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

Illustration of a brain with tumor

Weighing Treatment Options

The Manalis Lab’s suspended microchannel resonator platform has been adapted into a tool for predicting patient responses to specific cancer drugs. In collaboration with the laboratory of Keith Ligon at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, researchers measured glioblastoma cells before and after treatment with the chemotherapy TMZ in order to detect tiny changes in mass which indicate treatment response. Only half of glioblastoma patients respond to TMZ, and the genetic marker for TMZ is not a reliable predictor of sensitivity for all patients. A study appearing in Cell Reports and funded in part by the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine demonstrated that the method accurately predicted response to TMZ. Travera, co-founded by Manalis and Ligon, is currently testing patient samples from several cancer types with the aim of developing clinically validated lab tests. more...

Paula Hammond sits on a bench with a patterned background behind her

Leading the Way for Science and Technology

President Joe Biden has named Paula Hammond to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Co-chaired by MIT’s own Eric Lander and Maria Zuber, PCAST is an external advisory board providing the White House with information and policy recommendations on matters involving science, technology, education, and innovation. Hammond, a chemical engineer working in nanotechnology, brings deep expertise in solving human health and global energy challenges, as well as dedication to improving equity and representation in STEM and public health. As director Matt Vander Heiden noted in an email to the KI community, this is an incredible honor, deserving of both gratitude and congratulations. Cheers, Paula! more...

The Case for Cancer Vaccines

For immunotherapy to work, T cells must recognize cancerous proteins, known as neoantigens, produced by mutated cells. Research from the Jacks Lab suggests that natural competition between T cells responding to different neoantigens limits the overall ability of T cells to control tumors. The team's findings, published in Cell, demonstrate that therapeutic vaccines targeting neoantigens can alleviate T cell competition and may improve patient response to immunotherapies.

This work was supported in part by the Bridge Project collaboration between the Koch Institute and Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center   more...

Courtney JnBaptiste and Phil Sharp

Cultivating a Love of Science

Affection for school may not have been in Courtney JnBaptiste’s DNA growing up on a St. Lucia farm, but this KI alum found his MIT home studying microRNAs in Phil Sharp’s lab—first as a high school student and then as a graduate student. Today, he is a patent agent, helping to transform laboratory discoveries into therapeutic practices.  more...

Digging Deep to Fight Covid and Cancer

KI member Regina Barzilay is one of the authors of a PNAS paper describing the use of deep learning models to identify synergistic drug combinations and drug-target interactions to combat Covid-19. The group's algorithmic approach is also being used to identify potential therapeutic combinations against pancreatic cancer. more...

green cells among red blood cells labeled with green numbers 1, 2, 3, 4

The Ins and Outs of Metastasis

The Manalis Lab, in collaboration with the Jacks Lab, uses a novel cell-counting device to measure the frequency at which tumors shed circulating tumor cells into the bloodstream and how long these CTCs remain in circulation before being cleared by the body. The team's findings, published in Nature Communications, offer a detailed view into the dynamics of metastasis and lay the groundwork for analyzing drug response in real time. This work was supported in part by the Ludwig Center at MIT. more...

Forest fire on a hill over a city

Forest vs. Fires

Signaling expert Forest White has begun applying his signature analytical techniques to investigate how environmental factors affect cancer development and progression. A recent modeling study challenges current thinking about carcinogenic compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are released whenever organic matter is burned, including in wildfires, driving, and cooking. The MIT team’s findings, published in GeoHealth, suggest that the PAH historically used to inform regulatory standards may be inadequate for assessing global cancer risk. more...

Sachin Bhagchandani in the lab smiling

Congratulations, Sachin!

Cheers to graduate student Sachin Bhagchandani, the first at MIT to win the National Cancer Institute Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Fellow Transition Award (F99/K00)! Collaborating with the Johnson, Irvine, Langer, and Spranger Labs, Bhagchandani combines immunology and polymer chemistry to develop a drug delivery system that makes certain kinds of cancer immunotherapies less toxic. more...

Pancreatic organoids

Copy That

Griffith Lab researchers have developed a new way to grow tiny replicas of the pancreas. These “organoids,” described in Nature Materials, can be grown from healthy or cancerous cells and could help researchers develop and test potential drugs for pancreatic cancer—one of the most difficult types of cancer to treat. more...

Diagram of stem cells initiating tumor formation

Diet, Cancer, and the Microbiome

Over the years, researchers in the laboratory of Ömer Yilmaz have uncovered important clues into the connections between diet and cancer, with recent work focusing on the role of intestinal stem cells on tumor initiation under various dietary conditions. In a study published in Cell Stem Cell, the lab examines the impact of high fat diets on gut microbes and their interactions with both stem cells and immune cells. The findings suggest that such perturbations to the microbiome significantly dampen immune recognition of premalignant intestinal stem cells, leading to increased tumorigenesis. more...

