Prof Mark Howarth
Innovating Protein Nanotechnologies for Cancer Analysis and Immune Activation
Vaccine development: Immuno-engineering
We established a way to accelerate vaccine development, through Plug-and-Display virus-like particle decoration, eliciting strong immune responses with a single injection. We showed the potential towards malaria, as a global health challenge. Future work explores this route against cancer and different infectious diseases. We are investigating principles to surpass current vaccines for long-lasting protection and overcoming immune evasion.
Circulating tumour cells (CTCs) and antibody engineering
Capturing CTCs from blood is promising for early cancer diagnosis. We have shown routes to capture a broader range of cancer cells than classic approaches. To improve capture further, we develop antibody technologies with new architectures and covalent recognition.
Superglue from bacteria
We harnessed a remarkable feature of adhesion by Streptococcus pyogenes, enabling irreversible covalent bonding between protein and peptide partners. SpyTag/SpyCatcher is the strongest protein interaction yet measured, widely applied in research and biotechnology. We are extending this family of interactions, creating new possibilities for synthetic biology: in CTC capture, detection of anti-cancer immune responses, and robust enzymes for agriculture.
Team-building to control cell behaviour
Cells integrate multiple environmental signals, often with precise spatial organisation. Therapeutics usually target one receptor, but targeting multiple receptors can enhance potency and selectivity. Our programmed polyproteins enhanced cancer cell apoptosis, identifying specific teams binding Death Receptor and Growth Factor receptors. We are devising new ligands and teams to control T cell activation and cytotoxicity.