Student Spotlight: Natalie Livingston

The body’s immune system performs many functions. While its primary purpose is to protect the body against diseases, it also plays a role in tissue repair and interacts closely with other systems such as the nervous and endocrine system. But some diseases, such as cancer and HIV, have evolved to evade detection by the immune system or have modified their external structures making it difficult to destroy them. These diseases can continue to do harm unchecked and cause severe damage.

Immunoengineer Natalie Livingston, a PhD candidate in the Biomedical Engineering Department in the Whiting School of Engineering, is giving a boost to the immune system by using biomaterials to activate a patient’s immune cells. With the help of her mentors, Hai-Quan Mao and Jonathan Schneck, one therapy she is trying to improve is adoptive cell therapy. This requires harvesting a patient’s T cells, a type of immune cell, activating them on an engineered hydrogel, then re-infusing them back into the patient so the newly activated cells can destroy diseased cells while leaving healthy cells alone.

Video by Gina Wadas