Photo of Li Tang

Biotechnology & medicine

Li Tang

Kill cancer by arming your own immune system

Year Honored


Cancer is a disease with abnormal cell proliferation. Conventional treatments include physical therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. However, they are always accompanied by sever side effect. Cures are typically rare until recent success in immunotherapy.

The immune system in the human body is like a guard guarding the master's health. When pathogens invade, the immune system is activated and eliminates the "invaders" without mercy. But to cancer cells, the "traitors" from our own body, the immune system is easily blinded.

Is it possible to kill cancer cells by restoring or activating the body's own immune system? Based on this idea, in the past decades, immunotherapies including cancer vaccines, immune checkpoint inhibitors, and adoptive T-cell therapy (ACT) have been developed rapidly and achieved great success in the clinic.

However, due to the complex microenvironment and the cytokine storm, cures are still rare in the treatment of solid tumors with ACT.

To solve this outstanding issue, Li Tang, an Assistant Professor at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, has innovated a ground-breaking approach to substantially improve both the safety and efficacy of ACT. In this strategy, T-cells are “backpacked” with nanoparticles loaded with T-cell supporting drugs and the drug release is triggered only when the T-cells encounter and recognize tumor cells.

Specifically, he devised a “smart” nanoparticle which can sense the change of chemical status (called “redox” activity) on T-cell surfaces upon tumor cell encounter. Tumor cell recognition leads to elevated T-cell activation status with increased membrane redox activity.

In the meantime, Li Tang also made new attempts in developing personalized precision cancer vaccines against tumor specific targets. By using AI technology to predict tumor-specific antigens, and reversibly polymerizing them, he prepared a personalized vaccine for precision immunotherapy, which will hopefully benefit cancer patients using immunotherapy.

“I think immunotherapy will be the most important and promising methods for curing cancer," Li said.