Faculty in the News


September 2023

Physics of fat

Physics of fat

Researchers led by the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Dennis Discher are the first to discover fat-filled lipid droplets’ surprising capability to indent and puncture the nucleus, the cell’s hub for DNA regulation. A ruptured nucleus can lead to elevated DNA damage, a key characteristic of many diseases, including cancer. “Intuitively, people think of fat as soft. And on a cellular level it is. But at this small size of droplet, it stops being soft. It can deform. It can damage. It can rupture,” Discher says.

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Malaria vaccine

Malaria vaccine

Malaria has plagued humanity for millenia and continues to cause more than 600,000 worldwide deaths per year, but a new vaccine may lessen the affliction. A Perry World House conversation discussed how developments in mRNA vaccine technologies and lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic can help. “It’s a big puzzle,” said Drew Weissman of the Perelman School of Medicine. “All of the pieces have to be there and have to fit together for this to be able to work.”

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How Oncology Could Change in 50 Years

How Oncology Could Change in 50 Years

Nine cancer center leaders, including Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of the Abramson Cancer Center, told their vision of oncology in 50 years. “In 50 years, we won’t recognize most current treatment modalities for cancer,” Vonderheide said.

Becker’s Hospital Review

Penn Medicine’s Carl June to receive 2024 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences

Penn Medicine’s Carl June to receive 2024 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences

Carl June has been selected as the recipient of the prestigious 2024 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, in recognition of his pioneering work in advancing CAR T cell therapy. This revolutionary therapy involves the reprogramming of a patient's own immune cells to combat cancer. President Liz Magill expressed that this accolade not only underscores Dr. June's remarkable scientific achievements but also highlights the exceptional level of groundbreaking research undertaken by the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania. The Breakthrough Prize, renowned as the world's most substantial science award, bestows a remarkable $3 million prize for each of its five principal categories.

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Blood cancer therapy

Blood cancer therapy

Perelman School of Medicine researchers have developed a new strategy that could expand CAR T cell therapy to all blood cancers. “One drawback of the current approach to CAR T cell therapy is that each therapy must be developed individually based on the targets for that cancer type,” Carl June says. “This study lays the groundwork for a more universal approach.”

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Better PCR

Better PCR

Polymerase chain reaction tests, the “gold standard” for diagnostic testing during the COVID-19 pandemic, are unfortunately also hampered by time delays, specialized equipment, and labor, all of which drive costs, and most PCR tests end up in landfills. César de La Fuente (right) of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Perelman School of Medicine is leading the charge to develop new fast, affordable, and eco-friendly materials.

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Sly CAR-T Strategy Evades ‘Fratricide’ to Aim at All Blood Cancers

Sly CAR-T Strategy Evades ‘Fratricide’ to Aim at All Blood Cancers

A study published in Science Translational Medicine demonstrated proof of concept for “epitope-editing,” a new form of gene editing, that holds potential to treat virtually all blood cancers. The preclinical study was led by Saar Gill, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Hematology-Oncology, Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy, and Nils Wellhausen, a graduate student in Pharmacology and a member of Gill and June’s labs.

Penn Medicine News Release • STAT News

Enhancing CAR T Cells for Blood Cancer Treatment

Enhancing CAR T Cells for Blood Cancer Treatment

In a proof-of-concept study, Penn researchers devised a new approach to treat many types of blood cancers using CAR T cell therapy. The study was led by Saar Gill, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Hematology-Oncology, Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy, and Nils Wellhausen, a graduate student in Pharmacology and a member of Gill and June’s labs.

Tech Explorist


August 2023

The Immune Health Future, Today

The Immune Health Future, Today

A new special issue of Penn Medicine magazine highlights our scientists’ efforts to define a new area of medicine: Immune Health®. Researchers are deeply profiling individual immune systems to understand how they function as a fingerprint, a unique piece of each person’s health-and-disease puzzle. The cover story describing Penn’s progress toward this vision of Immune Health is now online ahead of the full issue.

Read the Immune Health issue cover story

CAR T therapy

CAR T therapy

In a Q&A with Penn Medicine, Carl June (pictured) and Ph.D. candidate Daniel Baker of the Perelman School of Medicine discuss CAR T cell therapy’s potential to treat diseases ranging from cancer to autoimmune diseases to asthma. “While it may seem counterintuitive, it may be easier to use CAR T cell therapy to treat other diseases than to treat cancer,” June says.

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Kariko and Weissman Named Harvey Prize Laureates

Kariko and Weissman Named Harvey Prize Laureates

Katalin Kariko, PhD, an adjunct professor of Neurosurgery, and Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor for Vaccine Research, are the new recipients of the Harvey Prize Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. Weissman and Kariko’s foundational mRNA research earned them the science-and-tech-specific accolade.

