No. 74
Targeting Patient Success with Precision Cancer Medicine

We are excited to kick off the new year by announcing the launch of the new MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine, housed within the KI and established by a major gift from an anonymous donor. With Director Michael Yaffe at the helm, the Center will advance progress within the field of precision medicine — one of the KI's five research focus areas. Fellow faculty members Michael Hemann, Angela Koehler, Matthew Vander Heiden, and Forest White join this endeavor. Driven by internal and external collaborations, particularly with clinical partners, the Center will focus on identifying the most effective drugs and combinations for individual patients. Read more.

Arts and Crafting Cancer Solutions

Ingenuity unfolds when ancient art meets modern engineering — just ask KI graduate student Katerina Mantzavinou, who aims to make ovarian cancer treatment less invasive, less toxic, and more effective. Working in the Cima Lab, she is developing an origami-like device that will be directly inserted into the abdomen to administer local intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy. The device, prototyped with support from the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program, releases a continuous low-dose of IP chemotherapy—an approach that the team previously showed, with support from the Bridge Project, to be as effective as the current IP regimen of periodic high-dose chemotherapy, while causing less toxicity. Learn about the origami-inspired creation of the implantable device from Mantzavinou and Cima and see their innovative idea come to life in this video feature from STAT. This project, also featured on Yahoo!, will make another appearance in the upcoming Image Awards exhibition, opening March 9 in the Koch Institute Public Galleries.

KI Welcomes New Extramural Faculty Members

The Koch Institute is thrilled to announce four new extramural faculty members: Regina Barzilay, Ed Boyden, Jeremiah Johnson, and Alex Shalek.

Barzilay, the Delta Electronics Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT, will bring to the KI her unique expertise in using data and machine learning to advance cancer detection and treatment. She is the recent recipient of a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship, known by many as the "genius award," and a member of one of the newly-announced teams for Stand Up to Cancer's "Convergence 2.0" research program, which brings together experts in machine learning and artificial intelligence to investigate new cancer therapies.

Boyden is Associate Professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT's McGovern Institute and Media Lab, where he leads the Synthetic Neurobiology Group. His work focuses on developing tools for analyzing and repairing complex biological systems such as the brain, and applying those tools systematically to reveal fundamental principles of biological function. Boyden was recently named the recipient of NIH's Transformative Research Award.

Johnson, Associate Professor of Chemistry at MIT, works to develop new macromolecule tools to address problems in chemistry, medicine, biology, energy, and polymer physics. He was recently named the winner of the MIT School of Science Teaching Prize for Undergraduate Education.

Lastly, Shalek, who was recently named the Pfizer Inc.-Gerald Laubach Career Development Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry, leverages advances in nanotechnology and chemical biology to develop broadly applicable platforms for manipulating and profiling many interacting single cells to examine ensemble cellular behaviors from the bottom up. Fun fact: Alex was also a Koch Institute Image Awards winner back in 2013.

Garg named Johnson Clinical Investigator

In January, Salil Garg began his appointment as the Koch Institute’s new Charles W. (1955) and Jennifer C. Johnson Clinical Investigator. Garg’s research is focused on understanding the role of microRNAs and other potential drivers of ‘mutationally bland’ cancers. Since these tumors have few genetic mutations, which makes them unsuitable for genetically-targeted cancer therapies, Garg and his research group are studying other possible avenues for intervention. He is also working with the Anderson and Sharp laboratories to develop a technology for single cell microRNA sequencing as a diagnostic for early cancer detection.

Garg, a former Sharp Lab postdoc, is board certified in clinical pathology and completed a fellowship in molecular genetic pathology at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he currently practices. Learn more.

Fit to be Peptide

A collaborative Bridge Project team, led by MIT biologist Amy Keating and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute physician-scientists Loren Walensky and Anthony Letai, describe a novel strategy for inhibiting Mcl-1, a protein that is often overexpressed in cancer and contributes to tumor cell survival and resistance to chemotherapy. The team modified small protein fragments, or peptides, using chemical approaches and sequence optimization techniques, to produce peptides that are stable and can enter cells. When administered to cancer cells that are dependent on Mcl-1 for survival, the peptides successfully induced cell death. This research, published in PNAS, could lead to the development of new drugs for many different cancer types, and thus holds significant promise for clinical translation.
Read more.