Jacqueline Lees

Lees Named Associate Dean

KI associate director and Virginia & D.K. Ludwig Professor for Cancer Research Jacqueline Lees has been appointed associate dean in the MIT School of Science. Lees, along with John W. Jarve (1978) Professor in Brain and Cognitive Sciences Rebecca Saxe, will contribute to the school's diversity, equity, and inclusion activities, as well as develop and implement mentoring and other career-development programs to support the community. This work is well aligned with Lees' longstanding leadership at both the Koch Institute and MIT's Department of Biology, and her ongoing commitment to making discovery science research accessible to all. more...

Katie Galloway

MIRA MIRA on the Cell

Congratulations to chemical engineer Katie Galloway on receipt of the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences. This prestigious award will support Galloway’s molecular systems biology work to develop multi-scale tools and approaches for understanding and engineering cell-fate transitions in development, reprogramming, and cancer.  more...

T cells infiltrating pancreatic tumor after treatment with immunotherapy combination

Three Strikes Against Pancreatic Cancer

Jacks Lab investigations published in Cancer Cell have identified a promising three-drug combination to improve pancreatic tumors’ response to immunotherapy. The team now seeks to analyze which tumors will respond best to this approach and is working with the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research and two pharmaceutical companies to test the combination therapy in clinical trials. more...

Paula Hammond

Fighting Health Disparities with Nanomedicine

Congratulations to Institute Professor and KI member Paula Hammond, the inaugural recipient of the Black in Cancer Distinguished Investigator Award. Established through a partnership between Black in Cancer and the Emerald Foundation in response to racial abuse experienced by Black birdwatcher Chris Cooper in Central Park last year, this award recognizes Black excellence in cancer research and medicine. With this support, Hammond will apply her signature layer-by-layer technology—variations on which were recently featured in National Geographic and The Wall Street Journalto engineer a nanoscale delivery system that direct a combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy to ovarian cancer cells and the surrounding tumor microenvironment. Although the incidence rate of high grade serous ovarian cancer (HGSOC) is higher in white than black women, the mortality rate is higher for black women, making Hammond's approach a powerful tool for combating serious health disparities. more...

Inside Outreach

KI outreach manager Erika Reinfeld sat down with KI postdoc and American Society for Cell Biology representative Tim Fessenden to discuss science outreach before and after Covid. Reflecting on the nature of online vs. in-person events, tours, and presentations, the conversation examined the pandemic’s impact on access, equity, and opportunity, as well as strategies for connecting STEM topics to people’s everyday experiences.
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illustration of the gastrointestinal tract, molecules, with pink and blue wave renderings behind them

Suono Bio Makes Waves

KI startup Suono Bio is teaching an old technology new tricks. Beginning with treatment for ulcerative colitis, the team is using ultrasound waves to enhance drug delivery and promote localized absorption into the GI tract. Such an approach could one day make cancer therapy more precise and effective. more...

two men looking at slides on a lab bench

One Step at a Time

Cancer metabolism pioneer Matthew Vander Heiden didn't set out to be a pioneer; he just wanted to understand how mitochondria worked. However, one question led to another and he soon found himself revisiting fundamental questions about cell metabolism and applying his discoveries to cancer biology. Now, as director of the Koch Institute, Vander Heiden continues to catalyze discoveries and interactions across the cancer research field. more...

schematic view of multimodal nanosensors with a urine cup and a tumor module, highlighted to show a heat map of cancer locations

Staking Out Cancer

Bhatia Lab engineers, in collaboration with biologists in the Gertler Lab, have created diagnostic nanoparticles that detect cancer cells and pinpoint their location anywhere in the body. A study published in Nature Materials tracked the progression and spread of metastatic colon cancer in mouse models before and after chemotherapy, suggesting that the platform could be used to diagnose and monitor cancer, as well as evaluate treatment response. The team is optimistic about the new platform's eventual use as a routine screening tool in annual health exams.

