ligands on the target cells’ surface. If the target cell is deemed potentially dangerous, the killer cell grips the target cell tightly and creates an immunological synapse at the site of adhesion. Within this immunological synapse, the killer cell releases cytotoxic granules to kill the target cell without harming nearby cells, triggering a directed apoptotic response.
Our team will focus on improving killer cells’ specificity and killing efficiency towards cancerous target cells. By using tools of synthetic biology, we hope to create powerful killing bio-machines to fight cancer. Our newly engineered synthetic devices would have the potential to enhance current adoptive cell-based immunotherapy for cancer patients.
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