Cannula Believe It?

When it comes to drug delivery to the brain, ultrathin is in. As published in Science Translational Medicine, a team comprised of KI members Michael Cima and Robert Langer, KI alum and Assistant Professor at MIT's Media Lab Canan Dagdeviren, and the McGovern Institute's Ann Graybiel, have developed a device to deliver drugs to very specific areas of the brain — even its deepest regions. At the heart of the system is an ultrathin needle, a miniaturized cannula about the width of a single strand of hair, containing several tubes that release multiple drugs at controlled and precise doses and locations. This strategy supports another of the researchers' goals — to bypass the blood-brain barrier and avoid harmful side effects that can be caused by drugs meant for the central nervous system getting into the brain. This innovative delivery system has high potential for studying and treating neurological disorders, and possibly brain cancer as well. Read more in MIT NewsThe Washington Post, and The Boston Herald.

Putting Pen to Purpose

Two KI trainees are drawing on their own experiences as researchers in academia to offer mentorship and guidance to those pursuing similar career paths. Ritu Raman, a postdoctoral fellow in the Cima and Langer Labs, writes for the Society of Women Engineers: Women in Academia blog about her first year as a postdocoral researcher at MIT and gives tips for the graduate student to postdoc transition. Lauren Stopfer, a PhD candidate in the White Lab, was inspired to contribute to the MIT Graduate Student Admissions blog after attending a writing workshop during MIT's Independent Activities Period. Stopfer, who now serves on the blog's editoral board, uses the platform to give prospective students an authentic glimpse into the life of a MIT graduate student. 

In Good Company

Taris Biomedical, co-founded by KI members Michael Cima and Robert Langer to develop solutions for bladder cancer and urological disorders, announced a clinical trial collaboration with Bristol-Myers Squibb and $25M in Series B financing.

Travera, a new biotech company founded by KI member Scott Manalis and members of his lab that uses breakthrough technology to measure which cancer drugs work against an individual’s unique cancer cells, recently closed a Series A financing round and moved into Cambridge's LabCentral.

Moderna, co-founded by KI member Robert Langer, cemented its "unicorn" status with $500M capital to further its development of mRNA technologies to treat cancer and other diseases.

In "The Second Coming of Ultrasound", WIRED profiled Suono Bio, Robert Langer and Langer Lab alum Carl Schoellhammer's company, for its effectiveness in using ultrasound waves to deliver drugs to the colon to treat gastrointestinal disorders and diseases.

KI Community Highlights

In other news...

Kaitlyn Sadtler, a postdoc in the KI's Anderson Lab, was named a TED2018 Fellow for her work in regnerative tissue engineering (also to be featured in the upcoming Image Awards exhibtion!). Sadtler will give a talk at the TED2018 conference in Vancouver this April.

KI member and director of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, Sangeeta Bhatia, will be one of the coaches for the Massachusetts Next Generation (MassNextGen) Initiative. MassNextGen is a five year, $1 million commitment to ensure greater gender parity in the next generation of life sciences entrepreneurs.

The Improper Bostonian dropped by Upstage Lung Cancer's From Bench to Broadway event at the Koch Institute to capture the musical magic felt by all in the audience. The group raised $50,000 for the Koch Institute's Frontier Research Program.

KI member and director of MIT's Ludwig Center for Molecular Oncology Robert Weinberg talks about the impact of his groundbreaking discoveries and his view of what's next in cancer research in the latest episode of the Whitehead's podcast, Audio Helicase.

KI member Richard Young and Bridge Project collaborators at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute announced a promising result from their investigations into the use of CDK inhibitors to treat cancer. In their study, published in Cancer Cell, researchers found that inhibition of CDK12 was particularly effective against Ewing sarcoma, the second most common bone cancer in children and adolescents, especially when combined with certain FDA-approved drugs that block the activity of PARP proteins involved in DNA damage repair.

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