NovaCell—Villanova’s Center for Cellular Engineering

Center for Cellular Engineering

The Genesis

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.

Villanova is the ideal location for the Center given its proximity to major medical research hospitals, as well as pharmaceutical companies working on cell therapy products.

Read the official press release about the launch of NovaCell, the Center for Cellular Engineering.

Current Research

Title: Biomanufacturing: Optimizing the Isolation, Transfection, and Expansion of CAR-T cells with Modified PES Membranes
: National Science Foundation
Start Date
: 2016
: Dr. Jacob Elmer (PI) with Drs. Noelle Comolli and William Kelly (co-PIs)
: In this collaborative research project, Dr. Elmer is using novel non-viral methods to optimize T-cell transfection, Dr. Comolli is working on novel surface modified membranes for T-cell selection and activation, and Dr. Kelly is optimizing the expansion of the specific T-cell subsets.

Title: Manipulating 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.

Papers and Presentations

Mian Wang, Jens O. M. Karlsson and Alptekin Aksan, “FTIR Analysis of Molecular Changes Associated with Warming Injury in Cryopreserved Leukocytes” in Langmuir, Nov. 6, 2018.

Brooks Hopkins (PhD student; PI: Dr. Zuyi Huang) presented “A Model-Based Investigation of Cytokine Storm for T-Cell Therapy” during the Computational Methods in Biological and Biomedical Systems section of the 2018 AIChE Annual Meeting.

Devon Zimmerman ’18 PhD, Krupa Patel ’18 MSBChE, Matthew Hall ’19 ChE and Jacob Elmer, “Enhancement of transgene expression by nuclear transcription factor Y and CCCTC-binding factor” in Biotechnology Progress, Oct. 7, 2018.

Matthew Tucker (PhD student; PI: Dr. Jacob Elmer) presented “Transcriptome (mRNA & small RNA) Analysis of the Host Cell Response to Non-Viral Gene Delivery” at the Biologics I: Drug Delivery Session of the 2018 AIChE Annual Meeting.

Dr. William Kelly, chair, technical session on Cellular Therapies, ESBES (European Society for Chemical Engineering Sciences) Annual Meeting, Lisbon, Portugal.

NovaCell Director Dr. William Kelly

Dr. William Kelly

Dr. William Kelly has expertise in scale up and bioprocessing of cell culture products, and has extensive experience working with pharmaceutical companies to improve manufacturing processes and practices.

Contact NovaCell:

Dr. William Kelly, Director

(610) 519-4947

Seeking Endowed Chair

To contribute to NovaCell, the Department of Chemical Engineering seeks applicants for the Nance K. Dicciani Endowed Chair. More information