Glycopolymer Engineering: A ‘Sweeter’ Approach to Cancer Immunotherapy

Date(s) - 06/28/2021
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm


Thomas Werfel, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Mississippi

Join us on Monday, June 28. Virtual ( ) or in-person at BMS, JG32:

Immunotherapies are revolutionizing cancer treatment, achieving durable treatment responses in patients with metastatic and recurrent malignancies. However, radical cures are actually rare; only ~20% of patients have a durable clinical response to existing cancer immunotherapies. Relatively low response rates have invigorated intense research effort aimed at increasing the immunogenicity, and consequently, the therapeutic efficacy of cancer immunotherapies. However, multifaceted delivery and immunobiology challenges such as poor pharmacokinetics, off-target toxicity, and development of autoimmunity motivate the use of biomaterials for targeted and/or timed delivery of immune-stimulating agents. Here, we will discuss multiple strategies to improve the efficacy and safety of cancer immunotherapies by engineering glycopolymers – synthetic polymers composed of carbohydrate building blocks – for targeted drug delivery. Collectively, our efforts have produced rationally-designed nanoparticles for boosting immunogenicity within tumors and improving the delivery of immune agonists and neoantigen cancer vaccines.


Thomas Werfel is Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Joint Assistant Professor of BioMolecular Sciences, and Affiliate Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering at The University of Mississippi (UM). Dr. Werfel received his PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Vanderbilt University in 2017, after which he worked as a postdoctoral researcher in Cell and Developmental Biology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. In 2018, he joined the Biomedical Engineering Program at the University of Mississippi and is an inaugural faculty member of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at UM – founded in 2019. As a graduate student, Dr. Werfel was awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) Fellowship. His tenure as a postdoctoral researcher was supported by the NIH F32 Postdoctoral Fellowship. His research has been published in cross-disciplinary journals from Biomaterials and Advanced Materials to PNAS and Cancer Research, and he was recently recognized as a Biomaterials Science Emerging Investigator in 2021. His research group at UM works at the interface of bioengineering, materials science, and molecular biology to engineer the medicines of the future.