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Synthetic Biology and Cancer

Cartoon of a drop coming out of a pipette with a synthetic cell including a computer chip

NCI and the National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) collaboratively lead the Synthetic Biology and Cancer Program. The goal of the program is to support synthetic biology approaches for cancer research that will expand technology development, promote transdisciplinary partnerships, spur new efforts to advance mechanistic understanding of cancer, and create new possibilities for cancer prevention and management.

Each project defines an important cancer research question and uniquely addresses that question with a synthetic biology technology based on an adapted biological system that can sense input, apply logic to determine a response to the input, and initiate a response. The emphasis is on both the significance of the cancer research question and the innovation and potential of the technical approach.

Through the funding opportunity Collaborative Approaches to Engineer Biology for Cancer Applications (RFA-CA-20-054), six U01s were awarded in 2021. The projects tackle challenges across colorectal, pancreas, ovarian, and lung cancer, applying novel technologies to detect cancer or metastasis at early stages, overcome treatment resistance, and enhance efficacy and reduce toxicity of immunotherapy.

Projects Awarded for Synthetic Biology Research

PI Name(s) Institution Project Title
Gabriel Kwong, Peng Qiu Georgia Institute of Technology AND-gated Synthetic Biomarkers for Early Detection of Liver Metastasis
Wendell Lim, Hana El-Samad University of California San Francisco Synthetic circuits that drive infiltration of therapeutic T cells into immunologically cold tumors
Justin Pritchard Pennsylvania State University Personalization and Failure Testing of Dual Switch Gene Drives in Lung Cancer
Ron Weiss, Yizhou Dong, Darrell Irvine Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ohio State University Immunotherapy via engineered therapeutic programs in tumors using RNA
Wilson Wong, Yolonda Colson, Mark Grinstaff Boston University, Massachusetts General Hospital Precise tumor targeting with logic CAR circuits
Amir Zarrinpar University of California San Diego Engineering Native E. coli to Detect, Report, and Treat Colorectal Cancer

Please contact with questions on the program.

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