The Humans of the Wyss series features members of the Wyss community discussing how they think about their work, the influences that help shape them as scientists, and their collaborations at the Wyss Institute and beyond.
In this installment of our Immuno-Materials Edition, we talk to Kwasi Adu-Berchie, a graduate student in David Mooney’s lab at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He talks about using injectable materials to modulate immune response to cancer and how he envisions his research impacting the world.
What drives you?
I have always had a curious mind growing up. I used to take my sister’s toys apart just to know how they were made and why they functioned the way they did. This meant I had to face my sister’s wrath, but the sense of exhilaration I felt when my curiosity got satisfied made everything worth it. This is the mindset that drives me in research, especially the area of immune-engineering. Our bodies have developed elegant ways of dealing with pathogens and cancerous cells. In response, these pathogens and transformed cells have developed mechanisms of evading our immune system. The prospect of understanding this interplay and designing approaches to enhance our ability to fight pathogens and cancer fascinates me.
You’re working on using injectable materials to modulate immune response to cancer, tell us more.
My lab has shown that we can use biomaterials to modulate immune responses to cancer. For instance, we demonstrated that by implanting PLGA scaffolds, we could prime T cells to attack and kill cancer cells. I am interested in developing strategies for using injectable biomaterials to create effective therapies against cancer while improving the efficacy of existing ones. I am particularly interested in exploring ways by which we can concentrate T cell response at a local site and enhance their efficacy against cancer.
Share with us some of the challenges you’re facing.
There are always challenges that come with venturing into unchartered territory, the biggest of which is the uncertainty of the viability of a specific approach. This is however what makes research rewarding, and it is from these uncertainties breakthroughs emerge.
So, how do you envision impacting the world?
My hope is to develop translatable cost-effective therapies that can be used in the developing world. As a Ghanaian, I have heard stories of people who have died because they could not access treatments that have become routine in the US. It therefore becomes important to make our technologies useful to those who would otherwise not be able to afford it.