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H. Kay Chung, PhD, is a UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center member whose research interests include synthetic biology, cancer immunology, and using translational medicine to redefine cancer therapeutics using molecular engineering.

Assistant Professor, Cell Biology and Physiology
UNC-Chapel Hill

Area of Interest

My research program is dedicated to harnessing the anti-tumor potential of the immune system through the lens of synthetic biology. T cells, including CAR-T variants, undergo differentiation into subsets with distinct functions, migration patterns, and memory capacities, influenced by the surrounding immunological context. Although our understanding of individual T cell states has increased considerably, a comprehensive systems-level understanding of the T cell state landscape remains elusive. Furthermore, the potential of synthetic biology to engineer the immunological “context” has not been fully realized. By capitalizing on our laboratory’s expertise in T cell differentiation and synthetic biology, we aim to enhance the immune system’s natural anti-tumor abilities by creating advanced platforms for artificial T cell differentiation pathways. We also anticipate that the next leap in T cell therapy will emerge from the combined efforts of bionic T cells and a remodeled Tumor Microenvironment (TME), which fosters favorable T cell differentiation through the use of engineered oncolytic viruses. Our research is concentrated on four pivotal areas: (1) Rewiring immune receptor signaling activation. (2) Utilizing single-cell CRISPR screening to discover and engineer cell reprogramming transcription factors. (3) Devising clinically viable synthetic biology tools for context-specific cell state programming. (4) Developing oncolytic viruses that encode powerful yet controllable immune and TME modulators. These pioneering efforts are set to not only demonstrate innovation but also offer broad applicability, potentially amplifying the efficacy of current T cell-based therapies. Ultimately, our work is geared toward the creation of bespoke immunotherapies for a wide spectrum of cancers, paving the way for more personalized and effective cancer treatments.

Find publications on PubMed

Awards and Honors

  • K01 Research Scientist Development Award, NIH, 2023
  • Keystone Symposia Future of Science Fund scholarship, Keystone Symposia, 2020
  • HHMI Hanna H. Gray Fellows Finalist, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 2019
  • Damon Runyon Fellowship Award, Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, 2019
  • Salk Women & Science Special Award, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, 2019
  • Hans Neurath Outstanding Promise Travel Award, The Hans Neurath Foundation, 2017
  • Mogam Science Fellowship, Mogam Science Scholarship Foundation, 2016
  • Excellence in Teaching Award, Department of Biology, Stanford University, 2014
  • Stanford Graduate Fellowship, Stanford University, 2013
  • The Finn World Travel Awards, The Protein Society, 2012
Headshot of H. Kay Chung.
  • Address

    UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center

    450 West Drive

    CB #7295

    Chapel Hill, NC 27599