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Darrell J. Irvine, PhD

Professor, Biological Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering
Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, Massachusetts
EIF/Stand Up To Cancer

Current Research

  • Studies are aimed at improving the effectiveness of immunotherapy by studying the tumor ecosystem.
  • A Stand Up To Cancer Convergence team applies a multi-disciplinary approach to tumor biology.
  • This collaborative research will lead to approaches that modify the tumor environment to improve prevention and treatment outcomes.

Tumors grow in a diverse environment comprised of a variety of cells types, which make up the tumor microenvironment – TME. This environment can either promote or suppress tumor growth, but often times, tumor cells co-opt normal cells to their advantage. The Stand Up to Cancer/BCRF project team utilizes a variety of technologies and research approaches to understand the interactions between tumor cells and normal cells to identify potential therapeutic and prevention strategies.

Full Research Summary

Tumors consist not only of cancer cells, but also stromal and immune cells that constitute the tumor microenvironment (TME). The TME is an ecosystem of multiple cell populations, and the extracellular matrix (ECM) that they produce, that interact in a complex fashion to yield tissue form and function.

The SU2C team brings together expertise in high dimensional histology, image analysis, culturing cells from primary human breast tumors, 3D spheroids, bioinformatics, ecology modeling, and nanotechnology to study the ecology of the TME in breast cancer and develop therapeutic and imaging applications.

During the course of the BCRF-supported research, the SU2C team profiled stromal cells and epithelial cells from normal breast reduction samples.  By comparing the profiles of normal cells from BRCA1 carriers to non-BRCA carriers, they found early changes in cell compositions as well as molecular alterations in the mammoplasty reduction tissues of BRCA1 carriers. 

In the coming year, they will identify factors that promote the proliferation of mammary epithelial cells from BRCA1 carriers and test which pathways are critical for malignant growth. 

These studies will help underscore players involved in the heterogeneity of BRCA1-associated breast cancer as well as the identification of potential targets for cancer intervention.


Darrell Irvine, PhD, is a Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He also serves on the steering committee of the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard. His research is focused on the application of engineering tools to problems in cellular immunology and the development of new materials for vaccine and drug delivery. Current efforts are focused on problems related to vaccine development for HIV and immunotherapy of cancer. This interdisciplinary work has been recognized in numerous awards, including a Beckman young Investigator award, an NSF CAREER award, selection for Technology Review’s ‘TR35’, election as Fellow of the Biomedical Engineering Society, and appointment as an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He is the author of over 70 publications, reviews, and book chapters and an inventor on numerous patents.

Grid Researcher Headshot - Irvine

BCRF Investigator Since


Area(s) of Focus