Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session


Recommended prerequisites are:

7.03 Genetics

7.05 General Biochemistry

7.06 Cell Biology

7.28 Molecular Biology

Course Description

The immune system is one of the most complex and powerful of human body systems. It is highly dynamic and flexible, yet strictly regulates homeostasis and protects our bodies from both foreign and self-derived challenges. As basic understanding of immune function is growing, researchers are rapidly designing clever and diverse strategies to manipulate immunology to improve human health. In this course, we will explore important advances rooted in engineering principles to harness the power of the immune system, focusing on how engineering has fueled or inspired research concerning (1) vaccines, (2) immunotherapies, and (3) systems immunology.

First we will discuss how engineering can improve the efficacy and efficiency of both delivery of vaccines to immune organs and vaccine-induced immunity. Next we will discuss engineered therapies to manipulate immunology in diseases such as cancer. Then we will focus on systems-based tools, including multivariate profiling and regulatory network analyses that have been developed to predict cell or patient immune responses to vaccines, therapies, and diseases. Many approaches to vaccine design and immunomodulation will be discussed, including therapeutics and prophylactics for influenza, hepatitis B, HIV/AIDS, malaria, cancer, and autoimmunity. Specific examples will include biomaterials as vaccine carriers that have been inspired by the natural biology of microbes and cell lines that have been engineered to use HIV antibodies as calcium signaling receptors to screen candidate HIV vaccines. Engineered therapies and immune system modeling are improving our understanding of immunology as well as our ability to manipulate immunological mechanisms for therapeutic purposes.

A broad range of disciplines will be discussed, encompassing the fields of materials science and chemical, biomedical, electrical, and systems engineering. Each session will be driven by student-led discussions of important research articles. Emphasis will be placed on understanding the concepts, experimental techniques and experimental design utilized. Students should then be able to translate their reading of the primary research literature to the laboratory as well as to other real-world applications. We will visit an academic research laboratory or small biotechnology company currently engaged in immunoengineering.


Three units will be covered during this course. In most sessions, we will discuss two papers from the primary research literature. Each figure from each paper will be presented by a student chosen at random during class by the instructors. Students will rotate between figures. All students should be prepared to present any figure from any paper in each class session.

Students are expected to read and participate fully in the discussion of both papers. Emphasis will be placed on the experimental design, the use of appropriate controls, the details of experimental methodology, and the interpretation of experimental data. At the end of each session, the instructors will briefly introduce the papers for the following week. There will also be two other assignments, one written and one oral, at the middle and end of the course, respectively.

Course Objectives

The main objectives of this course are to introduce students to the primary scientific literature and the process of reading research publications as well as to expose students to the rapidly developing field of engineering vaccines and immunotherapies. By the end of the course students should:

  1. Have a broad understanding of basic engineering principles that have been applied to vaccine design.
  2. Understand how immunotherapies can be used to control and regulate disease.
  3. Have basic knowledge of how close each discussed engineering approach is to clinical implementation (e.g. FDA-approved, clinical trials, pre-clinical trials, conceptual).
  4. Be able to critically evaluate the primary research literature.


The class is graded on a pass / fail basis, and grades will be based on participation in discussion every week, satisfactory completion of the written and oral assignments, and attendance.


Unit 1: Vaccine Engineering
1 Introduction  
2 Immunogenic particle vaccines  
3 Tolerogenic particle vaccines  
4 Novel vaccine platforms  
5 Field trip to Vedantra Pharmaceuticals Field trip
Unit 2: Engineering Immunotherapies
6 Materials-based immunotherapies  
7 Genetic engineering approaches Written Assignment Due
8 Cell-based vaccines for immunomodulation  
9 HIV specific immunotherapies  
Unit 3: Systems-Level Approaches to the Immune System
10 Immune signatures and models  
11 Methods and devices  
12 Novel mechanisms  
13 Final student presentations, course retrospective Oral Assignment Due