This project was supported in part by the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine and a KI Quinquennial Cancer Research Fellowship, with earlier work supported by the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program. more...

image of a white person's back with moles highlighted by rectanglular overlys

Moles Meet Machine Learning

KI member Regina Barzilay continues her work to improve early cancer detection through machine learning algorithms. In an article published in Science Translational Medicine, Barzilay and colleagues describe the training and use of a deep convolutional neural network to compare markings on patients' skin to identify signs of pre-cancerous lesions. more...

mRNA Vaccines Beyond Covid

Covid-19 has brought substantial attention to the use of messenger RNA, or mRNA, as a tool for training the body to fight disease. KI member Daniel Anderson speaks with National Geographic about the application of this technology in cancer therapy—a longstanding research interest in his lab. His message? Therapeutic mRNA vaccines delivered via nanoparticles could offer great flexibility in helping the immune system identify and attack tumor cells across a wide range of cancer types. more...

Peter Karches

2021 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 Wednesday, September 1, 2021.   more...

Koch Institute building at twilight

Promoter Sequence

Congratulations to Scott Manalis, Professor of Biological and Mechanical Engineering and Associate Department Head Biological Engineering, who has been appointed a David H. Koch Professor of Engineering. Manalis is the second person to hold the David H. Koch (1962) Inaugural Chair in Engineering; he succeeds Paula Hammond, who was recently named an Institute Professor, the highest honor bestowed on MIT faculty members. Though the timing is coincidental, it is fitting that the transition of this chair—created for the dedication of the Koch Institute in 2011—should take place during our anniversary year.

The KI is also pleased to congratulate several more faculty members on their promotions and new appointments: Alex Shalek has been granted tenure in the Department of Chemistry. Michael Birnbaum has been promoted to associate professor in the Department of Biological Engineering and Bradley Pentelute to full professor in the Department of Chemistry. In addition to his recent promotion to full professor, Matthew Vander Heiden has been appointed as the Lester Wolfe (1919) Professor of Molecular Biology.     more...

tissue specimen in a tray of liquid

Parsing Paraffin-Embedded Tissue Samples

By combining bench and computational methods, the White Lab has created powerful techniques for analyzing cell signaling processes and identifying potential cancer therapy targets and drug combinations. Yet these techniques often require more tissue than is available in formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue samples, one of the most widely available forms of preserved biopsy and tumor tissue. However, the researchers have developed an approach, published in Cancer Research, that collects data from FFPE samples with the same sensitivity as from less common, but larger frozen samples. With Mayo Clinic collaborators, the team was also able to identify patient-specific, cancer-driving signaling molecules in FFPE samples of breast and lung tumors. These findings suggest that this method can provide direct translational insight from analysis of FFPE specimens, and open huge repositories of patient samples to further study. more...

Anders Hansen

A Genetic Enhancer and a Scholar

KI member Anders Hansen joins the 2021 class of the Pew-Stewart Scholars Program for Cancer Research. This early-stage career award honors and promotes cutting-edge research into the development, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. Hansen’s work will explore the interactions between genetic elements known as enhancers and their target genes, focusing on c-Myc, a gene commonly overexpressed in cancer.   more...

Jane Wilkinson. Credit: Emily Wheeler Photography

KI Welcomes New Executive Director

Jane Wilkinson is the new Executive Director of the Koch Institute. Building on her 20+ years of experience in scientific operations and alliance management at the Broad Institute, Cereon Genomics/Monsanto, and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Genome Center, Wilkinson will oversee the KI's overall outreach program, helping to build and manage collaborative interactions between the KI and academic, industry, and clinical institutions within and outside of MIT. She looks forward to meeting and working with the Koch Institute's talented community of researchers, collaborators, administrators, and friends. more...

natural killer cell

Fate Accompli

Fate Therapeutics, founded by Rudolf Jaenisch, reported positive data from their ongoing Phase 1 trial of FT516, a natural killer cell-based cancer immunotherapy engineered using an induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) platform. Eight of 11 patients with B-cell lymphoma responded favorably to the treatment, with six achieving a complete response. more...

two podcasters holding up a Mongolian scarf

Culture Club

Introducing “Let’s Get to Know... Celebrating Diversity at MIT,” a podcast that invites Koch Institute members from different backgrounds to share their stories and the music, food, literature and more from their respective cultures. Join host Neel Bardhan to learn about Mongolian metals bands with fellow Belcher Lab trainee Uyanga Tsedev, the joys of cooking (and eating) pollo guisado with Building 76 custodian Kameron Santana, and finding a career while washing the lab dishes with KI director Matt Vander Heidenmore...

Harvey Lodish and Kate Koch

Lodish Means Business

Congratulations to Harvey Lodish and Hemann Lab graduate student Kate Koch on winning a 2021 MITx Prize for Teaching and Learning in MOOCs for 15.480x (The Science and Business of Biotechnology), an interdisciplinary course that emphasized understanding the science behind biotech while exploring novel business structures and financing methods.

