Hope restored: The critical role that Minimal Residual Disease can play in blood cancer patient care

A conversation with Girija Goyal, 2022 WISE Award winner


Girija Goyal, PhD​

Harvard University, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering

Research Summary: Animal models are not predictive of human clinical trials, but they were the only way to study the efficacy of vaccines in inducing a primary human B- and T-cell response. We have recently published a primary human lymph node organ chip (LN chip) which relies on blood derived cells to mimic lymphoid follicle formation and can mimic recall IgG response and CD8 response to influenza and COVID, as well as IgG induction against naïve antigens. With this support, we will compare the T- and B-cell repertoire on the LN chip to the in vivo repertoire and identify clones that expand in response to vaccination. This will allow to us to understand the limits of the system and mechanisms underlying successful vaccination and donor variability.

Established in 2020, our annual Women in Immune Science (WISE) Award supports women, and those who identify as women, pursuing innovative research in immunology. WISE Award recipients receive a grant of $15,000 towards the purchase of Adaptive’s immunosequencing services to assist in their research.

We recently spoke with Girija Goyal, PhD, at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, about her research into the use of human lymph node organ chips (LN chips) to replicate and study the human immune system’s response to infection and vaccination.

Adaptive Biotechnologies: How will this grant enhance your current research project?

Girija GoyalThe immune system is very complex given that each T- or B-cell can theoretically recognize a different antigen from pathogens, cancer, or the patient themselves. This arsenal is collectively called the “immune repertoire.” If activated under the right conditions, these immune cells will multiply and provide protection long-term. This grant will allow us to ask whether the organ chip model of the human lymph node we developed mimics the baseline immune repertoire of a patient and the changes that occur upon vaccination against influenza. Flu vaccines have been in use for a long time, and we know a lot about how the immune repertoire changes in response to them. Thus, this grant will allow us to benchmark our technology against real patient data and help us use it to develop new vaccines against multiple threats.

Adaptive: What impact do you see your research having on the field at large and what do you hope to achieve over the course of your career?

GirijaWith my work, I hope to reduce the gap between a drug or technology being developed in the lab and its success in clinical trials. Right now, new therapies cost billions of dollars to develop, yet more than 90% fail in the clinic. But if we could accurately model the complex interactions between our organs, the disseminated immune and nervous system, and our microbiome, we could make these failures the exception rather than the norm and reduce both the cost and time needed to develop a successful an effective therapy. We can also reveal how biological sex and genetic backgrounds affect responses to interventions, revealing which therapies work for which patients rather than trying therapies in mixed patient populations with mixed results or failures.

Adaptive: What advice do you have for women pursuing careers in science as they begin their careers and/or journeys?

GirijaI have three main points that I share with my mentees, irrespective of their gender:

  1. Your life and your science do not happen in isolation from each other. They affect each other in small and big ways. If you partied too hard the previous night, doing a complicated experiment the next morning is going to be a challenge. If you mismanage your time in lab, you might need to run an hours-long experiment that will prevent you from attending your sibling’s graduation. Plan for life and science both. Also, if you have or want to have a life partner, choose somebody who will support and enable your career expectations – and discuss that early in your relationship.
  2. From your earliest experiences such as undergrad summer research, it is important to be professional and to expect professional behavior from others. This demonstrates that you have self-respect and respect for the workplace, and a history of good behavior provides a solid foundation that can open the door to opportunities and help mitigate conflicts.
  3. Finally, a scientist relies on dozens of people who might not work in the lab to get their research done – people who keep the lights on in the building, submit grants, provide IT services, manage vendors, stock supply rooms, and countless other tasks. Explicitly thank those who enable your research – it reminds us to be grateful for all we have been given and affirms to your colleagues that their work is making a difference.

“As an early career independent investigator, I truly appreciate the support and visibility.”