Senior Project Profile: Shelby Yuan

Thursday, June 6, 2019 - 12:00pm

“Microfluidic-based In-droplet Transcript Barcoding Platform for Identification of T-Cell Receptors and Target Epitopes”

Shelby Yuan, S.B. ’19, bioengineering

Advisor: David Weitz, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics

Immunotherapy utilizes a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. Specific immune cells, called t-cells, target cancer cells based on an interaction between the t-cell receptor and mutant peptides on the cancer cell surface. But identifying the t-cell receptors, and the peptides they target, remains a major challenge that has been stymied by exorbitant costs and lengthy timelines. In an effort to solve this problem, Yuan developed a platform that uses high-throughput microfluidics, single-cell droplet encapsulation and indexing, and genetic analysis to identify pairs of t-cell receptors and their unique target epitopes. High-throughput microfluidics enables the identification and analysis of hundreds of thousands of cells in a fraction of the time used by traditional methods. The specificity offered by the combination of these methods could enable a clinician to target specific responses that vary cell-by-cell within a patient’s immune system.

“This method will help accelerate the field of personalized, targeted immunotherapy towards personalized anti-cancer vaccines. This type of treatment would also be medically safer, faster, and more cost-effective compared to current methods of adoptive cell therapy,” she said. “The high-throughput transcript analysis of only activated t-cells does not require administration of a large number of genetically modified, cultured cells, saving significant time and cost. Therefore, the biological and engineering innovation presented in this platform will help improve both the efficiency and efficacy of current t-cell immunotherapy.”