Joshua Leonard

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Northwestern University
Leonard, Joshua

Joshua N. Leonard, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Chemistry of Life Processes Institute at Northwestern University. Leonard also co-directs a cluster in Biotechnology, Systems, and Synthetic Biology and is a founding mentor of NU’s iGEM team. Leonard received a BS and PhD in chemical engineering from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, respectively, and trained in immunology as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Cancer Institute (NIH).

The Leonard group is committed to enabling design-driven medicine by pairing systems biology and synthetic biology. They develop novel technology platforms and “parts” for engineering mammalian cell-based devices and apply these capabilities to probe and program immune function, enabling novel treatments for cancer, more effective vaccines, and diagnostics for global health.

Tue July 9 | 2:00 - 4:00
ABSTRACT: Engineering cell-based devices for design-driven medicine

The ability to engineer customized mammalian cellular functions would enable the construction of sophisticated cell-based therapeutics and transformative tools for fundamental biological research. Such capabilities could overcome persistent barriers to treatment in applications ranging from cancer immunotherapy to regenerative medicine. Synthetic biology provides such an approach for building novel cellular functions from the bottom up, and the “toolbox” of biological parts that operate in mammalian cells is rapidly expanding. To date, however, we lack the ability to construct synthetic cell-based biosensors that detect and respond to exclusively extracellular cues. Because many species of biological relevance, including cytokines, chemokines, cell-surface antigens, and many pathogens are exclusively extracellular, engineering cell-based devices that interface robustly with host physiology will require sensors for extracellular species. To address this need, we have developed a Modular Extracellular Sensor Architecture (MESA). By coupling cell surface sensing modalities to orthogonal intracellular signaling mechanisms, this platform enables the engineering of novel cellular functions such as multiparametric evaluation of extracellular cues. Finally, I will also discuss our application of these capabilities to probe interactions between cancer and the immune system, and to develop safe and effective therapies that harness the immune system to eradicate cancer.