Darrell J. Irvine, Ph.D.

AIMBE College of Fellows Class of 2015
For outstanding contributions to immune engineering, through a marriage of immunobiology-driven science with the tools and techniques of bioengineering

3 Questions: Darrell Irvine on making HIV vaccines more powerful

Via MIT | December 12, 2023

An MIT research team led by Professor Darrell Irvine has developed a novel kind of vaccine adjuvant: a nanoparticle that can help to stimulate the immune system to generate a stronger response to a vaccine. These nanoparticles contain saponin, a compound derived from the bark of the Chilean soapbark tree, along with a molecule called MPLA, each of which helps to activate the immune system.

The adjuvant has been incorporated into an experimental HIV vaccine that has shown promising results in animal studies, and this month, the first human volunteers will receive the vaccine as part of a phase 1 clinical trial run by the Consortium for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Development at the Scripps Research Institute. MIT News spoke with Irvine about why this project required an interdisciplinary approach, and what may lie ahead… Continue reading.

Darrell Irvine elected to the National Academy of Medicine for 2023

Via MIT | October 10, 2023

The National Academy of Medicine announced the election of 100 new members to join their esteemed ranks in 2023, among them five MIT faculty members and seven additional affiliates.

MIT professors Daniel Anderson, Regina Barzilay, Guoping Feng, Darrell Irvine, and Morgen Shen were among the new members. Justin Hanes PhD ’96, Said Ibrahim MBA ’16, and Jennifer West ’92, along with three former students in the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology (HST) — Michael Chiang, Siddhartha Mukherjee, and Robert Vonderheide — were also elected, as was Yi Zhang, an associate member of The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

Election to the academy is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine and recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service, the academy noted in announcing the election of its new members… Continue reading.

New Study Aims to Decipher the Mystery of Vitiligo

Via managedhealthcareexecutive | July 26, 2023

The study will enroll an estimated 1,000 patients, of whom approximately 200 will have vitiligo. The remaining participants will be at-risk family members, some 40 to 60 of whom are expected to develop vitiligo during the 5-year study.

A new $3.75 million clinical trial, led by John E. Harris, MD, PhD, Manuel Garber, PhD, and Mehdi Rashighi, MD, at University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, will investigate factors that may predispose individuals to vitiligo.

“Vitiligo is influenced by our genes, but further understanding the interplay of genetics, environmental and other biological factors such as RNA and protein biomarkers is critical to identifying disease preclinically,” said Harris in a university press release. “If we can isolate subclinical signatures of disease, we can potentially predict which patients are at the greatest risk of developing vitiligo and develop new treatments for the disease… Continue reading.

Nanoparticles provoke immune response against tumors but avoid side effects

Via MIT | April 19, 2023

In a new study, immunostimulatory drugs slowed tumor growth without producing systemic inflammation.

Cancer drugs that stimulate the body’s immune system to attack tumors are a promising way to treat many types of cancer. However, some of these drugs produce too much systemic inflammation when delivered intravenously, making them harmful to use in patients.

MIT researchers have now come up with a possible way to get around that obstacle. In a new study, they showed that when immunostimulatory prodrugs — inactive drugs that require activation in the body — are tuned for optimal activation timing, the drugs provoke the immune system to attack tumors without the side effects that occur when the active form of the drug is given… Continue reading.

Method for delivering immune system-stimulating drugs may enhance cancer immunotherapy

Via MIT | January 10, 2022

Stimulating the body’s immune system to attack tumors is a promising way to treat cancer. Scientists are working on two complementary strategies to achieve that: taking off the brakes that tumors put on the immune system; and “stepping on the gas,” or delivering molecules that jumpstart immune cells.

However, when jumpstarting the immune system, researchers have to be careful not to overstimulate it, which can cause severe and potentially fatal side effects. A team of MIT researchers has now developed a new way to deliver a stimulatory molecule called IL-12 directly to tumors, avoiding the toxic effects that can occur when immunostimulatory drugs are given throughout the body… Continue reading.

New cancer treatment may reawaken the immune system

Via MIT | October 19, 2021

Immunotherapy is a promising strategy to treat cancer by stimulating the body’s own immune system to destroy tumor cells, but it only works for a handful of cancers. MIT researchers have now discovered a new way to jump-start the immune system to attack tumors, which they hope could allow immunotherapy to be used against more types of cancer.

Their novel approach involves removing tumor cells from the body, treating them with chemotherapy drugs, and then placing them back in the tumor. When delivered along with drugs that activate T cells, these injured cancer cells appear to act as a distress signal that spurs the T cells into action… Continue reading.

Vaccination by inhalation

Via MIT | March 19, 2021

Delivering vaccines directly to the lungs can boost immune responses to respiratory infections or lung cancer, study finds.

