Assistant Professor, Chemical and Biological Engineering; Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science
Cancer and Physical Sciences
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The Leonard Lab creates novel biological systems that perform customized, sophisticated functions for applications in biotechnology and medicine. A central area of interest for the group is controlling the function of a complex biological network - the human immune system – in order to enable and enhance therapies that harness the immune system to treat cancer. To accomplish this, they are pioneering a novel technology termed synthetic biology, which enables them to engineer novel biomolecules and build programmable cell-based “devices” that can be customized to perform functions that cannot be achieved with drugs or radiotherapy. By enabling clinicians to modify local immune responses in a patient- and disease-specific fashion, the Leonard Lab is overcoming barriers to treatment for cancer as well as other chronic conditions ranging form infections to autoimmune disease and transplant rejection. The Leonard Lab also brings the power of novel quantitative experimental tools and computational systems biology to investigate questions of fundamental scientific relevance to cancer treatment. They are particularly interested in understanding how tumors manipulate the local immune response to create a dysfunctional microenvironment, with a focus on investigating how these multicellular networks are formed, maintained, and potentially may be disrupted therapeutically. Professor Leonard is co-director of a Graduate Cluster in Biotechnology, Systems and Synthetic Biology, and he founded and currently advises Northwestern’s iGEM team, which is an undergraduate synthetic biology competition. By synthesizing powerful approaches drawn from engineering and the physical sciences with compelling medical challenges and questions, the Leonard Lab is advancing the frontiers of design-based medicine to address unmet medical needs and develop safe, effective, and long-lasting treatment options that improve both quantity and quality of life.