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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

lung cancer cells

Age of Senescence

The Hemann and Walker labs previously discovered that the compound JH-RE-06 enhanced the tumor-shrinking effects of DNA-damaging chemotherapies. While they expected JH-RE-06 to amplify programmed cell death induced by DNA damage, two studies appearing in PNAS showed that JH-RE-06, or genetically ablating the pathway targeted by JH-RE-06, instead puts tumor cells in a permanently dormant state known as senescence. Because senescent cells are often cleared by immune cells, these findings suggest a complementary approach to traditional chemotherapies.  more...

Growing Evidence

In a biorxiv paper posted two days before Amon’s passing, researchers in her group, with collaborators in the Lees and Yilmaz labs, illuminate the relationship between stem cell size and function, and tissue aging. Despite great variability in cell size and shape between tissues, stem cells are invariably small. The Amon lab’s studies present evidence that small size is critical for hematopoietic stem cell function. Analyses of these cells also showed that they get progressively bigger with organismal aging, and that the larger stem cells are less functional. These findings suggest that large size causes stem cell function to decline during aging. This work was partly supported by the MIT Stem Cell Initiative. more...

cover of the journal structure

Freeze Frame

The KI’s Robert A. Swanson (1969) Biotechnology Center regularly adapts and evolves specialized techniques and technologies. In a cover-winning Structure paper, researchers from the Peterson (1957) Nanotechnology Materials Core Facility have developed a new 3D imaging workflow that integrates three imaging approaches to visualize the same sample at cryogenic temperature at different scales, providing a unique view into features of cell structure. Demonstrated in yeast, the process could be used for large-scale studies of frozen specimens in healthy, diseased, and therapeutic conditions. Currently, the research team is the only one in the US with the specific technological capabilities—volume cryo-focused ion beam scanning electron microscopy, cryo-fluorescence confocal microscopy, and transmission cryo-electron tomography—to run this entire workflow. more...

two men working at lab benches

Vaccine Around Town

Spectrum showcases two cancer- and pandemic-relevant research projects in their COVID-19-themed fall issue. Love Lab researchers are optimizing their rapid vaccine development platform to accelerate the advancement and production of COVID-19 vaccine candidates. The Chen Lab is exploring vaccine enhancement agents to improve immune response and decrease inflammation. more...

Diagram of cell cycle

Positive Signals

Results were recently announced from a Phase 2 trial, launched with support from the Bridge Project, to test a synergistic drug combination identified in the Yaffe lab. Patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer were assigned one of three different dosing schedules; the majority saw improved or stable disease in all three groups. Additionally, the team has identified a biomarker associated with therapeutic response. more...

2020 Karches Mentorship Prize Open for Nominations

The Peter Karches Mentorship Prize is awarded annually to up to four trainees or early career technicians serving as mentors to high school and undergraduate students while working in KI laboratories. Nominations must be submitted to ki-fellowships@mit.edu by noon, Thursday, December 10, 2020.   more...

Foundation Medicine logo

Companion Diagnostics Approved

Foundation Medicine, co-founded by KI member Eric Lander, has announced two FDA approvals for two of its diagnostic tools—a blood-based biopsy to identify patients with BRCA1, BRCA2, and/or ATM alterations in metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer, and a genomic test to seek out patients who express the NTRK1/2/3 gene fusions in a range of solid tumors. more...

Angelika Amon

Remembering Angelika 

The Koch Institute mourns the loss and honors the life of Angelika Amon, professor of biology and Kathleen and Curtis (1963) Marble Professor of Cancer Research, who died on October 29, 2020, at age 53, following a two-and-a-half-year battle with ovarian cancer. A pioneer in the study of aneuploidy, Amon made profound contributions to our understanding of the fundamental biology of the cell and the role of chromosome mis-segregation in cancer. Throughout her career, she inspired others with her characteristic perseverance, curiosity, and enthusiasm for discovery, and her broad interest in the world around her. Amon was a dedicated mentor and a fearless advocate for science and the rights of women and minorities. Her deep network of scientific collaborations and friendships reflects the light and passion she brought to every endeavor, both in and beyond the laboratory. Notes Koch Institute director Tyler Jacks, “Angelika was a force of nature... and has made an incredible impact on the world—one that will last long into the future.” more...

Convergence by the Book

Congratulations to KI member Susan Hockfield, MIT President Emerita, whose book The Age of Living Machines has been honored with a 2020 Science Communication Award from the American Institute of Physics. The awards recognize writers' efforts to improve the general public's appreciation of the physical sciences, astronomy, math, and related scientific fields. Hockfield's narrative celebrates the people and science stories behind the “convergence revolution." more...

convergence scholars logo with photos of researchers above and below it

Introducing the 2020-2021 Convergence Scholars

The Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine and the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine are pleased to announce the 2020-2021 class of Convergence Scholars. The Convergence Scholars Program (CSP) provides postdoctoral trainees with opportunities to further their experiences and skills beyond the research laboratory. Scholars will learn more about science project development, policy, technology transfer, education and outreach, business and finances, industry, and the clinic. more...

Jacks to Step Down

Tyler Jacks will step down from his role as director, pending selection of his successor. Jacks, a David H. Koch Professor of Biology and Daniel K. Ludwig Scholar, has served as director for more than 19 years, first for the MIT Center for Cancer Research (CCR) and then for its successor, the Koch Institute. 

“Tyler Jacks turned the compelling idea to accelerate progress against cancer by bringing together fundamental biology, engineering know-how, and clinical expertise, into the intensively collaborative environment that is now the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research,” says Susan Hockfield who, as then-MIT President, strongly supported the Koch Institute’s formation. “His extraordinary leadership has amplified the original idea into a paradigm-changing approach to cancer, which now serves as a model for research centers around the world.”

