“At the intersection of immune engineering and precision health”
The promise of precision health is typically associated with the early detection of disease, and the identification of an individually tailored therapy to extend health span while also reducing costs. I will discuss our work on immune engineering, as the immune system is essential to health, and consequently immune dysregulation can lead to disease. Autoimmune disease has been increasing in prevalence for the past few decades, and results from the immune system attacking healthy tissues, such as in Type 1 Diabetes or Multiple Sclerosis. Current treatments typically involve suppressing the entire immune system, despite the immune system attacking specific proteins. Based on the function of the immune system, we have developed nanoparticles that re-program immune responses to specific antigens leading to tolerance to those antigens and leaving the remainder of the immune system intact. The nanoparticles maintain the antigen until internalization by immune cells, with subsequent presentation of the antigen coincident with down-regulation of the co-stimulatory factors and up-regulation of negative co-stimulators. In addition to reprogramming specific immune responses, a need exists for technologies that can detect autoimmune disease initiation prior to substantial destruction of healthy tissues. We have applied tissue engineering principles to generate tissues subcutaneously that function as an immunological niche, which can be accessed easily to avoids risks associated with biopsy of native tissues (e.g., brain,) and thereby report on immune status within tissues. Technologies for detecting disease at the earliest stages combined with reprogramming specific cellular responses represent major opportunities for Precision Health to improve health while containing costs.