Fittingly, two Lodish-founded companies report positive news this month: Epizyme launched a new diagnostic program for follicular lymphoma patients and Rubius dosed its first patient in a Phase 1/2 trial of a combination therapy for advanced solid tumors. more...

Strand and Deliver

Strand Therapeutics, co-founded by KI members Darrell Irvine, Ron Weiss, and Weiss Lab alum Jacob Becraft (recently named among Technology Review’s 35 Innovators Under 35), has emerged from stealth with $52 million Series A capital. Strand is developing a platform for creating programmable, self-amplifying mRNA vaccines, and aims to bring its first drug, an immunotherapy for solid tumors, to the clinic in 2022. more...

breast implants with various surface textures

On the Surface of Silicone

Langer Lab researchers analyzed the relationship between the surface architecture of silicone breast implants and adverse effects that include scarring, inflammation and, in rare cases, lymphoma. The team hopes their data, published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, will help scientist and engineers design safer, more effective implants of any type. more...

Scott Floyd, Salil Garg, Hojun Li, Alice Shaw

A Foot in Both Worlds

The Koch Institute Clinical Investigator program offers physician-scientists a unique opportunity to participate in cutting-edge cancer research while continuing their medical practice, and provides Koch Institute researchers with a frontline view of challenges in cancer treatment. Past and present Clinical Investigators joined program director Michael Yaffe for a roundtable discussion about the relationship between laboratory benchwork and clinical translation and practice, and the influence of the Koch Institute community and research model on their careers. Watch video more...

Natasha Joglekar

Branching Out from STEM

Before launching into a career in medical research, Jacks Lab alum Natasha Joglekar ’21 shares how combining a major in computer science and biology with a minor in women’s and gender studies has helped her build new frameworks for understanding the world, patient needs, and the social determinants of health. more...

poly ADP ribose localized at mitotic spindles

Ribon is Right on Target

Ribon Therapeutics, founded by former member Paul Chang based on his work at the KI, has reported positive data from the dose-escalation portion of its Phase 1 trial of a small molecule PARP7 inhibitor.  PARPs (poly ADP ribose polymerases) are enzymes that regulate essential cellular processes, including stress responses that enable cancer cells to survive and evade immune detection. In a trial of patients with various advanced solid tumors, Ribon’s candidate was well-tolerated, demonstrated target inhibition, and showed preliminary signs of antitumor activity, promising signs as the trial progresses to the next phase. Chang’s foundational research was supported in part by the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program via the Kathy and Curt Marble Cancer Research Fund.    more...

scientist in an MIT sweatshirt pipetting

Celebrating Unsung Research Heroes

The Robert A. Swanson (1969) Biotechology Center lies at the heart of Koch Institute research. Supported in large part by philanthropy, these core facilities provide state-of-the-art technical resources and trusted scientific expertise to researchers at all levels, accelerating MIT’s robust cancer science and engineering projects to have the greatest possible impact on patients and cancer research. Over the course of this series of lightning talks and culminating panel discussion, experts in bioinformatics, high throughput sciences, and microscopy joined researchers from the Bhatia, Hammond, Koehler, and Yilmaz laboratories to profile their teamwork. The three highlighted projects—tracking the effect of circadian rhythms on drug metabolism, hijacking cellular recycling systems to break down challenging cancer targets, and longitudinal monitoring of organoids—exemplify the SBC’s collaborative nature and reflect on the unique environment of the Koch Institute. Watch video
  more...

State of the Vaccination

The Covid-19 pandemic has interrupted delivery of health services for adolescents, including HPV vaccination for cancer prevention. The Koch Institute and other NCI-designated cancer centers and organizations have issued a joint statement urging the nation’s health care systems, physicians, and families to get HPV vaccination back on track. more...

Congratulations and Welcome

Over the next year, the Koch Institute will welcome three new faculty members, all of whom will be appointed as assistant professors in the Department of Biology. Kristin Knouse, who will join the KI on July 1, uses novel genetic, molecular, and cellular tools to understand how tissues sense and respond to damage. Francisco Sánchez-Rivera arrives in early 2022 and will study genetic variation in the context of cancer using functional genomics, genome editing, single cell genomics, and mouse models. Yadira Soto-Feliciano will also join the KI in early 2022 and will study how protein complexes assemble on chromatin and how disruption of these molecular mechanisms lead to human diseases including cancer. more...