During his tenure, Jacks and his colleagues shepherded the creation of numerous centers and programs to support cross-disciplinary research in high-impact areas and expedite translation from the bench to the clinic. Institude Professor Phillip Sharp, a Nobel laureate and himself a former director of the CCR, will lead the search for the next director of the Koch Institute, with guidance from noted leaders in MIT’s cancer research community.

After Jacks steps down, he will continue his research in the areas of cancer genetics and immune-oncology and his teaching, while also stewarding the Bridge Project into its second decade. more...

illustration of peptide binding on the surface of yeast

Binders Keepers

The Birnbaum Lab has developed a new platform that may help researchers better understand and predict how the immune system recognizes pathogens and cancerous cells. Described in Nature Communications, the platform identifies peptides able to bind class II major histocompatibility complexes (MHC-II), molecules that present protein fragments on cell surfaces. If CD4+ helper T cells recognize these complexes, they activate the immune response. The yeast-display-based approach has identified more unique MHC-II binders than comparable approaches, paving the way for improved accuracy of MHC-II binding prediction algorithms. The technology can be used to guide future selection of targets for CD4+ T cell recognition in cancer and beyond. more...

Á la CAR-T

The Chen Lab has identified a promising target for CAR-T cell-based therapies for acute myeloid leukemia (AML). CAR-T cell-based therapies have produced remarkable responses in patients with certain blood cancers, but translating that success to other cancers has proven challenging, due partly to off-target toxicity and the development of resistance to the treatment. In a study appearing in Nature Biomedical Engineering, researchers circumvented both of these outcomes in cell lines and mouse models of AML by targeting a mutant form of the gene NPM1c that is only expressed in cancer cells. The Chen Lab will adapt this approach to target NPM1c using natural killer cells (CAR-NK), with support from the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program through the Michael (1957) and Inara Erdei Fund and the Kathy and Curt Marble Cancer Research Fund. more...

illustration of improved resolution using SeqWell S3 technology

SeqWell S3: Better Than the Original

Shalek and Love Lab researchers have increased the resolution on their signature high-throughput single-cell RNA-sequencing platform using a simple molecular biology trick known as "second-strand synthesis." The new and improved Seq-Well S3, described in Immunity, provides a five- and tenfold increase in identification of genes and RNA transcripts, respectively, and was applied to characterize various inflammatory skin conditions. The team is also using the technology to profile cancer cells, supported in part by the Bridge Project. more...

Breaking Up Isn't Hard to Do

Cell division may look like hard work, but a team led by the Manalis Lab and including the Vander Heiden and Yaffe Labs found that mitosis may take much less energy than expected. In a study appearing in Nature Communications, researchers measured the membrane potential of mitochondria (the powerhouses of the cell) at single-cell resolution and then, using an “electrical circuit” mathematical model, estimated that mitochondria produce ATP (the cell’s primary fuel) about half as quickly during mitosis than outside mitosis.

This study was supported in part by the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program through the Kathy and Curt Marble Cancer Research Fund, the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine, the Lustgarten Foundation, and the Ludwig Center at MIT. more...

Michael Birnbaum at a laptop

NIH Honors Transformative Potential

Congratulations to Michael Birnbaum on receipt of a National Institutes of Health New Innovators Award for his work using peptide-MHC lentivirus display to identify repertoire-scale T cell antigens. Administered through the High Risk, High Reward program, the award celebrates highly innovative and unusually impactful research by extraordinarily creative early career scientists. Birnbaum, who joined the Koch Institute faculty in 2016, uses protein engineering, structural biology, and bioinformatics to understand and manipulate immune-cell recognition and signaling. more...

Rising Stars

Endpoints named Kronos Bio as one of 11 most promising startups in biotech. Built on high-throughput screening techniques developed by MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine member Angela Koehler, the company takes aim at “undruggable” cancer targets. Skyhawk, which draws on the research and expertise of several KI members, also made the list. more...

Advancing AI in Medicine

KI member Regina Barzilay is the first-ever winner of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence’s Squirrel AI Award for Artificial Intelligence for the Benefit of Humanity, a new $1 million prize to honor individuals whose work in the field has had a transformative impact on society. Barzilay is being recognized for her work building machine learning models to develop antibiotics and other drugs, and to detect and diagnose breast cancer at early stages. In 2019 she spoke at the Koch Institute’s with/in/sight lecture series about her collaboration with MGH’s Constance Lehmann to improve mammography through artificial intelligence and co-chaired the Koch Institute's annual summer symposium, on the integration of machine learning and cancer research. In addition to her own laboratory research, she is also working to make her diagnostic tools available for underprivileged populations around the world. more...

immunohistochemical image of an ovarian tumor

Cornering Cancer

Koch Institute researchers are teaming up to put p53-mutated cancers in a corner by targeting multiple genes at once to create a new approach called “augmented synthetic lethality.” Mutations in the p53 tumor suppressor gene (present in most cancers) enable tumor cells to develop resistance to widely-used platinum-based chemotherapies. Building on previous work in the Yaffe Lab that identified MK2 as a synthetic lethal partner to p53, the group has now been able to further enhance the tumor-shrinking effects of platinum-based anti-cancer drugs by adding a new target, the gene XPA.  In the study, appearing in Nature Communications, Yaffe lab researchers used nanoplexes developed in the Hammond Lab to deliver MK2- and XPA-blocking siRNAs to tumors in mouse models of non-small cell lung cancer that were originally developed in the Jacks and Hemann Labs. more...

Toni-Ann Nelson headshot

Campus Shuts Down, Nelson Steps Up

Toni-Ann Nelson, an undergraduate researcher from Alcorn State University, has been working with MSRP-Bio and Jacks Lab graduate student Amanda Cruz to understand the genetic underpinnings of non-small cell lung cancer...in unexpectedly quantitative ways. Thanks to the MIT campus closure, Nelson has developed a new computational skillset that will help transform her lifelong passion for cancer research into new cancer biology pathways. more...

