No 85
Myc Drop

A research team led by KI member Angela Koehler developed a strategy for reducing the activity of Myc, one of the most common, but notoriously difficult to target cancer-promoting genes. Scientists have tried—and failed—for decades to develop drugs that block the Myc protein, which is overexpressed in about 70% of cancers. In a study appearing in Cell Chemical Biology, researchers discovered a new compound that ties up Myc's binding partner, Max. The compound stabilizes bonds between two Max molecules, leaving unpartnered Myc molecules to be broken down within cells. The compound, which the study found to suppress tumor growth in mouse models, has been licensed by Kronos Bio for further study and development. The research was funded in part by the MIT Center for Precision Cancer MedicineRead more.

But what he really wants to do is direct...

Tyler Jacks, cancer researcher, mouse model pioneer and star? Jacks lends his voice and reflections to Breakthrough, a brand new documentary about 2018 Nobel Prize winner (and 2019 KI Summer Symposium keynote speaker) Jim Allison. Fresh off its SXSW premiere showing and follow-on screening at the AACR annual meeting, the documentary hits MIT this coming June. Stay tuned for details, and in the meantime, read more in The Washington Post and The Daily Mail.

What's On Your Plate?

Cancer cell metabolism—as well as tumor growth and drug sensitivity—is profoundly influenced by the nutrient profile of the surrounding microenvironment. However, according to new research from the laboratory of KI member Matthew Vander Heiden, the nutrient composition of tumor interstitial fluid is significantly different from the plasma that feeds normal cells. Research in mice also shows variation based on diet and tumor location and site of origin. The findings, published in eLife with former KI postdoc Alex Muir as co-senior author, suggest that model cancer cells grown in media that more closely replicate physiological nutrient levels might better predict which genes are essential to tumor metabolism. The research was funded in part by the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine and the Ludwig Center for Molecular OncologyRead more.

In Like a Lion

This spring, KI faculty member Susan Hockfield continues to champion causes for which she has a long-standing passion—the convergence of the life, physical, and engineering sciences, the advancement of women in the sciences, and support and funding for the research community.

Hockfield has penned a new book on convergence, The Age of Living Machines, which she will discuss with NPR and WBUR host Robin Young at a KI public event on May 16. Register now!

Last month, Hockfield spoke at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, at the launch of the Lyda Hill Foundation’s IF/THEN initiative to inspire girls to consider STEM careers.

Hockfield also received the Geoffrey Beene Foundation Builders of Science Award, one of Research!America’s 2019 Advocacy Awards recognizing individuals who advance research and public health to benefit individuals worldwide.

A Tale of Two Acidities

Scientists have long understood that an acidic microenvironment is associated with more aggressive cancer cells, and have attributed tumors' higher acidity to its oxygen-deprived interior. However, a study led by KI faculty member Frank Gertler mapped acidic regions to the tumor surface as well as to its interior. In a paper appearing in Cancer Research, researchers also showed that acidic cells ramped up production of proteins that promote invasion and metastasis and that this process could be reversed in mice by making the tumor environment less acidic. Read more.

New Images in Bloom

On the first day of spring, the 2019 Koch Institute Image Award winners unveiled the latest visuals to grace the lightboxes in the Koch Institute Public Galleries. Featuring a range of topics from developmental biology to machine learning, the ninth annual exhibition celebrates the diversity of MIT's biomedical research and the many fields that contribute to our understanding of cancer and the fight against it. View the images in Cell Picture Show, see photos and presentations from the opening event, or read more in STAT.

The Building Blocks of Creative Chemistry

A Chemical & Engineering News profile of David H. Koch Professor in Engineering Paula Hammond traces her passion for chemical engineering, from her early fascination in high school with the creative potential of chemistry to her current work here at the Koch Institute. Hammond harnesses electrostatic properties to build nanomaterials that address a vast array of engineering problems, from storing electrochemical energy to timing and targeting the delivery of cancer drugs.

Of course, as a longtime mentor to students and, currently, the head of MIT's Department of Chemical Engineering, Hammond's recognition of the power of multiple perspectives is not limited to the nanoscale. "Excellence is gained from diversity," she says, which helps us "make inroads into difficult problems because we put together people who have different ways in which they approach problems." Read more.

