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Research

We strive to engineer vaccines and therapeutics to address unmet needs in infectious diseases. In particular, we aim to develop antibodies to treat viral or bacterial infections and vaccines to prevent these diseases. In order to do this, we need to understand the detailed molecular interactions between disease antigens (typically proteins) and the corresponding immune responses (antibodies and T cells) in human and animal models. How many antibodies or T cells recognize a single protein antigen? Which part of the protein is most commonly recognized by the immune system and which part is important for preventing disease? As molecular bioengineers, we first need to understand which molecules are critical mediators of disease, analyzing their structural, thermodynamic and kinetic interactions with the immune system. After this, we can develop a research project, which typically involves five steps: 

(1) molecular design, determining what characteristics of an antibody or vaccine protein will be most important for success,  

(2) protein engineering, to create a molecule meeting many of our design specifications, 

(3) molecular characterization, determining for instance, the molecule’s stability, affinity for binding partners and structure, 

(4) testing of the molecule in in vitro and finally 

(5) testing in vivo (animal) models. 

Students are typically involved in each step of a project, providing a broad interdisciplinary training with focused expertise in protein engineering closely aligned with the needs of the pharmaceutical industry.