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The Cool Nano-nerds

The KI dream team of Sangeeta Bhatia, Angela Belcher, and Paula Hammond are (as they describe themselves) "the cool kind of nerds" who are making substantial advances in cancer research on the nanoscale. Comprising half of the all-star faculty at the KI's Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine (of which Bhatia is the director), this power trio combines their expertise in various scientific areas and engineering disciplines to develop a theranostic platform — a combination diagnostic and therapy — made from nanomaterials to detect tumors at their earliest stages and destroy them before they become threatening. In the latest "This Moment in Cancer" segment from WBUR, these three dedicated engineers talk about the potential of nanomedicine in the fight against cancer and how, as researchers and mentors, they work to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. Listen here.

Of Mice and Men

Researchers in the Jacks and Yilmaz laboratories have developed new strategies for modeling human colorectal cancer in mice. Using a combination of CRISPR gene editing and the transplantation of cultured colon cancer cells into the mouse colon, the team was able to rapidly induce tumors that closely resemble features of human cancer, including metastasis. These new experimental approaches, described in Nature Biotechnology, will be used for in vivo colorectal cancer research using patient-derived material, gene function analysis, as well as translational drug discovery and testing. The work was supported in part by the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program through the Kathy and Curt Marble Cancer Research Fund, and was featured in the 2016 Image Awards exhibition in the Koch Institute Public Galleries.

KI Members and Collaborators Elected to the NAS

Congratulations to KI members Sangeeta Bhatia and Stephen Bell on their elections to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) — a prestigious honor that recognizes scientific excellence and outstanding contributions to knowledge. Bhatia and Bell, along with KI collaborator Klavs Jensen, were among six MIT affiliates elected to the NAS in 2017. Following the induction of Bhatia and Bell later this year, a total of 19 KI members will have been awarded membership in the NAS — a private organization of scientists dedicated to the furtherance of science and its use for the general welfare. Bhatia will join Robert Langer as the second KI faculty member to hold membership in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Inventors — a proud example of the diverse and boundary-defying talents of our faculty. Read more.

Wnt Power

One distinction between benign and malignant cancers is the quantity of highly proliferative cells whose stem cell-like behavior drives aggressive tumor growth. In a new Nature paper, Jacks Lab researchers describe how the Wnt signaling pathway promotes such qualities in lung tumor cells, resulting in two distinct cellular populations—one that produces the Wnt signal and another that responds to it. By inhibiting the Wnt signal, the team was able to suppress the stem-like behavior of the responder cells, leading to lower propagation rates and increased survival of tumor-bearing mice. Their results suggest that targeted disruption of proliferation-inducing pathways early in a tumor's development can translate into effective cancer therapies. This work was supported in part by the Transcend Program, a partnership between the Koch Institute and Janssen Pharmaceuticals. Read more on MIT News, in Nature's News & Views, and tune in to The Nature Podcast to listen about this research (the segment begins at the 16-minute mark).

Vander Heiden Receives SU2C Sharp Award

Congratulations to KI member Matthew Vander Heiden, the Eisen and Chang Career Development Professor, and University of Wisconsin-Madison Morgridge Institute for Research's Melissa Skala for being awarded the Phillip A. Sharp Innovation in Collaboration Award from Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C). With this grant, the team will work together to discover new ways to tackle pancreatic cancer by studying the altered metabolism of cancer cells. The dynamic duo is one of four teams honored with this award, established in 2014 by the SU2C founders to promote “innovation in collaboration” among members of the SU2C community  It is named in honor of Nobel Laureate Phillip Sharp — a KI member and Chairperson of SU2C’s Scientific Advisory — and is selected by committee. This is the second award Vander Heiden has received from SU2C; in 2016, he received an Innovative Research Grant to support his work in defining the metabolic dependencies of tumors. Read more.

Convergence in Cancer

Join the Koch Institute for our 16th Annual Cancer Research Symposium on Friday, June 16, and learn how convergence — the merging of historically distinct disciplines such as engineering, physics, computer science, chemistry, mathematics, and the life sciences — impacts cancer research and care. Co-chaired by convergence pioneers Phillip Sharp, MIT Institute Professor and Nobel Laureate, and Susan Hockfield, MIT President Emerita and current President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, this year's symposium features leaders and experts from academia, government, and industry. Join us as we discuss how innovative new approaches and technologies can better detect, monitor, treat, and prevent cancer — and how convergence is a catalyst for the future of health and medicine. Register now.