Rapid Transite Accelerates Computational Analysis

Members of the Yaffe group have been developing computational methods to examine RNA-binding proteins as a class of molecules that might broadly be involved in how tumors respond to chemotherapy. In a Cell Reports paper, the researchers describe a computer program they developed called Transite, which systematically infers which RNA-binding proteins are influencing gene expression through changes in RNA stability and degradation. Transite is broadly available at https://transite.mit.edu and has already been used to perform hundreds of analyses.

This work was supported in part by the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine and the Charles and Marjorie Holloway Foundation. more...

2020 Visions: Honoring the Images

Join us on September 22 & 24 for a two-part virtual celebration of 2020 Visions, the tenth annual Image Awards exhibition now on display in the Koch Institute Public Galleries. Celebrating biological beauty and transformative technologies, this year’s displays embrace a variety of visualization techniques to examine the inner workings of microscopic communities and human health. Over the course of two "lunch & learn" webinars, image creators will share the science and stories behind their award-winning visuals. more...

On the Node Again

Elicio Therapeutics is developing the Irvine Lab’s lymph node targeting vaccine technology to fight COVID-19. With promising preclinical evidence of increased T cell and antibody response against coronavirus proteins, the company hopes to accelerate clinical translation using insight gained from their already-completed manufacturing and toxicology studies in KRAS-driven cancers. more...

 immunohistochemistry image of a lung with tumors

RUNX RUNX As Fast As You Can

The Jacks Lab is analyzing lung tumors' evolution by measuring structural changes to chromatin—the mix of proteins, DNA, and RNA that makes up cells’ chromosomes that can alter gene expression. In work published by Cancer Cell, researchers showed that these epigenomic modifications can characterize the progression of cancer cells from early stage to later, more aggressive stages. They also identified a transcription factor—a molecule known as RUNX2—that influences metastasis in these evolving cells. Looking at both mouse and human tumors, the team found that elevated levels of RUNX2 are associated with increased tumor cell aggressiveness, suggesting that it could be used as a biomarker to predict patient outcomes.
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Thrown for an R-Loop

New research from the Yaffe lab appearing in Nature Communications now shows that in highly proliferative tumor cells, Brd4 function is necessary to block collisions on genomic DNA between sites of RNA transcription and DNA replication. They found that cancer cells without BRD4 accumulate R loops, resulting in transcription-replication collisions and DNA damage. The continued replication of cells with R loop-damaged DNA results in increased genome instability and cell death. The findings may help researchers design new combination therapies that take advantage of BRD4’s unique role in blocking DNA damage specifically in oncogenic tumor cells.  

This work was supported in part by the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program, the Koch Institute - Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center Bridge Project, the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine, and a Koch Institute Quinquennial Cancer Research Fellowship. more...

scanning electron microscopy image of microparticle bases

Fewer Needles, More STING

A programmable microparticle developed by Langer Lab researchers could make STING-based cancer therapies easier for patients to complete. These immunotherapies (which activate the critical 'stimulator of interferon genes' pathway to boost immune response) produce strong antitumor effects, but must be injected directly into the tumor repeatedly over months, increasing risk for metastasis, chronic injection pain, and infection. The single-injection microparticles release scheduled doses of a STING-based therapy over days and weeks.

In a study appearing in Science Translational Medicine and supported in part by a Ludwig Postdoctoral Fellowship and a Misrock Postdoctoral Fellowship, researchers found the microparticles to be as effective against tumors as multiple injections in mouse models of melanoma and breast cancer, with a reduced chance of metastasis. The study also suggests that the microparticles could deliver STING-based therapies to hard-to-reach tumors. more...

Michael Birnbaum in a blue shirt

Michelson Prize for Michael Birnbaum

Michael Birnbaum received the Michelson Prize for Human Immunology and Vaccine Research 2020 to identify target antigens for HIV vaccine development. His team's novel methodology for studying immune cells' antigen recognition repertoire has multiple applications for other diseases, including cancer and COVID-19, and exemplifies the type of promising early career research supported by the prize. more...

Allison Lau, with a lab bench behind her

Shedding Metabolite on Pancreatic Cancer

Vander Heiden Lab researchers are using a novel nutrient-labeling approach to understand metabolic differences between cell types. A new study published in eLife examines enzyme activity of tumor cells and fibroblasts in organoid cell cultures and mouse models of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, and suggests potential pathways for curtailing tumor growth. more...

illustration of gaseous molecules

Nanoparticles on Trachea to Greatness

Bhatia Lab researchers are breathing new life into their signature protease activity nanosensors. Chemical modifications to synthetic biomarkers (previously used to develop urinary diagnostics for pneumonia and cancer) allow the nanoparticles to release a peptide-based "breath signal" in the presence of respiratory disease. The re-engineered system, described in Nature Nanotechnology, can be used for both diagnosis and monitoring of disease progression or treatment. The researchers are modeling future iterations of the technology on inhalers and breathalyzer tests, and hope to use it to detect specific pathogens such as the SARS-CoV-2 virus. more...

Stand Up to Cancer logo

Standing Up to Pancreatic Cancer

Congratulations to Will Freed-Pastor and fellow Lustgarten Laboratory for Pancreatic Cancer Research at MIT researchers on the receipt of a Phillip A. Sharp Innovation in Collaboration Award from Stand Up To Cancer. The Jacks Lab/Dana Farber Cancer Institute team, in conjunction with researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, will use tumor organoids and engineered T cells to develop novel interventions against pancreatic cancer. more...

rendering of syringe injecting a cell covered in proteins

Wittrup Lab Sticks It To Tumors

The Wittrup Lab's "Velcro vaccine" is the not-so-secret weapon behind Cullinan Oncology's newly launched subsidiary, Cullinan Amber. The company aims to enhance cytokine-based immunotherapy using the lab's collagen-binding technology, which confines these powerful yet toxic treatments to the tumor microenvironment. more...

