Engineering an Artificial T-Cell Stimulating Matrix for Immunotherapy

John W. Hickey, Yi Dong, Jae Wook Chung, Sebastian F. Salathe, Hawley C. Pruitt, Xiaowei Li, Calvin Chang, Andrew K. Fraser, Catherine A. Bessell, Andrew J. Ewald, Sharon Gerecht, Hai Quan Mao, Jonathan P. Schneck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


T cell therapies require the removal and culture of T cells ex vivo to expand several thousand-fold. However, these cells often lose the phenotype and cytotoxic functionality for mediating effective therapeutic responses. The extracellular matrix (ECM) has been used to preserve and augment cell phenotype; however, it has not been applied to cellular immunotherapies. Here, a hyaluronic acid (HA)-based hydrogel is engineered to present the two stimulatory signals required for T-cell activation—termed an artificial T-cell stimulating matrix (aTM). It is found that biophysical properties of the aTM—stimulatory ligand density, stiffness, and ECM proteins—potentiate T cell signaling and skew phenotype of both murine and human T cells. Importantly, the combination of the ECM environment and mechanically sensitive TCR signaling from the aTM results in a rapid and robust expansion of rare, antigen-specific CD8+ T cells. Adoptive transfer of these tumor-specific cells significantly suppresses tumor growth and improves animal survival compared with T cells stimulated by traditional methods. Beyond immediate immunotherapeutic applications, demonstrating the environment influences the cellular therapeutic product delineates the importance of the ECM and provides a case study of how to engineer ECM-mimetic materials for therapeutic immune stimulation in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1807359
JournalAdvanced Materials
Issue number23
StatePublished - Jun 6 2019


  • T cell stimulation
  • adoptive T cell therapy
  • artificial matrix
  • extracellular matrix
  • hydrogel
  • immunotherapy
  • mechanotransduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


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