In the News

Jacks Laboratory Develops Novel Mouse Model for Aggressive Thyroid Cancer

KI researchers from the Jacks Laboratory have developed and characterized a novel genetically engineered mouse that successfully models progression from papillary thyroid cancer, which has an excellent prognosis, to anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC), a highly lethal disease in need of scientific advances and therapeutic improvements. “The low incidence of the disease has hindered systematic clinical trials and tissue collection, and there has been little progress in developing effective therapies,” says KI postdoctoral researcher David McFadden, lead author of this work and also a thyroid cancer endocrinologist at the MGH Center for Endocrine Tumors. The new model, described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, recapitulates the hallmarks of the human disease and expands the limited repertoire of preclinical models of aggressive thyroid cancers. The study also shows that, in this model, combination treatment with MEK and BRAF inhibitors results in enhanced anti-tumor activity as compared to treatment with a BRAF inhibitor alone, suggesting that this combination could be useful as a component of treatment regimens in human ATC. The group is now taking advantage of this new mouse model to better understand why some thyroid cancers progress to ATC and get insights into mechanisms of resistance to therapies. “The goal is to stay one step ahead of the human clinical trials and be able to inform the design of these human trials with the mechanistic details learned from the mouse,” says McFadden. This work was supported by the National Cancer Institute, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and an American Thyroid Association Research Award. more...

KI Collaborators Edit Genes to Correct Genetic Diseases

Using a new gene-editing system known as CRISPR to replace mutated DNA with the correct sequence, KI engineers and biologists from the Anderson, Jacks, and Sharp Laboratories have cured mice of a rare liver disorder caused by a single mutation in an enzyme needed to break down the amino acid tyrosine. This collaborative work, described in Nature Biotechnology, offers the first evidence that this technology can reverse disease symptoms in living animals. The team believes that recent advances in the delivery of nucleic acid therapeutics provide hope that CRISPR-mediated correction of genetic diseases may be translatable to humans. The research was funded by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health, and the Marie D. and Pierre Casimir-Lambert Fund. more...

Biogen Idec Dedicates New Building to Phillip A. Sharp

On February 11, 2014, Biogen, now Biogen Idec, celebrated the return of its headquarters to Binney Street in Cambridge. When Biogen first opened in 1982, Kendall Square was almost deserted. Today, Kendall Square is a vibrant bioscience community clustered around MIT’s campus and densely populated by high-profile biotech companies, research institutes, and start-ups. Biogen Idec's ceremonies included the dedication of one of its new buildings to Biogen co-founder, KI faculty member and Institute Professor, Phillip A. Sharp. The honor couldn’t be more fitting: Sharp’s career, his startup Biogen, and MIT’s biotech community helped build Kendall Square and launch the area's unprecedented biotech revolution. The Koch Institute is proud to be a part of this legacy; over the last five years, KI faculty members have formed 18 new companies, many of which are located in Kendall Square.

Coinciding with this dedication, MIT News recently featured Sharp’s scientific career, his finding the perfect environment at MIT's Center for Cancer Research, and his contributions to usher in MIT's “golden age” of biology. more...

The Many Elements of Stephen Lippard

The life, career, and far-reaching scientific influence of KI faculty member Stephen Lippard were featured in the March 17th cover story of Chemical & Engineering News. The profile details Lippard’s years of innovation and mentoring, which led to his earning the 2014 Priestley Medal, the American Chemical Society’s highest award, and MIT's James R. Killian Jr. Faculty Achievement Award, among many others.

A dedicated bioinorganic chemist—and an experienced harpsichord player—Lippard has mentored more than 100 graduate students, 170 postdocs, and countless undergraduates. Lippard's multidisciplinary research spans metalloenzymes, platinum-based cancer drugs, and molecular neuroscience, and is made all the more powerful by his commitment to collaboration, in the laboratory and at home. “Many of my contributions relied upon an important collaborator to teach me things I didn’t know,” he says. While supporting students and scientists, Lippard lost his own source of support, his wife Judy, to cancer last year. “It takes a special kind of person to be married to a scientist,” Lippard reflects. more...

Two Diseases, One Drug

Studies have suggested for years that certain drugs for treating diabetes, called biguanides, are associated with anti-cancer properties. Yet, how and for whom these drugs may be beneficial remained unknown. Researchers in the laboratory of KI faculty member David Sabatini have now discovered a major metabolic pathway that provides cancer cells with the ability to proliferate in low-glucose environments and is inhibited by biguanides. The team’s results, recently published in Nature, show that defects in this pathway make cancer cells more sensitive to glucose limitation. These defects, as well as impaired glucose utilization, are potential biomarkers for predicting which tumors will be more sensitive to biguanides. This work was funded in part by the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program. more...