There's No Place Like Proteome

A new proteomic analysis platform combining a panel of engineered nanoparticles' protein chemistry and machine learning could open up new avenues to predict, diagnose, and treat disease. In a study appearing in Nature Communications, a team including Robert Langer and other researchers from MIT, Harvard Medical School, Seer and elsewhere, analyzed the proteome in an unbiased, unconstrained manner, and with a depth, breadth, and speed not previously possible. As proof-of-concept, the study demonstrated the platform could be used for the accurate detection of early-stage lung cancer. more...

Facing Down Mask Shortages

A team of researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Koch Institute unveiled their prototype model for a reusable silicone face mask. The design, published in British Medical Journal Open, uses scalable manufacturing technology to produce an easily sterilizable, N95-filter-ready mask for use by health care providers and the general public. Following successful fit and breathability testing in the clinic, the team is working on a second version with improved comfort and durability. more...

Nancy Hopkins holding a small tank of zebrafish

Dissecting Discrimination

Picture a Scientist combines hard data and personal experience to continue the conversation begun by Nancy Hopkins in “A Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT.” Documenting the story behind the landmark report, the film examines the persistence of gender discrimination and the considerable barriers facing women scientists—particularly women of color—over the last two decades. more...

cells dividing

Sizing Up Cell Growth

Manalis Lab researchers engineered a larger version of their signature microfluidic mass measurement technology to investigate how cell size and cell cycle contribute to cell growth. The study, published in PNAS, reveals that a cell's growth efficiency is primarily determined by its cell cycle state, not its size, and lays the groundwork for using these devices to monitor growth in large cells and 3D clusters with high resolution. The work was supported in part by the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program through the Kathy and Curt Marble Cancer Research Fund and the MIT Center for Cancer Precision Medicine. more...

Making Heads and Tails of Metastasis

A new Cancer Research paper draws on Image Award-winning research to explore the influence of the YAP gene on metastasis. Using a transparent zebrafish model and time lapse imaging, Hynes Lab researchers tracked the movement of tumor cells through the vasculature, determining that YAP promotes active migration within small blood vessels and wider dissemination throughout the body. Working with the Manalis Lab to corroborate these findings in a mouse model, the team demonstrated how a single gene can affect global patterns of metastasis. The research was supported in part by the Ludwig Center for Molecular Oncology at MIT. more...

red dots on a black background

Concentrating on Cancer Drugs

The Young Lab identified a mechanism by which small molecule cancer drugs concentrate within cells. In a study appearing in Science, researchers added cisplatin and mitoxantrone to mixtures of different types of cellular condensates—tiny droplets of close-packed proteins where complex functions are carried out. Their results offer insight into the effectiveness of cisplatin—as well as into tamoxifen resistance—and suggest that small molecule drugs can be tailored to target particular droplets to increase their efficacy. more...

engineered billiary tree

Imaging Science

The Koch Institute teamed up with the MIT Museum for Imaging Science, a two-week exploration of everyday science photography. A series of photography tutorials and webinars featured images and insight from KI Image Awards contributors, including Lina Colucci, Keith Ellenbogen, Felice Frankel, Jeffrey Kuhn, Sudha Kumari, Erika Reinfeld, Quinton Smith, and Matheus Victor. more...

Neil Dalvie looks at samples in an array

Shared Knowledge for Improved Biomanufacturing

A Love Lab-led consortium unites leading organizations in biopharmaceuticals and vaccines to accelerate the development and accessibility of alternative host cells for manufacturing drugs and vaccine components. With an eye toward global access for health solutions, including pandemic-relevant vaccines, the effort establishes a new framework for biomanufacturing, large-scale production of low-cost biopharmaceuticals and rapid clinical translation.   more...

text on graphic: with/in/sight over coronavirus in red and gold

SOLUTIONS with/in/sight: How Are Cancer Researchers Fighting COVID-19?

The Koch Institute hosted a second Zoom webinary showcasing cancer researchers who have pivoted existing research to address biomedical challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Koch Institute faculty members Michael Yaffe, Angela Koehler, Sangeeta Bhatia, and Robert Langer shared their work developing new treatment strategies and interventions for the disease. The program included Q&A sessions for learning more about the science and understanding how the Koch Institute’s flexible, collaborative research models accelerate innovation in the face of rapidly evolving understanding. more...

Headshots of Siddharth Krishnan and Greg Ekchian

Sensors & Sensibility

Novel devices have (Austensibly) landed two KI postdocs on MIT Technology Review’s annual 35 Innovators Under 35 list. Siddharth Krishnan, from the Anderson/Langer Lab, developed a sensor for monitoring shunt flow in hydrocephalus. Gregory Ekchian, from the Cima Lab, created a sensor to make radiation therapy more effective. Ekchian will continue his translational pursuits as a Blavatnik Fellow in Life Science Entrepreneurship. more...

Lung cancer cells driven by KRAS oncogene

Keap-ing Lung Cancer in Check

The Jacks Lab identified a new therapeutic target for an aggressive form of lung cancer. Lung adenocarcinoma accounts for about 40 percent of lung cancers in the U.S., with 20–30% of lung adenocarcinomas harboring mutations in the gene KEAP1. In previous work, the group showed that lung adenocarcinomas that are mutated for both KRAS and KEAP1 are highly aggressive and dependent on the breakdown of glutamine—paving the way for clinical trials of glutaminase inhibitors in combination with other therapies that target KEAP1-mutant non-small cell lung cancers.

