Biomaterials as Local Niches for Immunomodulation


Adu-Berchie K, Mooney DJ. Biomaterials as Local Niches for Immunomodulation. Acc Chem Res. 2020;53 (9) :1749-1760.

Date Published:

2020 09 15


A major function of the immune system is to detect threat from foreign invaders, tissue damage, or cancer and to mount a counter response that resolves the threat, restores homeostasis, and supplies immunological memory to prevent a second assault. Our increasing understanding of the immune system has opened up numerous avenues for modulating immune responses against infections, cancer, and autoimmunity. However, agents used for immunomodulation have been traditionally administered systemically via bolus injection, leading to unintended consequences by disrupting homeostasis at nontarget sites. Consequently, systemic hyperactivation and hypoactivation can result from bolus administration of immune-activators and immunosuppressants, respectively. Macroscale biomaterial scaffolds can instead be placed at the intended target site to provide both localized, controlled release of immunomodulatory agents and control over local immune cell trafficking and function, potentially maximizing therapeutic efficacy and limiting systemic exposure. These scaffolds have found utility in the area of cancer immunotherapy, especially cancer vaccination where controlled release of factors such as granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and the local presentation of tumor antigen and danger signals lead to the recruitment of immature dendritic cells and facilitate their activation and antigen presentation. These cells eventually migrate into secondary lymphoid organs where they prime tumor specific T cells for downstream tumor clearance. Scaffolds can also be used in adoptive T cell therapy to generate large numbers of potent antigen specific T cells or chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells in vitro for subsequent delivery to patients. Macroscale biomaterial scaffolds have also found utility beyond cancer immunotherapy and have been developed to promote immune tolerance by regulatory T cell induction and to expedite tissue regeneration. The design of these macroscale biomaterial scaffolds considers their biocompatibility, biodegradability, mode of delivery, porosity, and kinetics of therapeutic cargo release. Consequently, the numerous approaches that have been developed to fabricate biomaterial scaffolds are aimed at tuning these parameters to achieve the desired therapeutic outcome. This Account will discuss the use of biomaterial scaffolds as niches for immunomodulation and will focus on (1) approaches that have been used to fabricate various biomaterial systems being employed as niches for immunomodulation and (2) how these biomaterial systems have been used to modulate immune responses, specifically in area of cancer immunotherapy, where we will discuss the role of macroscale biomaterial scaffolds for vaccination and in vitro T cell expansion. We will also briefly discuss the utility of biomaterial scaffolds beyond cancer, drawing examples from tolerance and tissue regeneration.