Many viruses infect their hosts through mucosal surfaces such as the lining of the respiratory tract. MIT researchers have now developed a vaccination strategy that can create an army of T cells that are ready and waiting at those surfaces, offering a quicker response to viral invaders.

The researchers showed that they could induce a strong memory T cell response in the lungs of mice by giving them a vaccine modified to bind to a protein naturally present in mucus. This can help ferry the vaccine across mucosal barriers, such as the lining of the lungs… Continue reading.

DNA Origami Approach for HIV Vaccine Development Could be Used Against SARS-CoV-2

Via Clinical Omics | June 30, 2020

By using a technique known as DNA origami to fold DNA into a virus-like structure, MIT researchers have designed HIV-like particles coated with HIV antigens in precise patterns, which may eventually be used as an HIV vaccine. In vitro studies showed that the DNA origami particles, which mimic the size and shape of viruses, provoked a strong immune response from human immune cells. The researchers anticipate that the same approach could be used to design DNA origami vaccines for a wide variety of viral diseases, and they are now working on adapting the technology to develop a potential vaccine for SARS-CoV-2.

“The rough design rules that are starting to come out of this work should be generically applicable across disease antigens and diseases,” said Darrell Irvine, PhD, who is the Underwood-Prescott professor with appointments in the departments of biological engineering and materials science and engineering; an associate director of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research; and a member of the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard. “Our platform technology allows you to easily swap out different subunit antigens and peptides from different types of viruses to test whether they may potentially be functional as vaccines,” added Mark Bathe, PhD, an MIT professor of biological engineering and an associate member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard… Continue reading.

New vaccine strategy boosts T-cell therapy

Via MIT | July 11, 2019

A promising new way to treat some types of cancer is to program the patient’s own T cells to destroy the cancerous cells. This approach, termed CAR-T cell therapy, is now used to combat some types of leukemia, but so far it has not worked well against solid tumors such as lung or breast tumors.

MIT researchers have now devised a way to super-charge this therapy so that it could be used as a weapon against nearly any type of cancer. The research team developed a vaccine that dramatically boosts the antitumor T cell population and allows the cells to vigorously invade solid tumors… Continue reading.

Nanoparticles give immune cells a boost

Via MIT | July 9, 2018

Programming the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells has had promising results for treating blood cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia. This tactic has proven more challenging for solid tumors such as breast or lung cancers, but MIT researchers have now devised a novel way to boost the immune response against solid tumors.

By developing nanoparticle “backpacks” that hold immune-stimulating drugs, and attaching them directly to T cells, the MIT engineers showed in a study of mice that they could enhance those T cells’ activity without harmful side effects. In more than half of the treated animals, tumors disappeared completely.

“We found you could greatly improve the efficacy of the T cell therapy with backpacked drugs that help the donor T cells survive and function more effectively. Even more importantly, we achieved that without any of the toxicity that you see with systemic injection of the drugs,” says Darrell Irvine, a professor of biological engineering and of materials science and engineering, an associate director of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and the senior author of the study… Continue reading.

Torque, a Flagship Pioneering Company, Launches Platform to Develop a New Class of Deep-Primed Immune Cell Therapies, Financed with $25M Series A and Led by a Veteran Management Team

Via PR News Wire | November 14, 2017

Torque, an immuno-oncology company developing Deep Primed™ cell therapies that direct and evoke immune responses in the tumor microenvironment, today announced the launch of its technology platform to create a new class of immune cell therapeutics to treat cancer, financed with $25 million in Series A capital by Flagship Pioneering. The Torque platform makes it possible to anchor powerful stimulatory cytokines, antibodies, and small molecules directly to immune cells to direct their activity and increase their efficacy and durability in the “hostile” tumor microenvironment, without systemic exposure.


“By arming immune cells to function robustly deep in the tumor microenvironment, this approach has the potential to create a new class of cellular immunotherapeutics, substantially expanding the efficacy of conventional cell-based methods,” said Darrell Irvine, PhD, co-founder of Torque, Professor of Materials Science & Engineering and Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “Torque’s approach has the potential to significantly expand the proportion of patients that respond to cellular immunotherapy and to take us closer to curing cancer, rather than just slowing its progression… Continue reading.

Darrell J. Irvine, Ph.D. To be Inducted into Medical and Biological Engineering Elite

Via AIMBE | March 5, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C.— The American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) has announced the pending induction of Darrell J. Irvine, Ph.D., Professor of Biological Engineering and Materials Science, Biological Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to its College of Fellows. Dr. Irvine was nominated, reviewed, and elected by peers and members of the College of Fellows For outstanding contributions to immune engineering, through a marriage of immunobiology-driven science with the tools and techniques of bioengineering.