Genetic Road Map from the Jacks Laboratory Reveals Potential New Targets for SCLC

Koch Institute biologists, including KI Director and David H. Koch Professor of Biology, Tyler Jacks, and KI postdocs David McFadden and Thales Papagiannakopoulos, have collaborated with geneticists from the Broad Institute to perform the most comprehensive genetic analysis to date of lung cancer progression and growth using a genetically-defined mouse model of small cell lung cancer (SCLC). The findings, recently published in Cell, identify new drug targets and offer deeper insight into the evolution and spread of SCLC, which is strongly associated with heavy tobacco use.
 
The investigators took advantage of key features of the mouse model, including the absence of exposure to cigarette smoke that contributes to the very high number of mutations observed in human SCLC tumors. By isolating DNA from tumors at different times and analyzing the genetic alterations that occur, the team discovered that early on, tumors produce many copies of a gene called Mycl1, which is known to promote tumor cell proliferation. Over time, cancer cells go on to lose a gene called Pten, which regulates a critical pathway that controls growth and survival. The loss of Pten allows tumor cells to grow very rapidly.
 
By comparing the genomes of cells from the original lung tumors and from tumors that later appeared in other sites, the researchers also analyzed how the cancer migrated to remote sites beyond the lung. They found that multiple subsets of tumor cells from the lung moved to the lymph nodes, whereas usually only a single subset spread from the lymph nodes to the liver. Continued genetic analysis will help identify the specific mutations associated with both metastasis and drug resistance in these tumors.
 
The study was funded by the Ludwig Center for Molecular Oncology at MIT, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the National Human Genome Research Institute, a National Institutes of Health-National Cancer Institute Career Development Award, and a Hope Funds for Cancer Research Fellowship. more...

Behind the Music with Michael Hemann

KI faculty member Michael Hemann, the Eisen and Chang Career Development Associate Professor of Biology at MIT, is hitting all the right notes in his quest to develop better ways to deploy chemotherapy. The Hemann Laboratory uses innovative approaches to discover how tumors develop resistance to chemotherapeutics and to identify genetic markers that can predict the success or failure of cancer treatments. What many people don’t know about Ohio native Michael Hemann, however, is that he once dreamed of becoming a museum curator. As part of a new series featuring recently tenured professors, MIT News sat down with Hemann to discuss his career, his research, and his passion for music. An avid bass guitar player, Hemann compares his role as a principal investigator in the lab with that of the bass guitar locking in the way a band sounds. “It’s my job to keep things together and let the rest of them be virtuosos,” he says. His approach seems to be working—he and his colleagues have already begun developing new combination therapies to overcome drug resistance. And that just plain rocks! more...

Hynes Lab Identifies Extracellular Proteins that Help Tumors Metastasize

KI faculty member and Daniel K. Ludwig Professor for Cancer Research Richard Hynes and a group of colleagues led by KI postdoc Alexandra Naba have discovered that certain proteins in the extracellular matrix, the supportive scaffold that gives tissues their structure, help cancer cells escape their original locations to spread through the body. The researchers identified dozens of proteins that surround highly metastatic breast cancer tumors, but not less aggressive tumors, and found that four of those proteins are critical to metastasis. The findings, which appear in the journal eLife, could lead to new tests that predict which tumors are most likely to metastasize, and may also help to identify new therapeutic targets for metastatic tumors. “In principle, one could imagine interfering with some of these extracellular proteins and blocking metastasis in a patient. We’re a long way from that, but it’s not inconceivable,” says Hynes. The researchers are now looking for extracellular matrix proteins that are overexpressed in metastatic colon and pancreatic cancers, and are also studying the role of extracellular matrix proteins in tissues to which tumors often metastasize. more...

Belcher's Work Featured in The Economist

KI faculty member and recent MIT-Lemelson Award winner Angela Belcher was featured in the March 8th issue of The Economist. The profile provides an overview of Belcher’s career and her multidisciplinary and eclectic research work, which spans batteries, digital touch-screens, cleanup of industrial wastewater, and new cancer-seeking viruses to detect and potentially treat cancer at its early stage. Belcher’s trademark toolkit is behind this broad array of applications: using genetically engineered microorganisms to manufacture new materials and devices. Her work making biodegradable batteries from viruses was also featured this month in The New Scientist. “There are so many areas we would like to be involved in, but we can’t do them all,” Belcher says. more...

Hammond Joins National “We The Geeks” Online STEM Discussion in Honor of Black History Month

Last February, KI faculty member and David H. Koch Professor in Engineering Paula Hammond participated in a live White House Google+ Hangout entitled “We the Geeks: Celebrating Black History Month.” The online conversation, hosted by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, brought together seven African American STEM innovators and educators to talk about how this country’s STEM workforce can be broadened, diversified, and strengthened.
 
Hammond described her childhood excitement for science, inspired by her high school chemistry class. “The magic of chemistry got me excited…that you can have something that never existed before by putting two things that are very different together,” she said. She also discussed her current research on nanomaterials—materials the size of one strand of hair split 10,000 times, she explained— including her work on nanoparticles that can deliver cancer treatments specifically to target tumor cells while avoiding healthy ones. more...