NovaCell—Villanova’s Center for Cellular Engineering


In August 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a historic action making the first gene therapy available in the United States, ushering in a new approach to the treatment of cancer and other serious and life-threatening diseases.

The life-changing potential of gene therapy products is undeniable, but the cost, which could be 20 or 30 times the annual wages of the typical American, according to the director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, will dramatically limit their reach.

Villanova University is making its own contributions to gene and cell therapy through NovaCell, the Center for Cellular Engineering. 



Sponsor: National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation grant
Start Date: 2020
Investigators: Dr. Gang Feng (PI); Dr. Jens Karlsson (supporting)
Description: The confocal Raman microscope with sophisticated environmental control will enable in vivo chemical mapping under a wide temperature range and different gas/liquid environments, providing high resolution and real-time structural and chemical fingerprints of materials and chemicals. More.

Sponsor: National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation grant
Start Date: 2020
Investigators: Dr. Anthony Lagalante (PI); Dr. Jacob Elmer (Co-PI); Dr. Aimee Eggler (Co-PI)
Description: Mass spectrometry is one of the key analytical methods used to identify and characterize small quantities of chemical species in complex samples. For NovaCell researchers, the instrumentation may be used for understanding the process of protein degradation and identifying molecular determinants of the proteasome's ability to unfold proteins, and for elucidating host cell response to gene therapy and improving transgene expression by inhibiting or circumventing host cell defenses. More

Sponsor: Villanova CGT Consortium Project
Investigators: Eggler A., Bamezai, A. and Kelly, W.

Sponsor: GlaxoSmithKline
Start Date: 2019
Investigator: Dr. Jens Karlsson
Description: Research focusing on assessment and prevention of intracellular ice formation during cryopreservation, incorporating the use of Villanova’s unique high-speed imaging cryomicroscopy facility to detect the ultra-rapid intracellular freezing events. More

Sponsor: National Institutes of Health subaward
Start Date: 2019
Investigators: Redbud Labs, Inc. with Dr. William Kelly
Description: Focus on improving the bioreactors used to provide controlled delivery of nutrients and biomimetic stimuli in order to influence T-cell growth. More

Sponsor: National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals
Start Date: 2019
Investigators: Dr. William Kelly (PI) with Dr. Zuyi “Jacky” Huang (co-PI) and Redbud Labs, Inc.
 Cell growth rate is a limiting factor in CAR-T therapy research. This grant will support the optimum configuration of Redbud’s bioreactor technology, testing T cells under a variety of conditions and different mediums, and developing a mathematical model that can predict cell growth rate based on conditions. More

Sponsor: National Science Foundation, CAREER grant
State Date
: 2017
: Dr. Jacob Elmer
: The goal of this project is to improve gene therapy by identifying and modifying the genes involved in the immune response to extraneous DNA in several cancer cell lines. Such an approach is expected to enhance gene delivery by inhibiting the target genes with both small molecule inhibitors and inhibitor proteins. More

NovaCell—Villanova’s Center for Cellular Engineering Logo

NovaCell Director
Dr. William Kelly, Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering


NovaCell Holds Walk to Promote Cancer Research Awareness

NovaCell Holds Walk to Promote Cancer Research Awareness

Villanova faculty, staff and students participated in the inaugural NovaCell Walk for Cancer Research Awareness, with a theme focused on promising new therapies in cancer research and being health conscious.

March 2023

NovaCell welcomes Janssen as First Consortium Member

NovaCell welcomes Janssen as First Consortium Member

NovaCell Director William Kelly, professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, recently welcomed Janssen Research & Development, LLC as the first member of Villanova’s Consortium for Cell and Gene Therapy (CCGT). With the partnership comes a new one-year project: “Investigating the effects of bioprocess conditions on killer T cell growth, differentiation and function.”

May 2021

William J. Kelly, PhD and  Dr. Kevin Curran ’00 CLAS

William J. Kelly, PhD, joined Villanova alum Dr. Kevin Curran ’00 CLAS (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center - MSC) at the International Society for Cell and Gene Therapy (ISCT) in June 2023 in Paris, France. Dr. Kelly presented his work on a novel approach for selecting out the best subpopulations of CART cells for immunotherapy applications. Dr. Curran is a member of the NovaCell Advisory Board.

June 2023