Amon to Co-Direct Alana Down Syndrome Center

KI faculty member Angelika Amon will co-direct the new Alana Down Syndrome Center, which will be established at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory with a $28.6 million gift from the Alana Foundation. Amon's lab will bring its expertise in aneuploidy and chromosomal instability in cancer to the study of Down Syndrome, a condition characterized by extra genetic material from some or all of chromosome 21. Read more or watch a video.

TGI Pi Day

The Koch Institute’s first ever Pi Day Challenge was a success, thanks to all who participated! 135 donors stepped up, unlocking Jim Goodwin’s challenge gift and ultimately raising more than $20,000 for the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program. The program launches early-stage, proof-of-concept research with the potential to have major impact on cancer detection, treatment, and monitoring. With Frontier’s annual request for research proposals coming up, it is never too late to contribute—we rely on gifts all year round to support our most innovative cancer research projects.

Upcoming Events

Join us on campus for the following events:

SOLUTIONS with/in/sight: Using Artificial Intelligence to Make Mammography Smarter
Tuesday, April 30, 2019 - exploring new strategies for the integration of machine learning algorithms into clinical care to improve consistency and accuracy in image-based assessments

The Age of Living Machines: A Conversation with Susan Hockfield and Robin Young
Thursday, May 16 - discussing Hockfield's book, The Age of Living Machines and the power of convergence to revolutionize life sciences and solve the world's greatest challenges

KI Summer Symposium: Machine Learning and Cancer
Friday, June 14 - examining new approaches for data science and machine learning to improve diagnostics, drug development, risk prediction, and treatment strategies

Community Highlights

Look for Aviv Regev's insight into single cell sequencing approaches in Nature's Technology Feature about the interplay between tumors and immune cells for cancer therapy.

Toast with Angelika Amon at the 2019 Vilcek Foundation Prizes Gala

Read about the Jaenisch Lab's Fragile-X syndrome research in this year's STAT Madness Editor's Pick profile.

Celebrate with Ed Boyden on winning a 2019 Rumford Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

Listen to Robert Langer on Luke Timmerman's The Long Run podcast.

Congratulate Meena Chakraborty of the Sharp and Garg Labs for being named a 2019 Churchill Scholar!

Head to Forbes to read about Jacks Lab postdoc Peter Westcott's new digital pathology algorithm.

Meet Barzilay Lab graduate student and Marshall Scholar Kyle Swanson, who shared his experiences as a computer scientist, cancer patient, and musician with MIT News.

In Good Company

Lumicell, founded by KI faculty membery Linda Griffith and MIT alumnus W. David Lee (1969) and based on collaborative Frontier Research Program-funded work at the KI, launched another feasibility study, in this case to determine the initial safety and efficacy of its imaging system for surgeries to remove metastases to the peritoneum.

Elicio Therapeutics launched with $30 million of funding to develop an anti-cancer vaccine platform based on the work of KI member Darrell Irvine. Elicio plans to launch its first human studies in 2020.

Pub Crawl: News from the Research Journals

We raise our glasses to all the recent publications by KI researchers, including:

A study of serine's role in cancer metabolism by the Vander Heiden Lab (Cell Metabolism)

An investigation of the relationship between tumorigenicity and the position of cells along the epithelial-mesenchymal spectrum, led by KI faculty members Christopher Burge and Robert Weinberg (PNAS)

Work by a team of Langer and Traverso Lab researchers to create a nasogastric tube for less burdensome treatment of tuberculosis (Science Translational Medicine)

An analysis by KI postdoc Daniel Reker, KI affiliate Giovanni Traverso, and colleagues of the effects that so-called inactive ingredients for oral drug delivery can have on subpopulations of patients (Science Translational Medicine)

A review of computational advances in combating colloidal aggregation in drug discovery, co-authored by Daniel Reker, whose own examination of machine learning and drug discovery can be seen in the 2019 Image Awards (Nature Chemistry)

The newsletter of the David H. Koch Institute at MIT: providing up-to-date information on next generation cancer solutions coming from MIT and our collaborators across the world.
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