New York

CZ Biohub New York will first harness the natural capabilities of our immune cells to detect and fix abnormalities in our bodies at very early stages. It will then bioengineer immune cells to create new capabilities to detect and potentially treat events before they lead to untreatable disease.


Human iPSC-derived macrophages. Markers are: DAPI (blue), actin (green), CD68 (magenta).
Human iPSC-derived macrophages. Markers are: DAPI (blue), actin (green), CD68 (magenta). Photo provided by Gordana Vunjak-Novaković lab/Columbia University.

Harnessing the Immune System to Monitor Health and Eradicate Disease

CZ Biohub New York will harness and bioengineer immune cells for the early detection, prevention, and ultimately treatment of a wide variety of human diseases. Researchers from three universities in the area will collaborate to build new tools that can characterize and modify immune cells as they rove throughout our bodies to detect potential problems, with the goal to decipher the molecular language employed by these cells to report on what they have seen, long before disease can be currently diagnosed, and, eventually, to correct problems before diseases take hold.

Diseases are often diagnosed only after obvious symptoms appear, while early signals that precede disease are generally missed. Immune cells are well suited to meet this challenge, as they constantly monitor and maintain the health of organs and tissues while circulating through the blood and lymphatic systems.

Using single-cell biology techniques and cutting-edge experimental technologies, informed by artificial intelligence and systems biology approaches, CZ Biohub New York will characterize and bioengineer immune cells to sense and decipher signals of disease recorded in their molecular state. By identifying and deconvoluting the molecular memories in which immune cells record the problems they have detected, researchers will leverage them to spot and even treat diseases that usually evade these cells. The CZ Biohub NY will initially apply this new approach to hard-to-detect cancers such as ovarian and pancreatic cancers, and neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Better understanding and measuring how immune cells monitor abnormalities also creates enormous potential to program new functions into these cells to allow them to take therapeutic actions, such as repairing damaged cells or eliminating diseased ones. Earlier diagnoses of diseases through immune-cell engineering would transform how we track and treat disease.