In a new study, led by graduate student Rodrigo Romero and appearing in Nature Cancer, researchers screened of a library of genes that are known or predicted to be druggable in a comprehensive and systematic search for new therapeutic targets for KEAP1 mutant non-small cell lung cancers. The screens identified the gene Slc33a1, as well as several other genes that are associated with the unfolded protein response, a process key to cell viability. Tests in cell lines and in mouse models showed a strong dependency for Slc33a1 in non-small cell lung cancers, suggesting that patients with Keap1-mutant tumors may respond to SLC33A1 inhibition. more...

Lauren Stopfer in the lab

Counting Your Antigens

A team led by White Lab grad student Lauren Stopfer developed a tool that may help researchers and clinicians make cancer immunotherapies more effective: a platform that precisely quantifies the number of antigens presented on cell surfaces. In a study appearing in Nature Communications, researchers profiled changes in cell-surface antigens resulting from treatment with CDK4/6 inhibitors, a class of anticancer agents. Their results added to a growing body of evidence that CDK4/6 inhibitors may increase the effectiveness of immune checkpoint blockade inhibitors, and demonstrated that the platform could be used to identify new immunotherapy targets. Because of its sensitivity and speed, the new platform could be used in the clinic to tailor treatment strategies to individual patients.

This study was funded in part by the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine and the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program through the Kathy and Curt Marble Cancer Research Fund. more...

Cancer Researchers Take on COVID-19

Professors Angela Belcher and Christopher Love, with Charles W. (1955) and Jennifer C. Johnson Clinical Investigators Salil Garg and Hojun Li, shared their work to address the COVID-19 crisis at the first online SOLUTIONS with/in/sight. Their virtual tours of ongoing PPE, diagnostics, and vaccine development projects highlighted how the KI’s flexible, collaborative research models allow for rapid response to pressing biomedical needs. Watch the video  more...

false colored elctron microscope image of nanoparticles

Immunostimulatory Nanoparticles Improve Checkpoint Therapy
 

The Bhatia Lab is developing a modular nanoparticle system to make immunotherapy more accessible and effective across a wider swath of cancer patients. Their tumor-targeting and membrane-penetrating peptides deliver small pieces of DNA to amplify the body’s immune response to tumors and boost the effectiveness of immunotherapy drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors. By combining the particles with the checkpoint inhibitor antibody in mouse models of cancer, researchers were able to halt cancer progression and generate a systemic response against treated and untreated tumors. The work, published in PNAS, was supported in part by the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine.
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Phillip Sharp (left) and Tyler Jacks

AACR-uing Honors 

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) named Phillip A. Sharp as the recipient of the 17th AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research. The award recognizes Sharp's groundbreaking research into RNA splicing and gene expression, which shaped understandings of the genetic causes of cancer. Fellow biologist Tyler Jacks was also honored for his pioneering work in cancer genetics. In recognition of his genetically engineered models for improving the detection, diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of cancer, Jacks will deliver the 2020 AACR Princess Takamatsu Memorial Lectureship at the 2021 AACR annual meeting. more...

scanning electron microscope image of SARS-CoV-2 virus

Three KI Faculty Members Awarded Grants for COVID-19 Research

Angela Belcher and Jianzhu Chen were awarded grants from the Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness. Belcher's grant will support efforts to develop novel nanocarbon materials that filtrate and neutralize dangerous viruses and bacteria for PPE for medical professionals and civilians. Chen's grant will help fund the development of vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogens.

Brad Pentelute received a Fast Grant to develop safe and effective peptides for prophylactic treatment and rapid early therapeutic intervention against COVID-19 infection. more...

ventilator sharing device

Safer Ventilator Sharing

Researchers led by KI postdoc Shriya Srinivasan developed a safer method for COVID-19 patients to share ventilators. The approach, described in Science Translational Medicine, enables ventilation that's customized to each patient. The team is looking for partners to help fund, supply, and deploy the system. more...

Langer wearing a face mask sitting on a bed

“I wish I was chilling.”

The Boston Globe reports that physical isolation is no match for Bob Langer. From vaccine development to viral blood-brain barrier studies, the ever-prolific engineer is doing his part for coronavirus response efforts. Catch up with him (if you can) via recorded web chat or help your student at home channel their inner-Langer with some STEM inspiration. more...

Yaffe conferring with a colleague at a hospital

Critical Analysis

As head of a COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and co-director of the acute care and ICU section at Boston Hope, Michael Yaffe offers his perspective as both cancer researcher and intensivist/trauma surgeon on the evolution of emergency care during this crisis and beyond.  more...

Microwell CARMEN chip

High-Capacity Viral Diagnostics

A new CRISPR-based diagnostic platform simultaneously performs thousands of tests to detect viruses, including SARS-CoV-2. In a study published in Nature, researchers adapted microfluidic technology developed in the Blainey Lab and supported in part by the Bridge Project to create chips that can run thousands of tests flexibly configured across different numbers of samples and viruses.   more...

Airway cilia grown in culture

Nothing to Sneeze At

Sabatini Lab postdoc and pulmonologist Raghu Chivukula used cell culture and electron microscopy to unravel the mystery of a rare genetic mutation behind an unknown lung disease. His 2019 Image Awards winning image shows the “airway in a dish” that proved the foundational model for the eventual diagnosis. more...

Sussing Out Susceptibility

A team including Alex Shalek, KI member and recently named Harold E. Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award recipient, is using gene expression data to identify specific types of cells targeted by the coronavirus behind the COVID-19 pandemic. Their study’s results, published in Cell and reported on in The Boston Globe and the NIH Director’s Blog, could be used to guide future treatment of the disease.