Paula Hammond

Hammond Named Institute Professor

Paula Hammond has been named an Institute Professor—the highest distinction bestowed upon MIT faculty members—in honor of her pioneering work in nanotechnology, her excellence as a teacher and mentor, and her leadership on issues of equity and inclusion. When the appointment takes effect on July 1, she will be the third Institute Professor in residence in Building 76, along with Bob Langer and Phil Sharp.   more...

cell undergoing extrusion

Elimination Round

Horvitz Lab researchers discovered a trigger for cell extrusion—a mechanism for eliminating unneeded cells—and suggest that the process might provide a natural defense against cancer. In a study appearing in Nature, researchers found that in the worm C. elegans many of the genes necessary for extrusion are involved in the cell division cycle. However, as extruded cells enter the cell division cycle, they are unable to replicate their DNA and consequently experience replication stress. Collaborators’ studies of mammalian cells revealed that replication stress similarly drives the extrusion of mammalian cells and that the well-known tumor suppressor protein p53 plays a role in the extrusion of cells undergoing DNA replication stress. Because cancerous and precancerous cells commonly experience replication stress, the findings indicate that extrusion may be a tumor suppression mechanism. more...

circulating tumor cells squeezing through blood vessel into tissue

Soft Cell

A team of researchers including Roger Kamm demonstrated that metastasizing cancer cells soften as they escape through a blood vessel wall and enter a new site. The study, appearing in the Journal of Biomechanics, may enable the development of new drugs that disrupt metastasis by interfering with cell softening. more...

illustration of CRISPR-Cas9 complex

Learnt to a CRISPR

Few discoveries have accelerated biomedical research faster than CRISPR, the protein-based gene editing tool that allows scientists to precisely manipulate individual genes on a molecular level. Startup company KSQ Therapeutics, co-founded by KI members Eric Lander, David Sabatini, and Jonathan Weissman, leverages the investigators' CRISPR-based technologies to decipher the role of genes in diseases like cancer and apply these insights to therapeutic development. more...

Michael Yaffe

KI Physician Honored

Congratulations to Michael Yaffe, David H. Koch Professor of Science and director of the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine, on his election to the Association of American Physicians. The AAP is a selective honorary medical society for physicians with outstanding credentials in basic or translational biomedical research. Yaffe, in addition to conducting research into cancer’s dysregulated signaling pathways, is a trauma surgeon and intensivist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Over the summer, he served as co-director of the acute care and ICU section of the Boston Hope Covid-19 pop-up hospital. more...

Linda Griffith

Redefining Endometriosis

The New York Times profiled Linda Griffith's efforts to pivot the conversation around endometriosis from "a women's issue" to "an MIT issue." Founder of the first lab in the U.S. dedicated to endometriosis and a recently elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Griffith has developed uterine organoid models to parse the genetic and molecular networks at play in the poorly understood disease. more...

tumor section

Location, Location, Location

Matthew Vander Heiden and Bridge Project collaborators demonstrate in a Nature Cancer paper that metabolic differences between primary and metastatic brain tumors may serve as therapeutic targets. The research team showed that breast cancer metastases in the brain require fatty acid synthase expression because they must make their own fats, as compared to breast cancer tumors in the breast, where fats are abundant and accessible. Therapies that inhibit fatty acid synthase in these brain metastases may be a promising strategy for combatting these fatal and drug resistant tumors. This work was also supported in part by the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine, and the Ludwig Center at MIT.   more...

a trisomy 8 Ewing sarcoma cell

In-eight Ability

Paradoxically, variation in the number of chromosomes each cell carries impedes the ability of normal cells to grow and proliferate—but not for cancer cells. By combining bench experiments with bioinformatic algorithms developed in the Barbara K. Ostrom 1978 Bioinformatics and Computing facility, Amon Lab researchers demonstrate how an extra copy of chromosome 8 in Ewing’s sarcoma helps rather than hinders cell survival and growth. In the study published in Genes and Development, researchers found that the EWS-FLI1 fusion oncogene, which drives 85% of Ewing’s sarcomas, results in replication stress and increased DNA damage. An extra copy of chromosome 8 alleviated the cellular stress caused by the oncogene by adding additional copies of RAD21, a gene implicated in DNA damage repair. The team’s findings offer new insight into the mechanisms behind tumorigenesis. more...

Nancy Hopkins and Aviv Regev

Hail Fellows, Well Met

Nancy Hopkins and Aviv Regev were elected to the 2021 class of American Association for Cancer Research Fellows. Hopkins was honored for helping to establish zebrafish as an essential disease model—which has also earned her the International Zebrafish Conference's 2021 George Streisinger Award—as well as her research involving murine RNA tumor viruses. Regev was honored for her work developing computational approaches to understanding molecular circuits and developing technologies for high throughput, single-cell screening. more...

