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Huw Colin-York has been awarded a fellowship from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to develop synthetic biology tools to understand the immune response.

Huw Colin-York

The 3-year research programme, which starts this week, aims to improve our understanding of the immune response by combining mechanobiology, synthetic biology and advanced fluorescence imaging. Huw, a Senior Researcher in Mechanobiology at the Kennedy Institute said: 'T-cells depend on their ability to push and pull their way through tissues of the body to search out infected or cancerous target cells. This means that mechanical forces are intrinsic to T-cell function, yet, how T-cells process mechanical information from their environment or target cells remains poorly understood.'

To address this gap in knowledge, the research will see Huw develop synthetic cells that mimic the physical properties of antigen presenting cells, allowing for an improved understanding of how mechanical forces regulate T-cell function. The synthetic cells will be engineered to both measure the forces generated by T-cells and respond to the application of force via the targeted release of signalling molecules. By engineering such synthetic mechanically induced feedback loops, the technology has the potential of engineering immune cell function within the tumour micro-environment.

'I was thrilled to be awarded this fellowship where I will develop novel technologies that will allow us to systematically explore immune cell mechanobiology. This fellowship provides a fantastic opportunity to bring together research expertise from around the world and coupled with strong research environment of the Kennedy, provides the perfect environment in which to bridge basic immunology, bioengineering and biophysics to develop the synthetic cell platform.'

The fellowship will provide Huw with the opportunity to visit collaborating labs including Prof Klaus Hahn at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Advanced Imaging Centre at the HHMI Janelia Research Campus.