This work was supported in part by the MIT Stem Cell Initiative. The team recently received an award from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to study how cells in the airways of pediatric patients respond to SARS-CoV-2 and common respiratory viruses. more...

Neil Dalvie, Andrew Biedermann, Sergio Rodriguez, and Laura Crowell

Faster, Cheaper, Scalable

A small team of graduate researchers has returned to the Love Lab with a mission: generate and test preclinical materials to help develop an affordable, accessible COVID-19 vaccine for large-scale production on a lightning-speed timeline. Although there are efforts underway across the globe to manufacture vaccines in the hundreds of millions, billions of doses may be necessary. To address this gap, the researchers are deploying a strategy developed under a Grand Challenge for ultra-low cost vaccines and are now simultaneously testing their first candidate component for a vaccine and optimizing the manufacturing process. The concurrent approach allows the team to develop vaccine components with manufacturability in mind from the start and potentially compresses the timeline from benchtop to full-scale production. more...

Balancing Act

MIT senior and former Anderson/Langer Lab researcher Steven Truong brings his experience as a biological engineering student home in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the resident biomedical expert in his immigrant family, Truong balances schoolwork with medical challenges, language barriers, and a pressing need to combat misinformation. Read more  or watch video  more...

diagram of nanoparticles' journey from lungs to urine

Turning the Peptide on Lung Cancer Detection

The Bhatia Lab’s peptide-based nanosensors offer a non-invasive strategy for early cancer detection. In a study published in Science Translational Medicine, researchers used intratracheally administered particles in combination with machine learning algorithms to accurately detect lung tumors as small as 2.8 cubic millimeters. Working with Jacks Lab collaborators, they showed in genetically engineered mouse models that their urine-based diagnostic could also distinguish between early-stage cancer and noncancerous inflammation of the lungs, which could greatly reduce the number of false positives in a clinical setting. Watch video.

The research was supported in part by the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program through a gift from Upstage Lung Cancer, and the Johnson & Johnson Lung Cancer Initiative. more...

Mutated and nonmutated cells in a pancreas

Weight Loss and Pancreatic Cancer

Along with his former KI mentor, Jacks Lab alum and collaborator Mandar Muzumdar is a senior author on a study investigating obesity’s role in pancreatic cancer progression. The work, partly supported by the Lustgarten Foundation, appears in Cell and examines the effects of genetically-engineered and dietary induction of weight loss on tumorigenesis.
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Delivery of nanoparticles to the liver of mice

Improving Treatment for Liver Cancer

Anderson Lab technology plays a crucial role in the development of a new combinatorial therapy for liver cancer. In a study published in Molecular Therapy, the group’s lipid nanoparticles were used in conjunction with siRNA and chemotherapy to target key proteins involved in cell death, selectively killing cancer cells in animal models.
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Hands on a laptop keyboard

Community in Silico

Searching for ways to stay connected to the cancer research community while safely socially isolating? The Dana Farber/Harvard Cancer Center’s seminar series “Science:Connect” features leaders in cancer biology, immune oncology, and more four days a week at 12:00 pm EST. You can join live or watch past talks; look for KI faculty members Tyler Jacks on April 14 and Angelika Amon on April 16.
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Kaitlyn Sadtler working in a lab

KI Alum Leads Testing in NIH Study

The National Institutes of Health launched an at-home blood collection effort to determine how many adults in the United States without a confirmed history of SARS-CoV-2 infection have antibodies to the virus. KI alum Kaitlyn Sadtler, now chief of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering’s Section for Immunoengineering, is the study testing lead. more...

Fate to the Clinic

Fate Therapeutics, founded by Rudolf Jaenisch, began its first in-human Phase 1 clinical trial, treating its first patient with FT596, a natural killer cell-based cancer immunotherapy engineered using the company’s induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) platform. They also announced a collaboration with Janssen Biotech, Inc. to further develop additional off-the-shelf iPSC-derived cell-based immunotherapies. more...

Angela Belcher and Neel Bardhan with their bacteriophage model

KI Labs Net Success in STAT Madness

STAT Madness was aglow with excitement for the Belcher Lab’s SWIFTI fluorescent imaging system, which allows surgeons to find and remove tiny ovarian cancer tumors. Their bacteriophage-nanotube system won 70% of a record-setting 699,315 votes in the final round; however, it is the 40% improvement in survival in preclinical models that the team is most proud of. “We’re working on a problem that we feel very, very passionately about,” says Belcher. With a near-infrared eye on early detection as well, and a newly granted patent in hand, the team is courting a real slam dunk for ovarian cancer patients.

Cheers also to the Wittrup Lab, which made it to Round 3 with a “Velcro Vaccine” that binds cancer-killing cytokines to collagen inside tumors, preventing damage to healthy tissue. All in all, that's full court impressive! more...

Elazer Edelman wearing a face shield

Prioritizing Personal Protection

In addition to serving as faculty lead on a campus-wide donation effort to provide area hospitals and health care workers with personal protective equipment for the frontline COVID-19 response, Elazer Edelman partnered with MIT mechanical engineering professor Martin Culpepper to design a low-cost, disposable face shield for mass production.    more...

Peptides That Bind

A team led by Brad Pentelute has developed a drug candidate that may block the novel coronavirus’s access to human cells. In a study available on bioRxiv, researchers designed and synthesized a peptide that binds to a region of a viral spike protein thought to be the “key” to entry. more...

Biotechs Join the Fray with RNA

MIT-affiliated companies are forging ahead with COVID-19 related efforts, including Moderna Therapeutics, co-founded by Robert Langer, and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, co-founded by Phillip Sharp.

Moderna began human trials of its messenger RNA (mRNA) based COVID-19 vaccine just 65 days after the virus was first sequenced. mRNA holds the key to Moderna’s record-breaking turnaround, according to Daniel Anderson, as it allows for speedier identification of new sequences and development of vaccines compared to traditional vaccines based on viral proteins.