Clockwise from top left: Suman Bose, Molly Wilson, Dan Schmidt, Crystal Chu

Congratulations to our 2020 Karches Prize Winners

The KI is proud to congratulate 2020's Peter Karches Mentorship Prize winners: Suman Bose, Crystal Chu, Dan Schmidt, and Molly Wilson. Each year, the prize recognizes the critical role mentorship plays in engaging the next generation of cancer researchers. more...

Matthew Vander Heiden

Koch Institute Names New Director

Matthew Vander Heiden has been named the next director of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, effective April 1. An MIT professor of biology, a practicing oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and a pioneer in the field of cancer cell metabolism, Vander Heiden was one of the first faculty members hired to join the Koch Institute after it was created. He has served as associate director since 2017, and is a member of the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine, the Ludwig Center for Molecular Oncology, and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. His work has been recognized by many awards, including the HHMI Faculty Scholar Award and an NCI Outstanding Investigator Award. Now, as he guides the Koch Institute into its second decade, he looks forward to taking advantage of new opportunities to make fundamental discoveries in the biology of cancer, as well as translating existing knowledge into better treatments for patients. Vander Heiden succeeds Tyler Jacks, who has served as director for more than 19 years, first for the MIT Center for Cancer Research and then for its successor, the Koch Institute. more...

molecular simulation of nanostructures blends into electron microscope photograph of the same structures

Some Self-Assembly Required

A new screening platform combines machine learning with high-throughput experimentation to identify self-assembling nanoparticles for drug delivery. Nanoparticles, usually made from lipids, polymers or both, can improve a drug’s pharmacokinetics. However, nanoparticle production can be complex and their drug payload small. In a study published in Nature Nanotechnology, researchers from the Langer and Traverso Labs screened 2.1 million pairings of small molecule drugs and inactive drug ingredients, identifying 100 new nanoparticle formulations that are simple to create and shuttle larger drug cargoes. One of those nanoparticles, combining the cancer medicine sorafenib with glycyrrhizin (the primary flavoring of licorice), proved more effective than than sorafenib alone in both cell culture and a genetic mouse model of liver cancer. more...

Time to Face the Mucus

Irvine Lab researchers are building an army of T cells ready to fight disease in the respiratory tract. The inhalable vaccines use the naturally occurring protein albumin to carry immune response-generating antigens into the mucosal lining of lungs and lymph nodes, where soldier T cells learn to recognize and fend off unwanted intruders. In a study published in Science Immunology and funded in part by the Bridge Project and the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, researchers observed a 25-fold increase in T cell response over traditional muscular injections. Ultimately, the team aims to develop vaccines that protect against both viruses and cancer, and combat metastasis by priming the mucosal lining in key organs to reject invading cancer cells. The technology has been licensed by Elicio Therapeutics, which will begin clinical testing of an albumin-binding vaccine later this year. more...

illustration of two cancer cells watching a home video

A Field Guide to Cancer Progression

Tag along with the Whitehead Institute’s “Cells Over Time” series to explore key moments of cancer progression. First stop: Jaenisch Lab, where chimeras shed new light on the cellular origins of neuroblastoma. In collaboration with the Spranger Lab, the researchers investigate how newly formed cancer cells “trick” immune cells into not destroying them. Spranger Lab technologies are also being used in the Weinberg Lab to understand the changes that occur when breast cancer cells become metastatic and acclimate to far-flung homes. Of course, this whirlwind tour would not be complete without a visit to the Weissman Lab where researchers have adapted a lung cancer model developed by the Jacks Lab to analyze gene expression as tumors evolve. Together, these intrepid explorers are charting a way forward in cancer biology. more...

Paula Hammond and Barack Obama in the lab

Scientific Modeling

Paula Hammond guest edits C&EN’s 2021 Trailblazers issue, highlighting the achievements of Black chemists and engineers in their own voices. Amid the reflections on past and present research, accomplishment and inclusion, career origins and evolutions, don’t miss Hammond’s own profile, tracing her path from young nerd to nanomaterials pioneer. more...

woman in lab coat stand next to a chart

The Companies They Keep

The Future Founders Initiative is off and running, making important strides to increase the number of woman-founded companies in biotech. Led by KI members Sangeeta Bhatia and Harvey Lodish, the initiative builds on Bhatia's recent work with Susan Hockfield and Nancy Hopkins around gender disparities in entrepreneurship, focusing on networking and community building. more...

