Joshua Leonard

PhD, University of California, Berkeley

Chemical and Biological Engineering
Interdisciplinary Biological Sciences Program

Leonard Lab


Engineering cellular and biomolecular technologies for human health using synthetic biology and systems biology

Keywords: Synthetic biology, cellular engineering, protein engineering and biophysics, gene therapy, systems biology, computational biology, immunology, cancer

The Leonard Lab creates novel biological systems that perform customized, sophisticated functions for applications in biotechnology and medicine. A central area of interest for the group is controlling the function of a complex biological network - the human immune system – in order to enable and enhance therapies that harness the immune system to treat cancer. To accomplish this, they are pioneering a novel technology termed synthetic biology, which enables them to engineer novel biomolecules and build programmable cell-based “devices” that can be customized to perform functions that cannot be achieved with drugs or radiotherapy. Ongoing work in group includes engineering novel receptor proteins and biosensors, signal transduction mechanisms, and coordinated cellular functions using these approaches. By enabling clinicians to modify local immune responses in a patient- and disease-specific fashion, the Leonard Lab is overcoming barriers to treatment for cancer as well as other chronic conditions ranging from infections to autoimmune disease and transplant rejection. The Leonard Lab also brings the power of novel quantitative experimental tools and computational systems biology to investigate questions of fundamental scientific relevance to human health and disease. They are particularly interested in understanding how tumors manipulate the local immune response to create a dysfunctional microenvironment, with a focus on investigating how these multicellular networks are formed, maintained, and potentially may be disrupted therapeutically. Professor Leonard is co-director of a Graduate Cluster in Biotechnology, Systems and Synthetic Biology, and he founded and currently advises Northwestern’s iGEM team, which is an undergraduate synthetic biology competition. By synthesizing powerful approaches drawn from engineering and the physical sciences with compelling medical challenges and questions, the Leonard Lab is advancing the frontiers of design-based medicine to address unmet medical needs and develop safe, effective, and long-lasting treatment options that improve both quantity and quality of life.


Selected Publications

Daringer NM, Schwarz KA, Leonard JN (2015). Contributions of Unique Intracellular Domains to Switch-Like Biosensing by Toll-like Receptor 4. Journal of Biological Chemistry. 290 (14): 8764-8777.

Hung ME, Leonard JN (2015). Stabilization of exosome targeting peptides via engineered glycosylation. Journal of Biological Chemistry. 109 (13):8166-72.

Pitner RA, Scarpelli AH, Leonard JN (2015). Regulation of bacterial gene expression by protease-alleviated spatial sequestration (PASS). ACS Synthetic Biology. 4 (9), pp 966–974.

Wells DK, Chuang Y, Knapp LM, Brockmann D, Kath WL, Leonard JN (2015). Spatial and functional heterogeneities shape collective behavior or tumor-immune networks. PLOS Computational Biology. 11(4): e1004181.

Daringer NM, Dudek RM, Schwarz KA, Leonard JN (2014) Modular Extracellular Sensor Architecture for Engineering Mammalian Cell-Based Devices. ACS Synthetic Biology. 3 (12): 892–902. (Special issue: Mammalian Synthetic Biology)

György B, Hung ME, Breakefield XO, Leonard JN (2014). Therapeutic applications of extracellular vesicles: Clinical promise and open questions. Annual Review of Pharmacology and Toxicology. 55:439-64.



Recent Photos

October 27, 2015