Academic Appointments

Professional Education

  • Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California San Francisco, Synthetic Biology, Immune engineering (2022)
  • Ph.D., Harvard University, Chemical Physics (2015)
  • B.S., National Autonomous University of Mexico, Chemistry (2008)

Current Research and Scholarly Interests

Understanding and engineering biomedical relevant cellular behaviors

Stanford Advisees

All Publications

  • A synthetic biology approach to engineering circuits in immune cells. Immunological reviews Hoces, D., Miguens Blanco, J., Hernandez-Lopez, R. A. 2023


    A synthetic circuit in a biological system involves the designed assembly of genetic elements, biomolecules, or cells to create a defined function. These circuits are central in synthetic biology, enabling the reprogramming of cellular behavior and the engineering of cells with customized responses. In cancer therapeutics, engineering T cells with circuits have the potential to overcome the challenges of current approaches, for example, by allowing specific recognition and killing of cancer cells. Recent advances also facilitate engineering integrated circuits for the controlled release of therapeutic molecules at specified locations, for example, in a solid tumor. In this review, we discuss recent strategies and applications of synthetic receptor circuits aimed at enhancing immune cell functions for cancer immunotherapy. We begin by introducing the concept of circuits in networks at the molecular and cellular scales and provide an analysis of the development and implementation of several synthetic circuits in T cells that have the goal to overcome current challenges in cancer immunotherapy. These include specific targeting of cancer cells, increased T-cell proliferation, and persistence in the tumor microenvironment. By harnessing the power of synthetic biology, and the characteristics of certain circuit architectures, it is now possible to engineer a new generation of immune cells that recognize cancer cells, while minimizing off-target toxicities. We specifically discuss T-cell circuits for antigen density sensing. These circuits allow targeting of solid tumors that share antigens with normal tissues. Additionally, we explore designs for synthetic circuits that could control T-cell differentiation or T-cell fate as well as the concept of synthetic multicellular circuits that leverage cellular communication and division of labor to achieve improved therapeutic efficacy. As our understanding of cell biology expands and novel tools for genome, protein, and cell engineering are developed, we anticipate further innovative approaches to emerge in the design and engineering of circuits in immune cells.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/imr.13244

    View details for PubMedID 37464881

  • T cell circuits that sense antigen density with an ultrasensitive threshold SCIENCE Hernandez-Lopez, R. A., Yu, W., Cabral, K. A., Creasey, O. A., Lopez Pazmino, M., Tonai, Y., De Guzman, A., Makela, A., Saksela, K., Gartner, Z. J., Lim, W. A. 2021; 371 (6534): 1166-+


    Overexpressed tumor-associated antigens [for example, epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)] are attractive targets for therapeutic T cells, but toxic "off-tumor" cross-reaction with normal tissues that express low levels of target antigen can occur with chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cells. Inspired by natural ultrasensitive response circuits, we engineered a two-step positive-feedback circuit that allows human cytotoxic T cells to discriminate targets on the basis of a sigmoidal antigen-density threshold. In this circuit, a low-affinity synthetic Notch receptor for HER2 controls the expression of a high-affinity CAR for HER2. Increasing HER2 density thus has cooperative effects on T cells-it increases both CAR expression and activation-leading to a sigmoidal response. T cells with this circuit show sharp discrimination between target cells expressing normal amounts of HER2 and cancer cells expressing 100 times as much HER2, both in vitro and in vivo.

    View details for DOI 10.1126/science.abc1855

    View details for Web of Science ID 000630096400037

    View details for PubMedID 33632893

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC8025675