two researchers work together on a small device

Breaking Through Cancer: Collaborative translational research goes nationwide

Break Through Cancer announced its formal launch as a public foundation designed to find new solutions to the most intractable challenges in cancer. Led by Dr. Tyler Jacks, the David H. Koch Professor of Biology and Founding Director of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, Break Through Cancer will fund and support collaborative research teams drawn from several of the country’s top cancer centers. more...

vials of lipid-like molecules arranged to spell out MIT

Behind the Vaccines

Beneath every great biotech innovation lies many years of research. KI members Phil Sharp and Robert Langer reflect on the early days of RNA discovery and innovation in a Tech Review feature by MIT President Rafael Reif, profiling the Institute’s contributions to Moderna’s “overnight” success developing an mRNA vaccine for COVID-19. Both Sharp’s work on mRNAs and Langer’s on lipid nanoparticles began in the 1970’s. Similarly, both play an increasingly important role in human health, advancing new tools to fight COVID, cancer and other diseases. more...

lymph node cross section with vaccine labeled in green

Next Stop KRAS

The FDA approved biotech startup Elicio will begin clinical testing of their “hitchhiking” therapeutic vaccine candidate designed to target mutated KRAS cancers using the Irvine Lab's signature lymph node targeting technology. The trial will enroll patients with mKRAS+ pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma and other solid tumors. more...

macrophages

Inside an Immune Response

Working with collaborators to collect longitudinal samples during clinical trials of a new treatment technique for brain hemorrhage, the Love and Shalek Labs have published a new study in Science Immunology illuminating immune activity in acute injury. The team’s data show an evolution of macrophages, a type of immune cell, from a pro-inflammatory to anti-inflammatory state. The researchers also saw metabolic shifts, and found glycolytic metabolism—normally seen in cancer cells—in the macrophages was associated with better patient outcomes. These types of transitions in macrophage inflammation and metabolism are also known to be important in cancer, for which these findings provide additional insights and reference points. more...

prostate cancer cells

Progress Against Prostate Cancer Proceeds

Positive data continue to emerge from Phase II clinical trials in advanced prostate cancer of a synergistic drug combination identified by the Yaffe Lab. Fine-tuning the dosing schedule more than doubled the percentage of patients whose cancer stabilized or responded positively to treatment. Ongoing biomarker research in the Yaffe Lab has revealed genetic mutations that may help clinicians predict treatment response to the combination and support efficient design of future trials. This trial and related research have been funded in part by the Bridge Project and the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine. Read more more...

CD161 blockade-activated T cells

New Immunotherapy Target in Glioblastoma

A new paper in Cell from a Bridge Project team working on brain cancer sheds light on how gene expression in T cells affects response to immunotherapy in tumors called gliomas. Single-cell RNA sequencing approaches developed in the Regev Lab highlighted the role of KLRB1. Silencing this gene in cell and animal models enhanced T cell killing of glioma cells, suggesting its utility as an immunotherapy target. more...

illustration of overlapping circular DNA

Tying Up Loose Ends in RNA Therapeutics

Orna, co-founded by KI member Daniel Anderson and based on strategies developed in his lab offers an alternative to current RNA-based therapies. By connecting the loose ends of linear messenger RNA molecules, Orna’s circularized “oRNAs” could improve stability of mRNA therapies, leading to more efficient delivery of drugs into cells and increased expression of disease-fighting proteins. The company will develop and test their approach in the area of cancer immunotherapy.   more...

Bhatia tracks treatment response

Best known for applications in cancer diagnostics, the Bhatia lab’s synthetic biosensor platform can also be used to monitor and understand treatment response. In partnership with Gilead, Bhatia’s startup, Glympse Bio, is using the technology in trials with NASH patients. more...

Robert Weinberg

Weinberg wins Japan Prize

Three cheers to Daniel K. Ludwig Professor for Cancer Research Robert Weinberg, 2021 Japan Prize laureate in the field of Medical Science and Medicinal Science. He is honored jointly with Bert Vogelstein (Johns Hopkins Medicine) for their pioneering contributions to the development of a multi-step carcinogenesis model, its application and its impact on improving cancer treatment. The Japan Prize is awarded annually to scientists and engineers from around the world who have made significant contributions to the advancement of science and technology, thereby furthering the peace and prosperity of humankind. Read more. more...

three mammogram images with cancer lesion on third slide

Making mammography-based risk assessment more robust

Researchers led by Regina Barzilay and Constance Lehman (Mass General Hospital) developed a new risk-assessment algorithm to improve accuracy, consistency, and equity in breast cancer diagnosis. Described on YouTube and published Science Translational Medicine, the Mirai system incorporates the unique requirements of risk modeling into their AI-driven screening tools and works across diverse populations, leading to equitable healthcare outcomes. more...

