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Luke R

- Research Program Mentor

PhD at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)


Immunology, virology, genetic engineering, CRISPR, design gene therapy using CRISPR, create business model to start a biotech, create pitch deck to raise money for a biotech


Hey, my name is Luke Riggan. I received my PhD from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2021. My thesis work was completed in an immunology lab where we studied the role of Natural Killer (NK) cells during viral infection and cancer. Specifically my project determined which transcription factors (signals that turn genes on or off) control NK cell persistence and effector function during viral infection. I authored over a dozen articles, many of which are published in top journals such as Nature Immunology. In addition I am very interested in cancer immunotherapy, particularly NK cell based immunotherapies targeting cancer. I have written a review article which outlines the harsh environment a NK cell faces when it enters the the tumor micro environment. I currently work at a gene therapy start up In my free time I spend it being active either hiking, taking my dog (6 year old Samoyed) on adventures, camping, playing basketball, weight lifting or rock climbing.

Project ideas

Project ideas are meant to help inspire student thinking about their own project. Students are in the driver seat of their research and are free to use any or none of the ideas shared by their mentors.

Use CRISPR to design and insert a synthetic gene into human cells.

This project will teach you how to create a novel synthetic gene to express inside a human cell. This gene will be used to improve the function of a cell in a number of various ways. You will learn how to design the gene insert, clone the gene and perform the lab scientist work. We will use gene design software which is freely available to use for all my students.

Write a review article about your immune cell of choice and how it behaves during infection or against cancer.

Choose an important immune cell of choice such as a Natural Killer cell, T cell, B cell or dendritic cell. Together we will describe the journey this cell takes on its infection or tumor fighting mission. We will use other review and primary research articles to understand this process. We will then write an article outlining this process which will include graphics we can create using a free software that allows the generation of powerful and detailed biological processes.

Create an engineering plan: How to scale up CAR T cell manufacturing (huge bottleneck in the field)

Here we will dive into the difficult process known as upscaling to create cell therapies that can be used to fight cancer. Cell therapies known as "immunotherapies" are therapeutics in which a patients cancer fighting T or NK cells are taken from their blood, enhanced and expanded using a number of techniques and then re-infused into the patient in order to target their cancer. The process from doing this in a small scale to a large scale of millions to billions of engineered cells has a lot of challenges. We will generate an engineering plan to improve this process

Teaching experience

My most recent Polygence student published a review article in the Journal of Student Research, covering the Tumor Microenvironment. I have previously taught two undergraduate courses at UCLA including Immunology and Virology. I instructed students in 20-25 person group settings and also in one-on-one sessions. I enjoy teaching the fundamentals of biology as well as these more advanced immunology/virology sections. I have also tutored high school students in biology and chemistry.


Work experience

ImmunoVec (2022 - Current)
Director of Immunotherapy


University of Washington
BS Bachelor of Science (2016)
University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)
PhD Doctor of Philosophy (2021)

Completed Projects

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