Daniel Woodsworth: Developing Cell-Based Therapies for B.C. Patients

November 25, 2015

Hi, my name is Daniel Woodsworth and I work on cell-based immunotherapies at the BC Cancer Agency Research Centre.

Near the end of my undergraduate degree, I started to become very interested in building nanoscale devices and machines. I was captivated by the notion of recreating all of the incredible machinery that surrounds us in our everyday life, at very small scales.

As I started to work in the field of nanotechnology, I became increasingly aware of the wealth of nanoscale machines that already existed in the world of molecular biology. One only has to look at the structure of ATP synthase (which creates the basic energy currency of the cell) to see that it is a rotary machine, very similar to a mechanical gear. Over time, this led me to focus on engineering cell-based therapies, which leverage this wealth of small-scale machines found in molecular biology.

Engineering Immune Cells to Treat Cancer

To pursue this goal I entered the MD/PhD program at the University of British Columbia, and started working in Rob Holt’s lab at the Genome Sciences Centre. We are working on engineering immune cells as delivery systems for therapeutic proteins. This would allow us to engineer cancer patients’ own immune cells to deliver potent anti-cancer therapeutics to their tumours. Our hope is that in the long run this will be one component of a multi-faceted cell-based therapeutic, which could sense its environment and implement context-dependent therapeutic actions.

What drew me to this project was simply the desire to tinker; the little kid ‘wow-factor’ of building miniature cancer-killing robots made out of cells. However, as I have progressed through my training, I have increasingly seen the pressing need for it as well. It is at once saddening, daunting, humbling and inspiring to listen to patient histories spanning multiple cycles of treatment and relapse, and if we are honest, an uncertain outcome. Having met some of these patients, I am often struck by the strength with which they face this adversity. To have the opportunity to work on a project that might someday improve that uncertain outcome is truly a privilege.