Welcome to the Hartwell Immunoengineering Lab at the University of Minnesota

Our lab's research in immunoengineering combines perspectives from biomolecular engineering, drug delivery, and immunology to develop molecules that can target specific cells and tissues of the immune system to direct the immune response. We work on engineering disease interventions at both ends of the 'immune spectrum': developing antigen-specific immunotherapies that direct the immune response towards tolerance to treat autoimmune and other chronic inflammatory diseases, and developing prophylactic vaccines that direct the response towards activation to protect against cancer and infectious diseases. 

Our work is motivated by an understanding that form, duration, and location of antigen encounter in vivo all dictate the resulting fate of key immune players (such as B and T lymphocytes) and whether they trend towards anergy, deletion, ignorance, or activation. Our rational molecular design approach is guided by inherent transport and cellular mechanisms, with a particular focus on targeting the mucosal immune system. We consider antigen-specificity on a cellular level and targeted delivery on a tissue level to reach immune cells and tissues of interest. Tuning the physicochemical properties of our molecular platforms allows us to direct 1) antigen or immune cargo delivery, 2) cellular interactions and signaling, and 3) the resulting immune response. The development of molecules capable of targeting the immune system in a specific manner will address a pressing need for safer and more effective disease interventions across multiple disease settings, ranging from autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis to infectious diseases like COVID-19. Additional value of this work lies in using the molecules we design as investigative tools to provide mechanistic insight, both to further our understanding of the immune response and to guide future design of immunotherapies and vaccines. 

Learn more about main project areas in the lab:

Developing mucosal vaccines with enhanced transmucosal uptake to promote frontline immune protection against infectious diseases

Exploring mucosal immune mechanisms of tolerance vs activation

Harnessing inherent cellular and molecular mechanisms of tolerance to treat autoimmunity

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