Hacking Immune Cells To Expand Their Therapeutic Potential

Our Research

In the Roybal Lab, we harness the tools of synthetic and chemical biology to enhance the therapeutic potential of engineered immune cells. We take a comprehensive approach to cellular engineering by developing new synthetic receptors, signal transduction cascades, and cellular response programs to enhance the safety and effectiveness of adoptive cell therapies. We also study the logic of natural cellular signaling systems, and the underlying principles of cellular communication and collective cell behavior during an immune response. These interests are complementary as cell engineering is often informed by knowledge obtained from studying natural mechanisms of cell regulation refined by evolution.

Our Partners

Our People

The Roybal Lab is a dedicated group of students, post-docs, physicians, and staff scientists with diverse backgrounds ranging from basic science to cellular engineering and synthetic immunology. Each member brings expertise in their field to our unique and highly collaborative research environment.


Media highlights of Roybal Lab's research.
Turbocharged CAR-T cells melt tumours in mice — using a trick from cancer cells
'Smart' immune cells kill tumours and stop them regrowing in mice
Attacking glioblastoma and other solid tumors with CAR-Ts that target multiple antigens
Tweaking Mother Nature, biologists aim for better cancer-fighting cells
'Cell Bots' Chase Down Cancer, Deliver Drugs Directly to Tumors
Synthetic Notch receptors were featured in Notable Advances 2016
Kole Roybal receives the inaugural Sartorius & Science Magazine Prize in Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy 2018
Boosting the immune system to fight cancer
Cell Design Labs, Little Partner Of Kite Pharma, Pushes T-Cell Engineering Frontier

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Recent Lab News

February 2024

We are excited to announce that our unique approach to improving T cell function has been published by Nature!  Our strategy fights tumors by taking advantage of the natural selection of cancer itself.  By testing a library of naturally occurring T cell mutations, we identified a gene fusion of CARD11–PIK3R3 that when paired with CAR T cells greatly improves their accumulation and antitumor efficacy.  Years in the making, this project was a collaboration with the Choi Lab at Northwestern. It was driven by Roybal Lab members Julie Garcia, Jay Daniels, Iowis Zhu, Casey Burnett and many others.  There is much more to this story!  For an overview check out this article, for the full publication click here.

January 2024

We begin the new year by welcoming a new postdoc to the Roybal Lab.  Xun Li, Ph.D., joins us from Humboldt University in Berlin, specifically the Laboratory of Klaus Rajewsky in the Max Delbrück Center.  His previous work focused on developing efficient CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene repair in primary immune cells to treat primary immunodeficiency. He plans to pair his expertise in CRISPR/Cas9 technology with synthetic biology to develop new immunotherapies.

December 2023

This winter we saw big changes in membership.  Casey Burnett Ph.D., one of the lab’s founding members, graduated and moved to Seattle where she will continue her research in an industry setting. Casey played an integral role in the Fusion project and in many ways shaped the culture and direction of the lab.  In the early days of the pandemic, while most of us were just trying to avoid getting sick, Casey spent her time profiling immune cells of patients hospitalized with COVID-19.  Her work was later published in Immunity. Truly an impressive paper made even more so by the conditions under which the data was collected.  All around Casey was a remarkable Ph.D. student, she will be missed! 

November 2023

We are excited to announce that four members of the Roybal lab, Max Foisey, Casey Burnett, Joe Muldoon, and Majo Duran were awarded Symbiont Seed Grants.  This new funding source offered by the Gladstone Institute is meant to encourage innovative collaborations between labs on cancer relevant projects.  In this case our researchers will be working with members of the Eyquem, Spitzer, Carnuvale, and Kamber lab.