The Jerusalem Post

Ancient molecules

Ancient molecules

Researchers led by César de la Fuente of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and Perelman School of Medicine merged artificial intelligence with advanced experimental methods to mine the ancient past for future medical breakthroughs. Via “molecular de-extinction,” they explored proteomic expressions of extinct hominins and found dozens of small protein sequences with antibiotic qualities. Their lab then worked to synthesize these molecules, bringing these long-since-vanished chemistries back to life.

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Scientists Are Resurrecting Extinct Molecules and Bringing Them Back to Life by Discovering the Immune Secrets

Scientists Are Resurrecting Extinct Molecules and Bringing Them Back to Life by Discovering the Immune Secrets

New research shows how the molecules from the past can be identified by artificial intelligence as potential candidates for medical use as antimicrobial treatments. César de la Fuente, PhD, a Presidential Assistant Professor in Psychiatry, Microbiology, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Bioengineering, coined the term “molecular de-extinction,” for the technique that recreates molecules from Neanderthals and Denisovans that don’t exist in living organisms.

List23

‘Living Drug’ CAR T Is Taking on Some of Humanity’s Worst Medical Scourges

‘Living Drug’ CAR T Is Taking on Some of Humanity’s Worst Medical Scourges

In a perspective article published in Nature this week, Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy, and colleagues, discussed the potential of CAR T cell therapy to tackle a wide range of diseases.

Singularity Hub

Chasing the Mysteries of Microbiome Communication in Our Bodies

Chasing the Mysteries of Microbiome Communication in Our Bodies

Microbiologists Maayan Levy, PhD, and Christoph Thaiss, PhD, hope that understanding the mechanisms of the microbiome can lead to treatments for some of the most devastating diseases, from cancer, to dementia and beyond.

Read More: Penn Medicine News Blog

Readers Reply: Which Person Has Had the Greatest Impact on the Course of the 21st Century So Far?

Readers Reply: Which Person Has Had the Greatest Impact on the Course of the 21st Century So Far?

Katalin Karikó, PhD, an adjunct professor of Neurosurgery, and Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, are named by a Guardian reader as the two people who have had the greatest effect on our world since the year 2000 due to the pair’s foundational mRNA research.

The Guardian

Carl June on The Boundless Potential of CAR T Cell Therapy

Carl June on The Boundless Potential of CAR T Cell Therapy

CAR T cell pioneer Carl June, MD, explains how CAR T cell therapy, which has been transformative for blood cancer treatment, holds the potential to help millions more patients, if it can be successfully translated to other conditions.

Read More: Penn Medicine News Blog

How Does Stress Affect Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

How Does Stress Affect Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Research led by Christoph Thaiss, PhD, an assistant professor of Microbiology, has traced two detailed molecular pathways from the brain to the gut that produce Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) flares. They found that psychological stress—a death in the family or a bad fight with a loved one, for instance—can trigger the release of brain chemicals that cause IBD symptoms.

Scientific American

Former South Jersey Firefighter Celebrates Major Health Milestone

Former South Jersey Firefighter Celebrates Major Health Milestone

Michael Marinelli is celebrating the 30-year anniversary of having both of his lungs transplanted at Penn. This kind of longevity after a lung transplant is exceptional, said Jason Christie, MD, MS, chief of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, who has been caring for Marinelli for the past three decades.

CBS3

Scientists Turn to Human Ancestors’ DNA in Search for New Antibiotics

Scientists Turn to Human Ancestors’ DNA in Search for New Antibiotics

César de la Fuente, PhD, a Presidential Assistant Professor in Psychiatry, Microbiology, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Bioengineering, detailed the concept of molecular de-extinction, which recreates molecules from Neanderthals and Denisovans that don’t exist in living organisms. His new research shows how the molecules had been identified by AI as potential candidates for medical use as antimicrobial treatments.

Smithsonian Magazine • Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

Heroes’ welcome

Heroes’ welcome

A Penn Medicine profile celebrates the successes of Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, who have received accolades for their mRNA research and their crucial contributions to the COVID-19 vaccines. “These awards are opportunities to talk about science and expose people to science, and I feel like it’s my responsibility now to engage with people,” Karikó says.

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AI Scientists Are Bringing Neanderthal Antibiotics Back from Extinction

AI Scientists Are Bringing Neanderthal Antibiotics Back from Extinction

A study co-authored by César de la Fuente, PhD, a Presidential Assistant Professor in Psychiatry, Microbiology, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Bioengineering, used artificial intelligence to identify new antibiotic protein snippets produced by ancient humans. “We’re motivated by the notion of bringing back molecules from the past to address problems that we have today,” he explained.

Vox • Nature • SciTechDaily