The David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MITThe David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

National Cancer Institute Cancer Center

Science + Engineering... Conquering Cancer Together

MIT/Mayo Physical Sciences Center for Drug Distribution and Drug Efficacy in Brain Tumors

A central goal of the MIT/Mayo PS-OC is to model the physical and physico-chemical factors that govern drug distribution into brain tumors. Integrated with precision medicine strategies to define key molecular vulnerabilities based on genomic analyses, our multi-scale modeling analysis of drug distribution could be instrumental in identifying corresponding targeted therapeutics with the highest likelihood of optimal drug distribution across the entire tumor cell population in an individual brain tumor. Given the complex and daunting nature of this critically important clinical task, we have assembled a team of physical scientists, engineers, and oncologists with a wide range of expertise spanning cutting-edge imaging, systems biology, computational modeling, and neurooncology.  This team is organized into two highly integrated Research Projects and two shared Resource Cores.  Administration of these activities, along with future Pilot Projects and trans-PS-OC projects will be accomplished by the Administration Core, while the Education and Outreach Core will ensure the communication and extension of these activities to the larger physical oncology community.


Project 1 - Modeling the interface between non-invasive imaging and drug distribution (Swanson, Hu, Ma, Parney) is led by Dr. Kristin Swanson, an expert on mathematical modeling of brain tumor imaging with regards to tumor distribution and patterns of tumor growth. This project aims to merge classic pharmacokinetics, MR imaging and 3-dimensional (3D) drug delivery measurements in animal models and in human tumors to define critical physical parameters that govern macroscopic drug distribution at the level of tumor tissue.

Project 2 – Tumor Characteristics and their effect on therapeutic distribution and efficacy (Agar, White, Tran) is co-led by Drs. Agar and White, experts in the application of mass spectrometry to evaluate 3D drug distribution and the impact of drug therapy on signaling network perturbation, respectively. This second project will focus on identifying key determinants that drive the cellular and sub-cellular distribution of drug within a tumor tissue and defining the effects of drug distribution on signaling and transcriptional networks and the corresponding cellular response.


The team includes expertise in computational modeling, cancer biology, imaging, and systems biology.

Principal Investigator: Forest M. White, PhD, is a Professor in the Department of Biological Engineering at MIT, where he serves as co-Chair of the Biological Engineering Graduate Program.  He is a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and the Center for Environmental Health Sciences at MIT.

Jann Sarkaria, MD is a physician-scientist and Professor of Radiation Oncology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Nathalie Y.R. Agar, PhD is the founding Director of the Surgical Molecular Imaging Laboratory (SMIL) in the Department of Neurosurgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Associate Professor of Neurosurgery and of Radiology at Harvard Medical School.

Terry C. Burns, MD, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Neurologic Surgery and Neuroscience at Mayo Clinic Rochester and is a member of the Neuro-Oncology Program within the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center.

William F. Elmquist, PhD, is Professor and Director of the Brain Barriers Research Center, at the University of Minnesota, Department of Pharmaceutics.

Leland S. Hu, MD, is an Assistant Professor in Radiology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and serves as an attending Neuroradiologist at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona.

Douglas A. Lauffenburger, PhD, is Ford Professor of Bioengineering and (founding) Head of the Department of Biological Engineering at MIT. Professor Lauffenburger also holds appointments in the Department of Biology and the Department of Chemical Engineering, is a member of the Center for Biomedical Engineering, Center for Environmental Health Sciences, Center for Gynepathology Research, and Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

Ian F. Parney, MD, PhD, is Associate Professor and Vice-Chair (Research) of the Department of Neurosurgery at Mayo Clinic Rochester where he is also a member of the Department of Immunology and the Neuro-Oncology Program of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center. 

Kristin Swanson, MD, PhD, is Professor and Vice Chair of the department of Neurological Surgery. She also holds appointments at Arizona State University and the Translational Genomics Institute.

Nhan L. Tran, PhD, is a Professor in the Department of Research and Cancer Biology at Mayo Clinic Arizona.

K. Dane Wittrup, PhD, is Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering and a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT.

For more information, visit the MIT/Mayo PS-OC website.