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Vaccine Engineering Center (VEC)



  • Alex Sette, Dr. Biol.Sci., Center Head, Division Head, and Professor; Center for Infectious Disease
  • Sujan Shresta, Associate Projessor, Center for Infectious Disease
  • Chris Benedict, Associate Professor, Center for Infectious Disease
  • Eyal Raz, Professor of Medicine, Department of Rheumatology, Allergy & Immunology
  • Jiang Zhu, Associate Professor, Department of Immunology and Microbiology
  • Shane Crotty, Professor, Division of Vaccine Discovery
  • Liangfang Zhang, Professor, Department of Nanoengineering; Moores Cancer Center
  • Bjoern Peters, Associate Professor, Center for Infectious Disease
  • Nicole Steinmetz, Professor, Department of Nanoengineering; Moores Cancer Center
  • Richard Wyatt, Professor, Department of Immunology and Microbiology
  • Dennis Carson, Professor, Department of Medicine

The vision of the Vaccine Engineering Center (VEC) is to meet the need of using engineering approaches to discover novel antigens, epitopes, and adjuvants that can stimulate and manipulate the immune system, as well as their targeted delivery, for the prevention and treatment of important diseases such as cancer and infectious diseases. Vaccination is the single most successful and cost-effective intervention in medical history. However, many of the vaccines that we know and use were discovered more than 50 years ago. About 2 years ago, cancer vaccination moved from a theoretical concept to an actually working intervention. This became possible by manipulating the co-inhibitory receptors PD1 and CTLA4 with antibodies and recombinant fusion proteins.

Many vaccines are delivered by nanoparticles of specific sizes, degradation characteristics, targeted surface molecules, coatings and compositions. Another approach is to engineer virus-like particles. Both are significant research areas in nanotechnology.

Engineering adjuvants is another area where engineering expertise is needed, mainly chemical engineering and formulation science.

A third engineering challenge is epitope discovery: Tens of thousands of infectious organisms, autoantigens, cancer antigens and allergens contain millions of epitopes that can be presented to the immune system. Computer engineering challenges exist in curating and standardizing the existing data and aligning them with new data. Much of this is done by computer scientists and bioinformaticians in the Immune Epitope Database (IEDB), a national resource supported by a multi-million $ contract  from the NIH to La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology (LJI).

A new area in vaccination is the idea of protective autoimmunity, which may lead to vaccinations for autoimmune and other inflammatory diseases. The first example of this approach is the atherosclerosis vaccine. Much remains unknown in this exciting new area, including suitable adjuvants, formulations, and the need for priming and booster injections.

VEC concept


  • Antigen discovery
  • Engineered nanoparticles
  • Engineered adjuvants

Specific Areas of Study

  • Epitope discovery
    • MHC-II restricted (CD4)
    • MHC-I restricted (CD8)
    • CD1 restricted (NKT)
    • Tetramers/dextramers
  • Vaccine adjuvants
    • Th1 polarizing
    • Promoting highly neutralizing antibodies
    • Tolerogenic
    • Anti-allergic
    • Cancer vaccines
  • Nanoparticles
    • Composition
    • Size
    • Targeting
  • Virus-like particles (VLPs)
  • Passive immunization
  • Dendritic cell vaccines

Interactions With Other Centers

  • Center of Excellence for Nano-Medicine and Engineering (CNME): nanoparticles
  • Cardiac Biomedical Science and Engineering Center (CBSEC): atherosclerosis vaccine
  • Center for Multiscale Imaging of Living Systems (CMILS): basic science, biodistribution
  • Whitaker Center for Biomedical Engineering (WCBE): education
  • von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center: intellectual property, venture capital
  • Cancer Engineering Center: Cancer vaccines
  • There will also be interactions with the Department of Computer Science and Engineering regarding Epitope discovery algorithms

Medical Translation

  • Viral infections including CMV, Dengue, HIV, Ebola
  • Vaccines for bacterial infections like TBC, streptococcus spp.
  • Vaccines for parasites like malaria
  • Cancer vaccines for melanoma, many others
  • Atherosclerosis vaccine to prevent heart attacks, strokes, aneurysms
  • Allergen discovery for desensitization

Funding Opportunities

  • NIH:
    • multi-PI grants
    • PPG
    • NCRR
    • RFAs
    • Contracts (IEDB)\
  • Pharmaceutical industry:
    • Research contracts
    • Licensing
  • Biotech Industry:
    • Funding for IP
    • Startups


VEC Members 

View all researchers associated with VEC here