expanding tissue

Expanding Options for Tissue Analysis

Combining tissue expansion and RNA sequencing techniques, Ed Boyden and collaborators developed an approach to mapping gene expression in tissue samples that can pinpoint an individual molecule of mRNA within a cell. In a study appearing in Science, researchers examined tumor and immune cells in breast cancer metastases, uncovering unique behaviors based on cell location. more...

melanoma cells

Personalized Vaccine Persists

A study published in Nature Medicine highlights the effectiveness of a personalized cancer vaccine developed by a Bridge Project team including Bradley Pentelute. Four years after melanoma patients were treated with a personalized vaccine, the resulting immune response remains intact and effective at controlling cancer cells. more...

fluorescence image of tumor cells with probes along the edge

Belcher Shines Brighter

In a paper published in Advanced Materials, the Belcher Lab demonstrated recent advancements to their imaging system. First, they paired short-wave infrared organic dye molecules with gold nanorods to increase the brightness of their fluorescent probes. Then, collaborating with the Hammond and Irvine groups, they designed three different surface coatings to help target the fluorescent probes to tumors. In ovarian cancer mouse models, the researchers showed that the probes are not only brighter, but that all three coatings target efficiently to tumors, making them ideal for use in real-time imaging guided surgery.
 
This work was funded in part by the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program through the Curt and Kathy Marble Cancer Research Fund. more...

For pTyr's Sake

White Lab researchers have developed a new method for profiling tyrosine phosphorylation, a cell signaling process that is often dysregulated in cancer. The high-throughput array, described in Cancer Research and funded in part by the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine, opens up new clinical avenues for personalized treatment based on cell signaling more...

Hungry for Answers

Nearly 100 years ago, Otto Warburg discovered that cancer cells metabolize sugar differently than healthy cells, increasing fermentation to fuel their rapid proliferation despite being a less efficient way to extract energy from food. Today, as new cancer drugs targeting cell metabolism move into the clinic, understanding the mechanism behind this paradox remains as pressing as ever.

Research by the Vander Heiden Lab, published in Molecular Cell, shows how fermentation drives increased regeneration of a molecule known as NAD+, required to synthesize DNA and other cellular building blocks. Their findings offer a possible explanation for the metabolic mystery behind the Warburg Effect and could also explain why other fast-dividing cells turn to fermentation despite its relative inefficiency.

This work was funded in part by the Ludwig Center for Molecular Oncology, the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine and the Lustgarten Foundation. more...

Science Gets a Promotion

Like many at MIT, KI community members have long played key roles as scientific advisors and leaders at the national level. This year, the KI congratulates biologist Eric Lander, named Presidential Science Advisor, and Vice President of Research Maria Zuber—under whose purview the KI sits—now co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Beyond these well-deserved appointments, the KI celebrates the fact that, with the Presidential Science advisor role elevated to a cabinet level position, science itself now has a seat at the table. more...

Disarming Cancer

Weinberg and Spranger Lab researchers are studying the biology behind two of cancer's most deadly evolutions—metastasis and resistance to treatment. Previous work showed that quasi-mesenchymal cells cross-protect their epithelial neighbors in the same tumor and shield it from immune attack, keeping out cancer-destroying immune cells. In new work supported by the Ludwig Center for Molecular Oncology at MIT and appearing in Cancer Discovery, researchers identified six quasi-mesenchymal molecules that help carry out this defense. Of the six, the enzyme CD73 proved most effective in making breast carcinoma cells more vulnerable to immunotherapy and reducing the severity of metastasis. more...

New Year, New Faces

A trio of new Koch Institute extramural faculty members hails from MIT’s Departments of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry. Katie Galloway connects basic research questions—in gene circuits, genome architecture, and cell-fate transitions—to tool development for biomedical applications. Laura Kiessling uses chemical biology to elucidate the biological roles of carbohydrates, with a focus on learning new mechanistic concepts. Ron Raines studies the chemical basis and biological purpose for protein structure and function. A hearty welcome to all! more...

NCI, MIT Cancer Research Turn 50

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Institute, the history of which is intimately linked with that of cancer research at MIT. Following passage of the National Cancer Act of 1971, Professor Salvador Luria, the Nobel prize-winning head of MIT’s Department of Biology, applied for and won funding to open one of the first NCI-designated cancer centers. The MIT Center for Cancer Research, predecessor to the Koch Institute, set the standard for investigating the fundamental nature of cancer, making key biological discoveries that helped shape the field and advance new treatments. Efforts are underway to name the KI Auditorium in Luria’s honor.

Read about Luria’s science and mentorship here. more...