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 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.”

NovaCell Researchers Present at CRYO-2021 Conference

NovaCell Faculty Contribute to Prestigious Biotechnology Conferences

NovaCell faculty members Drs. Jens Karlsson and Aimee Eggler, together with graduate student Sandra Tamarin, presented their research on T cell cryopreservation at the 58th Annual Meeting of the Society for Cryobiology. View this 2-minute video summary of "Characterization of Molecular and Biophysical Cryoinjury Mechanisms in a Human T Cell Line at Slow and Rapid Rates of Cooling."

Drs. Kelly and Elmer helped lead the Cell and Gene Therapy (CGT) program at the recent 2021 American Chemical Society’s Biotechnology Division (ACS-BIOT) Annual Meeting. The meeting attracts faculty and industry researchers working in the areas of biotechnology, bioprocessing and biopharmaceuticals. This year’s program explored the development of novel cell and gene therapy products and processes. Dr. Kelly was Area Coordinator for the CGT program and Dr. Elmer chaired a session on combatting Adeno-Associated Virus (AAV). Dr. Kelly also hosted the Finals Event for the ESBES-BIOT design competition which included graduate student teams from the EU and US. The student teams were challenged to innovate the continuous production process used to produce Lentivirus (LV) for cell therapy applications.

NovaCell Director Dr. Bill Kelly delivered an invited virtual talk to Howard University’s College of Engineering

Better Bioprocessing for Cellular Therapy Products

NovaCell Director Dr. Bill Kelly delivered an invited virtual talk to Howard University’s College of Engineering titled "Better Bioprocessing for Cellular Therapy Products.” He shared his recent research focused on increasing human T-cell ex-vivo growth rates for improved CAR-T processes. CAR T-cell therapy is a promising new way to get immune cells called T cells (a type of white blood cell) to fight cancer by genetically modifying them in the lab so they can find and destroy cancer cells. A growing and promising area of cancer research, CAR-T therapy t is limited by high cost and the difficulty of consistently culturing T-cells to therapeutically relevant concentrations ex-vivo. Dr. Kelly’s team has developed a microbioreactor for studying the effects of mixing on human T-cell expansion and an approach that can potentially be used by clinicians to personalize T-cell growth conditions for CAR-T patients.