Alnylam’s partnership with Vir Biotechnology will now include developing therapeutics for coronavirus infections, including COVID-19. The collaboration will combine Alnylam’s recent advances in delivering its RNAi technology to the lungs with Vir’s infectious disease capabilities to identify and develop drug candidates. more...

protein structure of tPA

Serving a Repurpose

David H. Koch Professor of Science and intensivist/trauma surgeon Michael Yaffe began trials to repurpose a drug used to treat stroke and heart attack for patients with coronavirus. Tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, breaks up blood clots, which data from China and Italy indicate contributed to respiratory failure. Yaffe, who is helping to organize the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s COVID-19 treatment efforts, is testing tPA in critically ill COVID-19 patients on ventilators in Boston, New York, and Colorado hospitals.

A report published in The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery suggests the approach has particular promise in cases where patients are not responding to maximum support with a ventilator or where ventilators are unavailable, potentially even preventing their need. He and his colleagues have published an initial case series with encouraging results, although larger studies are needed to determine how best to use this treatment.      more...

diagram of immune cell with receptors on the surface

Out of Many, One

Torque Therapeutics, which has been readying the Irvine Lab’s T-cell nanoparticle backpacks for market, has merged with Cogen Therapeutics, which has harnessed the expertise of the Birnbaum and Shalek Labs in developing a platform to identify all of an individual’s T-cell receptor and corresponding antigens. Newly-formed Repertoire Immune Medicines is armed with complementary analysis and targeting technologies—both of which received early support from the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program—and will deploy them for cancer immunotherapy. more...

Ritu Raman headshot

Inventional WISDM

KI postdoc Ritu Raman spoke with the MIT Innnovation Initiative about her STEM journey, MIT "hustlers," and her vision for the Women in Innovation and STEM Database at MIT. Originally designed to increase visibility of women in STEM, the newly relaunched platform also promotes collaboration and rapid innovation. more...

side-by-side profile pictures of Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and Paula Hammond

Enter Entrepreneurship

“Nobody ever got anywhere by listening to no," says Chemical & Engineering News about their 2020 Trailblazers. Included on the list are Koch Institute member Paula Hammond, the David H. Koch Professor of Engineering and head of MIT's Department of Chemical Engineering, and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, founder, chairperson, and managing director of Biocon and longtime friend of the Koch Institute. Read their stories to discover how they catalyzed their academic pursuits into top-notch entrepreneurship. more...

blood vessels on top of a protein matrix

2020 Visions

Although the halls are quiet, the Koch Institute Public Galleries still shine a hopeful light on Main Street. Ten newly installed images, representing everything from microbes to microfabrication, celebrate the discoveries and innovations of MIT’s life sciences research. With added perspectives from STAT, Popular Science, and Cell Picture Show, the tenth annual Image Awards exhibition awaits your view!  more...

Kate Koch, Susy Ramos, Yunpeng Liu, and Greg Ekchian around a table

Spring Into STEM with MIT BLOSSOMS

Greg Ekchian, Kate Koch, Yunpeng Liu, and Azucena "Susy" Ramos star in a new MIT BLOSSOMS video. By sharing their own diverse journeys into cancer research, the KI trainees challenge stereotypes about scientists and engineers and invite high school students to imagine their own paths into STEM careers. more...

breast cancer cells

A Bridge to Better Biopsies

A team including KI member Christopher Love customized blood biopsies using genetic profiles of patients' tumors. A study published in Clinical Cancer Research and funded in part by the Bridge Project showed that the biopsies monitor up to hundreds of different mutations, potentially detecting cancer recurrence years ahead of traditional approaches. more...

Did you eat your Wheaties?

Greetings, cancer fighters! TODAY the Koch Institute is throwing down in MIT’s 24-Hour Challenge. At stake is critical, unrestricted support for research, trainees, and cutting-edge equipment to keep the KI on the frontline of progress against cancer. In this year’s challenge all gifts benefit the Koch Institute Director’s Fund, where gifts from 120 donors will unlock an anonymous challenge gift of an extra $10K. 

But wait, there’s more! Gifts from an additional 30 donors will unlock another $15K from Steve Corman '58, SM ’61, who for years has led by example on challenging oneself to do more to fight cancer. That’s an extra $25,000 up for grabs to advance research and training. Today’s challenge is all about the KI community coming together to support innovative solutions for cancer. Learn more about how you can help clinch this challengemore...

Speaking Frankly

Cancer patients rarely get to meet the researchers behind their treatments, and cancer researchers rarely get to put a name or face to the people who benefit from their work. Yet, that’s precisely what happened when retiree Frank Lovell and postdoc Jesse Patterson chatted after the Koch Institute’s recent SOLUTIONS with/in/sight.

Frank was a participant in a clinical trial showcased that evening, for a prostate cancer combination therapy pairing the widely-used targeted therapy abiraterone with the Plk1 inhibitor onvansertib. The trial also represents a powerful synergy, starting with the Yaffe Lab and their Bridge Project clinical collaborators, and catalyzed by a chance connection with west coast biotech Trovagene. For patients like Frank, this combination is turning out to be far greater than the sum of its parts. more...

Sangeeta Bhatia stands in front of a lab bench.

Convening on COVID

Sangeeta Bhatia is co-chairing the Proposal Selection Task Force for the newly formed Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness. Bringing together clinicians and scientists from the Boston and Cambridge communities, the consortium aims to accelerate the development of diagnostic tools, treatments, and vaccines for the COVID-19 pandemic. more...

slice of a neuroblastoma tumor derived from chimeric mice stained by immunofluorescence for human neuroblastoma markers.