In Tune with Tumors

Between her studies in materials science, her engineering research, her contributions to global health, and her passion for playing piano, Bhatia Lab UROP Tiffany Yeh hasn’t missed a beat during her time at MIT. In a reflective piece for MIT News, Yeh looks back upon her time at MIT and the KI and explains how it has influenced her ultimate goal of becoming a doctor. During her time in the Bhatia Lab, Yeh worked with postdoc Simone Schürle (now a faculty member at ETH Zurich) to develop magnetic microrobots that can deliver drug-loaded nanoparticles into tumors. As for her future medical career, Yeh plans to apply her experience in the lab towards developing medical devices and taking them from patent stage to clinical trials. Read more.

Looking Sharp!

What do KI member Phillip Sharp, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, and actress Kathy Bates have in common? All three were honored at the Research!America's 21st Annual Advocacy awards in March. Sharp, an MIT Institute Professor and Nobel Laureate, received the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Award for Sustained National Leadership for his distinguished work in cancer research at MIT and advocacy efforts as Chairman of Stand Up to Cancer’s Scientific Advisory Committee. The following month, Sharp was again recognized for his groundbreaking work and was chosen to deliver the 127th Annual Shattuck Lecture at the Massachusetts Medical Society’s Annual Meeting. Presentation of the Shattuck Lecture is an honor given to leaders in health and medicine who are based within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In his remarks, Sharp chronicled the evolution of Kendall Square and Cambridge's thriving biotechnology community.

Shobrys Gives Back

KI friends Don Shobrys '75 and Carol Aronson appear in the cover feature of the new Spring 2017 edition of MIT’s Corridor. In the profile, Shobrys discusses the vast array of opportunities that were available to him as an MIT undergraduate, and how his experiences as both a student and an alumnus have inspired him to give back to his alma mater. One of the ways Shobrys gives back is by contributing to the KI, which he describes as “a microcosm of MIT,” citing thriving interdisciplinary collaborations within our research facility and across the university. He and Aronson also discuss their high regard for MIT's willingness to “attack the world’s most challenging problems," especially cancer. Read more.

Eliezer Calo Joins Faculty

The KI welcomes assistant professor Eliezer Calo to our extramural faculty. Following postdoctoral work at Stanford University, Calo — who first came to MIT through MIT's Summer Research Program (MSRP) and in 2010, received his PhD in the laboratory of KI associate director Jacqueline Lees — will devote his new lab to understanding how cells assemble ribosomes and the roles these important macromolecules play in development and disease. The lab will also explore the ways that defects in ribosome assembly can affect embryonic development and lead to developmental disorders. Calo hopes to inspire and support the next generation of graduate students and MSRP researchers through the same foundational MIT research experiences he received. Calo is one of three new MIT Biology faculty members, including KI intramural faculty member Stefani Spranger. Read more.

KI Outreach in Full Swing

From the American Association for the Advancement of Science's (AAAS) Family Science Days to the Cambridge Science Festival (CSF), more than 2,000 visitors have experienced the excitement of cancer research through hands-on activities, demonstrations, e-pen pals, and a pop-up custom-designed mini-golf course. So far this year, approximately three dozen volunteers from more than 20 laboratories pitched in to present KI research at four different outreach events — How Does MIT Fight Cancer? at the AAAS annual meeting; Girls Against Cancer! at the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts' STEM Expo; the NetPals partnership with the Cambridge Public Schools; and Putt-ing Cancer in its Place, a new spin for the KI's seventh annual CSF contribution. We can't speak for everyone, but the reviewers agree — KI outreach is a "hole" lot of fun!

Infinite sMiles All Around

Congratulations to the KI members recognized at this year’s MIT Infinite Mile Award ceremony! Mariane Melo, a research scientist in the Irvine Lab, received the award for her hard work and dedication to cultivating a positive sense of community in the lab. And (forgive us for tooting our own horn!) the KI communications team made up of Leny Gocheva, Sara Hellmold, Kelsey Montgomery, and Erika Reinfeld was recognized for strategically furthering the KI’s mission and communicating the impact of KI research to diverse audiences. Read more.

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