In the News

Flash Mob

Cancer Immunotherapy Gets Flashy

Pom-poms, foam fingers, umbrellas, T-shirts, whistles…all the ingredients the KI community needs to hack the immune system to fight cancer. On April 25, approximately 180 friends, colleagues, and strangers gathered to turn cutting-edge biotechnology into a larger-than-life battle behind the KI building as part of the annual Cambridge Science Festival. Documented with words and video, the third annual biology flash mob was a smashing success, educating students and adults alike about the promise of adoptive T cell transfer and cancer immunotherapy. Well, maybe not such a success for the redshirts, who, as cancer cells, suffered a rather humiliating defeat at the hands T cells' aforementioned pom-poms and foam fingers…but at least they had fun. more...

Celebrating Anniversaries at the Koch Institute

June 1974…1964…1944…cancer research historians, time travelers, and fans of the number four thrilled at the convergence of special anniversaries occurring at MIT in June 2014. This year marked 40 years since MIT’s official foray into cancer research, and we celebrated with a formal program saluting advances made by members of our cancer research community and raising a glass to the progress yet to come. Among those honored were KI members Robert Weinberg, Daniel K. Ludwig Professor for Cancer Research and director of the KI’s Ludwig Center for Molecular Oncology—who was himself celebrating his 50th undergraduate MIT reunion—and Institute Professor Phillip Sharp—who turned 70 that day. Celebrations extended into the following week, when Sharpies reconnected at the Sharp Lab’s 40th reunion. Commemorating decades of discovery in the Sharp Lab, touching speeches and hilarious musical interludes proved true Sharp’s assertion that “culture is more important than strategy.” Here’s to another well-cultured 40 years! more...

Lees & Weinberg Tackle Unanswered Questions

Jacqueline Lees, associate director of the Koch Institute and professor of biology, and Robert Weinberg, Daniel K. Ludwig Professor for Cancer Research and director of the KI’s Ludwig Center for Molecular Oncology, each tackled a still-unanswered question about cancer biology in the July issue of Scientific American. Lees weighs in on the potential role of inflammation after cancer treatment and surgery in waking up dormant cancer cells, which in turn could interact with nearby normal cells and restart a tumor. According to Lees, the right sequence of drugs could suppress this interaction. When it comes to understanding the mechanisms underlying the metastasis process, Weinberg points out that how cancer cells adapt and survive in a new tissue after leaving the primary tumor site remains unknown. He hypothesizes that this process results from significant changes in gene expression. Inquiries like these help spark the bold new cancer treatment approaches in development at the KI. more...

Nisarg Shah & Stephen Morton

Small Particles, Big Collaborations

Layer by layer, Hammond Lab trainees Stephen Morton and Nisarg Shah work individually and collaboratively to develop nanoparticles for hard-to-treat cancers. Morton focuses on drug delivery (see some of his nanoparticles here), and has been part of several studies that have demonstrated progress in fighting aggressive cancers, such as a triple-negative breast cancer project with the Yaffe Lab and non-small cell lung cancer with the Jacks Lab. Shah’s work centers on bone tissue, which poses special problems for joint replacement as well as cancer treatment. In the lab, he has assembled nanolayered coatings that help new bone tissue to grow into implants, forming a tighter bond. He and Morton are now adapting that approach for nanoparticle drug delivery to bone cancer or bone metastases. Partnerships like theirs typify the KI’s collaborative approach to cancer research. more...

Langer wins Kyoto Prize, Biotechnology Heritage Award

On June 20, the Inamori Foundation in Japan announced that Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor, won the Kyoto Prize for Advanced Technology in the Biotechnology and Medical Technology field. The Kyoto Prize is presented annually to those who have made significant contributions to the “scientific, cultural, and spiritual betterment of mankind.” Langer was specifically recognized as an interdisciplinary pioneer in the fields of medicine and engineering. He will receive his prize in Kyoto on Nov. 10. more...

Cancer pathways

YAP, YAP, YAP: Talking About Cancer Pathways

Researchers, including co-senior authors Tyler Jacks, KI director and David H. Koch Professor of Biology, and William Hahn of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute, report in Cell that in cancers driven by the oncogene KRAS, a backup genetic path could allow cancer cells to survive even if the KRAS gene were turned off. This backup path involves YAP1, a gene that produces regulatory proteins. When KRAS was turned off in cancer cells in the lab, YAP1 gene expression replaced the need for KRAS and enabled them to survive. Furthermore, the study revealed that YAP1 is necessary for KRAS-driven cells to become cancerous, and that the ability for KRAS-driven cancers to become drug resistant may result from the interaction between the two oncogenes. “This study demonstrates the importance of the complex signaling pathways that cancer cells use to stay viable and proliferate,” says Jacks. “It also shines light on the YAP pathway as a potential target of anti-cancer therapy.” more...

Sights Set on Ovarian Cancer

With her sights set on ovarian cancer, KI faculty member Paula Hammond is using her expertise in nanoparticles to develop a delivery system rapidly applicable in the clinic. “Ovarian cancer in particular is compelling to me because it’s one of the few cancers where we haven’t made real progress in 30 or 40 years, so that the death rates are still the same,” says Hammond, David H. Koch Professor in Engineering. With support from a Teal Innovator Award, and in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Hammond is developing sophisticated nanoparticles to deliver siRNA and siRNA/chemotherapy treatments that will enable clinicians to provide personalized treatments for advanced stage ovarian cancer patients. In conjunction with this research, Hammond and the Koch Institute will host Bridging the Gap in Ovarian Cancer on Sept. 16, a special symposium for ovarian cancer patients, survivors, family members, advocates, and other concerned members of the public. more...

KI Symposium Celebrates RNA Renaissance

On June 13, more than 1,000 cancer researchers, RNA biologists, clinical oncologists, and others gathered at the 13th annual KI Summer Symposium to hear updates on the latest breakthroughs in the creation of RNA-based gene-editing tools and the development and delivery of RNA-cancer medicines. Recent research successes have led to renewed optimism for the use of RNA-based therapies for cancer treatment, and KI investigators and research partners are playing notable roles in this resurgence. Symposium speakers included KI members Daniel Anderson, Sangeeta Bhatia, Laurie Boyer, and Phillip Sharp. more...

Basic Research: The Bedrock of MIT

“Basic research is the bedrock of MIT—and the foundation for tomorrow.” This rationale for supporting basic research, made in the latest issue of SPECTRVM, certainly rings true at the KI. The spirit of curiosity behind basic research allows investigators to delve into unanswered problems, forging a path that connects discovery and application of knowledge. “People think of basic and applied research as separate, but it’s an extremely important mix,” says KI member Ram Sasisekharan. “To have a higher probability of success in the applied arena, it’s extremely important to be well-grounded in the basic mechanism of the targets we’re after.” more...

I Love the Bright Life

The KI has been turning heads in Cambridge’s thriving biotech community this spring. On June 5, the KI hosted a TEDxCambridge simulcast and the evening's Innovation Lab, which showcased new technologies by local innovators. Among the featured exhibitors were the Manalis and Belcher Labs, sharing new tools and devices for cancer detection and analysis with guests from all three host venues. Several hundred visitors passed through the KI Public Galleries and auditorium that night, generating buzz, tweets, and new insights about the intersection of science, engineering, and entrepreneurship. more...