NovaCell—Villanova’s Center for Cellular Engineering

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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 poised to make its own contributions to gene and cell therapy through NovaCell, the Center for Cellular Engineering. Founded in 2018, NovaCell’s mission is to lead efforts to improve cell and gene therapy products, and the bioprocesses used to make them.


Title: Evaluating the effects of cryoformulations and freezing rates on cryopreservation of T cells
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.

Title: Development of Microbioreactors for CART applications
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.

Title: A Transcriptome-based Model for Improved CAR-T Therapy
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.

TitleManipulating the Innate Immune Response to Improve Gene Therapy
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.

NovaCell—Villanova’s Center for Cellular Engineering Logo

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


NovaCell researcher Dr. Jens Karlsson

Dr. Jens Karlsson Tapped to Lead Industry-Sponsored Research Project on Cryopreservation of Cancer-Fighting Immune Cells

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has entered into research contract with Villanova for $97,000 for work that will be supported by Dr. Jens Karlsson, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of Villanova University's Biothermal Sciences Laboratory, to improve the cryopreservation process for a new cancer-targeting cell therapy product. 

NovaCell Partners with Redbud Labs on Improved Bioreactor for T-Cell Therapy

NovaCell Partners with Redbud Labs on Improved Bioreactor for T-Cell Therapy

Redbud Labs has invited NovaCell Director Dr. William Kelly to participate in a National Institutes of Health project to improve the bioreactors used to provide controlled delivery of nutrients and biomimetic stimuli in order to influence T-cell growth.

Dr. Jacky Huang, director of the Biological and Environmental Systems Engineering group, with PhD student Brooks Hopkins.

Dr. Jacky Huang’s Research Group Publishes Strategy to Combat CRS

Dr. Jacky Huang’s Biological and Environmental Systems Engineering group published a paper in the journal Processes detailing a modeling-based strategy to combat cytokine release syndrome, which is a deadly side effect found in immunotherapy patients. Their work has resulted in a quantitative formula to grade the severity of CRS from cytokine profiles.