Today we know that infectious diseases, cancer and inflammation are closely intertwined. The human immune system is constantly fighting illness and infection. Infections lead to inflammation — our immune system’s attempt to ward off pathogens.  

But inflammation can easily be overdone, and chronic inflammation can result in long-term exacerbation of diseases caused by pathogens and can also contribute to cancer development. Undetected cancer cells grow under the radar screen of the immune system because they cleverly turn off our immune responses. Our research team is united by our multiple interests in the fascinating overlay of the immune system, infectious diseases and cancer.  


We’ve made huge strides in medical care over the past century, but cancer deaths have remained virtually unchanged. Today cancer treatment is undergoing a revolution with the development of biologically based therapeutics. These involve regulation of patient immune systems with antibodies and engineered immune cells, as well as exploiting viruses and bacteria to target and eliminate tumors. These approaches show great promise for improving outcomes in patients whose cancers resist traditional chemotherapies. 

Our team is particularly interested in the following areas: 

  • Oncolytic therapy with viral vectors or bacteria. 
  • Tissue-specific and cell-specific engineering. 
  • Anti-cancer vaccines, immunotherapy and tumor-targeting reagents. 
  • Fundamental mechanisms of microbial pathogenesis.

Infectious disease

The recent outbreaks of viruses like Ebola and emergence of new viral diseases like severe acute respiratory syndrome coronaviruses (SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2) highlight the importance of preparedness for pandemic outbreaks. We need better understanding and development of new approaches to prevent, control and treat infectious diseases.  

Researchers in our center study how viruses and bacteria cause disease, novel experimental platforms to model the complex interplay between host and pathogens, immune response mechanisms and how viruses evade or modulate these responses. Multiple vaccine and therapeutic platforms are being developed. We strive to help address and solve emerging global health concerns and problems using methods crafted from Mother Nature.


  • Advanced methods in live-cell microscopy. 
  • Ability to analyze structure of viruses using X-ray free electron lasers and cryo-electron microscopy. 
  • Bioengineering plants to develop bioactive molecules and vaccines.  
  • Developing relevant animal models of human disease to characterize mechanisms of pathogenesis. 
  • Engineering pathogens such as viruses and bacteria for cancer therapeutics.  
  • Development of vaccine platforms using viruses as vectors and virus-like particles (VLPs) expressed from different platforms. 
  • Creating vaccine delivery platforms using genetically engineered self-destructing bacteria. 
  • Harnessing therapeutics derived from the immune system to treat disease.

Support the Biodesign Center for Immunotherapy, Vaccines and Virotherapy

Designing and using vaccines and protein therapeutics to combat infectious diseases.