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probes (red) localizing to blood vessels (green) within lung cancer tumors

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MIT News

Bhatia Lab researchers engineered nanoprobes for real-time tracking of tumor progression and treatment response using enzyme activity. Mapping this activity to precise locations within cancer tissue identified populations of cells linked to the recruitment and formation of blood vessels, one of the archetypal hallmarks of cancer.

Taking aim at multiple cancer hallmarks, their nanoprobes could be used both in the laboratory and the clinic as a non-invasive but comprehensive monitoring tool. Armed with detailed views into fundamental biological processes, the team hopes to create therapies that can be delivered to patients to disrupt the interactions between tumors and their environments.

The work appears in Nature Communications and was supported in part by the Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Fund for Cancer Research, the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program through a gift from Upstage Lung Cancer, the Koch Institute’s Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, and Johnson & Johnson.

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Gene Screen Reveals Unseen

MIT News

Genome-wide screens can be performed in cell culture models, but fail to capture important information from cells' native contexts. Seeking to address this shortfall, Kristin Knouse has developed a new high throughput technique that uses CRISPR to perform genome-wide screens in living mice. Described in Cell Genomics, the approach is accessible, scalable, and adaptable to diverse applications. She demonstrated the approach in a study of cell fitness genes in the mouse liver, which revealed insights not evident in cell culture, involving cellular interactions with molecules in the surrounding environment or immune cells. Her team plans to apply the new screening technique to liver regeneration, and could also use it to study conditions such as fatty liver disease and cirrhosis, which both can lead to liver cancer. 

Some Kind of Wunderful

STAT News

Congratulations to Sharp Lab postdoc Dig Bijay Mahat on being named to STAT's 2022 class of Wunderkinds. Recognized for his work advocating for vaccine equity in his home country of Nepal, Jay continues to channel his KI experience toward fundamental research and new tools for navigating public health crises, including cancer and Covid-19.

Deep Dives and Genetic Drives

Whitehead Institute

A study published in Cell describes the pooled screening approach behind 2021 Image Awards winner "Nucleotide Pool." The researchers, including KI member Paul Blainey, use visual and computational analysis to identify irregularities in core biological processes such as cell growth, division, and proliferation, and match them to specific genetic disruptions.

Precise Protein Production

MIT News

The Lu Lab has developed a CRISPR-based approach to precisely program gene expression in mammalian cells. The method, described in Nature Communications, works with high consistency across different cell types and target genes, and could help fine-tune the production of proteins such as monoclonal antibodies used to treat cancer and other diseases. 

Koehler Outside the Lines

MIT News

Angela Koehler is not an engineer, yet her appointment is in the Department of Biological Engineering. Focused on so-called “undruggable” targets for cancer, Koehler’s training as a chemical biologist allows her to think creatively about how to find and deploy small molecules that intervene in transcriptional processes, including those that influence tumor formation and growth. Her approach has led to several promising drug candidates and spin-out companies.

Introducing the Amon Award Winners

MIT Koch Institute

Cheers to the inaugural winners of the Koch Institute’s Angelika Amon Young Scientist Award, Alejandro Aguilera Castrejon (Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel) and Melanie de Almeida (Research Institute of Molecular Pathology, Austria). The new award recognizes graduate students in the life sciences or biomedical research from institutions outside the U.S. who embody Dr. Amon’s infectious enthusiasm for discovery science.

Funnel Vision

MIT News

The Weissman Lab solved the mystery of the function of MTCH2, a mitochondrial protein implicated in many diseases, including cancer. In a study published in Science, researchers found that MTCH2 acts as a funnel, shuttling various proteins (including those involved in programmed cell death) from the cytoplasm into the mitochondrial membrane. By introducing a mutation that makes MTCH2 more “greedy,” researchers made leukemia cells more sensitive to a cancer treatment.

Kornbluth Named MIT President

MIT News

Hearty congratulations and welcome to incoming MIT President Sally Kornbluth! As a cell biologist, Kornbluth’s research has focused on cell proliferation and programmed cell death, key processes in cancer and degenerative disorders. Her work has helped show how cancer cells evade programmed death and how metabolism regulates this process. As an administrator at Duke, Kornbluth is known as a creative problem-solver and inclusive leader, who can catalyze initiatives across disciplines. Overseeing basic and clinical research enterprises, she has spearheaded improvements to research resources, as well as training and recruitment efforts to expand access and diversity.

Sweet Success

MIT Chemistry

Congratulations to Laura Kiessling on being elected to the National Academy of Medicine, one of the highest honors in the field of health and medicine. Kiessling was elected for her work on interactions between proteins and glycans—sugar-based polymers coating the surface of cells—and for leveraging her findings for new therapeutic strategies.
 

Microparticles Masterpiece

J-WAFS at MIT

The Abdul Latif Jameel Water & Food Systems Lab recognized KI member Linzixuan (Rhoda) Zhang, a graduate student in the Jaklenec group in the Langer Lab, with Judges’ Choice Awards in the areas of “Potential for Impact” and “Recognizing the Role of Nutrition in Food Security.” Zhang’s research on micronutrient encapsulation also appears in in the 2022 Image Awards exhibition in the KI Public Galleries.