New Model for Neuroblastoma

The laboratories of Rudolf Jaenisch and Stefani Spranger, the Howard S. (1953) and Linda B. Stern Career Development Professor, have developed a mouse to study tumor development and immune response in neuroblastoma, a rare form of childhood cancer that has proven difficult to study in animal models. The mice, described in a study appearing in Cell Stem Cell, were modified to include human cells in parts of the nervous system.  more...

Soleimany explains chalkboard diagram to student

Deep Learning at IAP

Bhatia Lab grad student Ava Soleimany is helping to spread machine-learning tools into research labs across MIT with IAP course 6.S191 Introduction to Deep Learning. Co-designed and taught with Alexander Amini, her class begins with machine learning basics and culminates with students making real-world applications of their own. The pair were inspired to create the course through their own experiences using machine learning in research—Soleimany develops nanosensors for the early detection of lung cancer (supported by the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program via Upstage Lung Cancer). more...

Amon Wins 2020 HFSP Nakasone Award

Congratulations to Angelika Amon, the Kathleen and Curtis Marble Professor of Cancer Research, on receiving the 2020 HFSP Nakasone Award! The award, given by the Human Frontier Science Program, honors scientists who have made important breakthroughs in the life sciences. This year's award is given in recognition of Amon's “discovery of aneuploidy-induced cellular changes and their contribution to tumorigenesis, which paved the way for exploiting aneuploidy as a therapeutic target in cancer treatment.”  more...

Niche Interest

The Hynes Lab sheds light on how metastatic tumor cells adapt to survive in different locations. Analysis of the extracellular matrix (ECM) surrounding breast cancer metastases, published in Cancer Research, revealed that tumor and local cells each contribute different proteins to create ECM niches that vary from organ to organ. more...

mTOR de Force

  Congratulations to KI member David Sabatini who, along with the University of Basel’s Michael Hall, has been honored with the Sjöberg Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the BBVA Foundation’s Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biology and Biomedicine for their discovery of the protein kinase mTOR. As a growth regulator, mTOR plays an important role in the development of cancer; the pair’s work, therefore, could pave the way for new cancer treatments. The Sabatini Lab’s recent review article in Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biologyexamines the mTOR pathway’s influence on nutrition, growth, aging, and disease.  more...

Personalized Medicine and Medleys

  Meet Swarna Jeewajee, MIT senior, soprano, and aspiring physician-scientist. She balances her work in the Hemann Lab researching therapeutic vulnerabilities in near-haploid leukemia with her a capella group Singing for Service, which performs in nursing homes and rehabilitation centers throughout the Boston area. Her passion for patient-centered medicine is informed both by her experiences as an MIT student and by her own medical history, growing up in Mauritius with a poorly understood hearing loss and a transformative surgery to correct it in 2018. more...

Battling Bias in Boston Biotech

  A survey of seven MIT science and engineering departments quantifies how many biotech startups have been lost to gender bias: 40. The study, which compared the relative proportion of female faculty members (22%) to woman-founded companies (10%), got its start at the 2018 Xconomy Prize gala. Nancy Hopkins—no stranger to measuring gender bias—told the story of a woman in venture capital who carried a list of 100 VC-funded Boston biotechs, 99 of which were founded by men. Hopkins’s KI colleagues Sangeeta Bhatia, entrepreneur and founder of Glympse Bio, and MIT President Emerita Susan Hockfield heard the speech and joined with Hopkins to brainstorm strategies for addressing this imbalance. Their conversation grew into the Boston Biotech Working Group, which carried out the survey and is spearheading several programs to boost the number of women biotech founders.  more...

Syros Begins CDK7 Inhibitor Trial

  Syros Pharmaceuticals, co-founded by Bridge Projectcollaborators Richard Young and Nathanael Gray, has launched a Phase 1 trial of SY-5609. Potent and highly selective, the drug has broad applicability across a range of cancers, including resistant and hard-to treat tumors. It targets the CDK7 gene to combat increased oncogene expression and uncontrolled cell cycle progression. more...

Trip the Light Fan-gastric

The Langer and Traverso Labs developed a light-sensitive hydrogel for gastrointestinal devices. Devices made with the gel break down when triggered by an ingestible LED, eliminating the need for surgical removal. The work, published in Science Advances, has numerous applications for long-term drug delivery, monitoring, and sensing. more...

Hojun Li Joins the KI

Welcome to Hojun Li, MD, PhD, the KI’s new Charles W. and Jennifer C. Johnson Clinical Investigator. A pediatric oncologist at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Hospital, he recently received a 2020 Scholar Award from the American Society of Hematology. 
 
Dr. Li studies normal and pathologic hematopoietic stem cell development, conditions that predispose children and adults to leukemia, and novel treatments to prevent blood cancers in these patients.    more...

A Perfect 10 for 2020

The Koch Institute is ringing in the New Year with a 10/10—again! For more than a year, the Koch Institute community has been working on the renewal process for our Cancer Center Support Grant from the National Cancer Institute. Since MIT’s then-nascent Center for Cancer Research was distinguished as an NCI-designated Cancer Center in 1974, the grant has been recompeted every five years, requiring an extensive written application (more than 1,000 pages!) and an intense site visit. Given the vulnerability of federal research funding, there are no guarantees of success. Yet not only has the Koch Institute’s grant been formally approved for renewal, but it was given a perfect score of 10. We received the same score at our last recompete, in 2014. Join us in raising a glass to our faculty members, trainees, technicians, and staff who worked so hard to put the grant together and to defend it during the site visit! more...

Mind Your PNAS QnAs

PNAS queries Sangeeta Bhatia, director of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, on her work building protease-based diagnostic tools, including probes—potentially delivered by a nebulizer—that distinguish between benign and malignant lung nodules. Other highlights include diagnostic tools for pneumonia and a rare genetic disease called α-1 antitrypsin deficiency. more...