Synthetic and systems biology principles in the design of programmable oncolytic virus immunotherapies for glioblastoma

Dileep D. Monie, Archis R. Bhandarkar, Ian F. Parney, Cristina Correia, Jann N. Sarkaria, Richard G. Vile, Hu Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Oncolytic viruses (OVs) are a class of immunotherapeutic agents with promising preclinical results for the treatment of glioblastoma (GBM) but have shown limited success in recent clinical trials. Advanced bioengineering principles from disciplines such as synthetic and systems biology are needed to overcome the current challenges faced in developing effective OV-based immunotherapies for GBMs, including off-target effects and poor clinical responses. Synthetic biology is an emerging field that focuses on the development of synthetic DNA constructs that encode networks of genes and proteins (synthetic genetic circuits) to perform novel functions, whereas systems biology is an analytical framework that enables the study of complex interactions between host pathways and these synthetic genetic circuits. In this review, the authors summarize synthetic and systems biology concepts for developing programmable, logic-based OVs to treat GBMs. Programmable OVs can increase selectivity for tumor cells and enhance the local immunological response using synthetic genetic circuits. The authors discuss key principles for developing programmable OV-based immunotherapies, including how to 1) select an appropriate chassis, a vector that carries a synthetic genetic circuit, and 2) design a synthetic genetic circuit that can be programmed to sense key signals in the GBM microenvironment and trigger release of a therapeutic payload. To illustrate these principles, some original laboratory data are included, highlighting the need for systems biology studies, as well as some preliminary network analyses in preparation for synthetic biology applications. Examples from the literature of state-of-the-art synthetic genetic circuits that can be packaged into leading candidate OV chassis are also surveyed and discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalNeurosurgical focus
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • cancer immunotherapy
  • glioblastoma
  • oncolytic virus
  • synthetic biology
  • systems biology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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