ENGINEERING THE LYMPH NODE MICROENVIRONMENT TO MODULATE ANTIGEN-SPECIFIC T CELL RESPONSE
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Vaccines and immunotherapies have provided enormous benefit to human health. However, the development of effective vaccines and immunotherapies for many diseases is hindered by challenges created by the complex pathologies of these targets. For example, in cancer the tumor microenvironment suppresses the function of tumor-specific T cells. In autoimmune diseases, lymphocytes specific for self-antigens attack self-tissue. New technologies providing more sophisticated control over immune response are needed to address these challenges. Lymph nodes (LNs) are tissues where adaptive immune responses develop. Therefore, local delivery of combinations of immune signals is a potential strategy to modulate antigen-specific T cell response for pro-immune or regulatory function. However, application of this idea is hindered since traditional administration routes provide little control over the kinetics, combinations and concentrations with which immune signals are delivered to LNs.
Biomaterials have emerged as important tools to overcome these challenges as they provide unique capabilities, including co-delivery, targeting, and controlled release. The research presented here harnesses biomaterials to control immune signals present in LNs to modulate antigen-specific T cell response. In one area, intra-LN injection (i.LN) was used to deposit microparticles (MPs) encapsulating tumor-antigens, adjuvants and immunomodulators to promote tumor-specific central memory T cells. These cells display increased proliferative capacity and resistance to tumor-mediated immunosuppression. MPs encapsulating CpG, an inflammatory adjuvant, and a melanoma antigen potently expanded tumor-specific T cells. MPs delivering low doses of rapamycin – a regulatory immune signal – promoted tumor-specific central memory T cells when co-delivered with the melanoma vaccine. Another important aspect of T cell phenotype which can be modulated for therapeutic benefit is regulatory immune response to control autoimmunity. In this second area, biomaterial-based strategies were used to deliver regulatory immune signals to expand regulatory T cells (TREG) and promote immune tolerance. In one direction, liposomes were designed to deliver regulatory metabolic modulators to bias T cells. In a parallel direction, MPs encapsulating rapamycin and islet self-antigens were designed to promote tolerance in T1D. i.LN delivery of MPs expanded islet-specific TREG and inhibited disease in a mouse model of T1D. Together this work demonstrates potent and modular strategies to therapeutically modulate T cell response.