No 62
T-Minus 10 Recs for Cancer Moonshot Liftoff

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) accepted 10 research recommendations proposed by the Blue Ribbon Panel of top cancer experts to shape the research blueprint for the Cancer Moonshot initiative. The panel, co-chaired by KI Director Tyler Jacks, was tasked by the Obama/Biden administration with guiding the direction of the initiative’s goal: to make a decade’s worth of advancements in cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care in only five years. The recommendations lay out a vision for the future in which patients contribute data and gain access to decision-making tools for their care; doctors have access to research that better predicts treatment outcomes and researchers can identify possible targets for the development of new cancer treatments and preventions. Read the full report and watch these videos to learn more about the panel's specific recommendations.

Health Care Initiatives Look to the KI

Susan Hockfield, Mark Zuckerberg, Priscilla Chan, Phillip Sharp, Robert Langer, and Joseph Biden walk into a bar…and immediately call for it to be raised. No longer satisfied with traditional models for combating disease, health care initiatives across the country continue to draw from the KI’s convergence model and expertise to accelerate their research and deliver solutions into the hands of the people who need them most.

From advisory boards to advocacy, KI researchers are increasingly in the public eye. Tyler Jacks co-chaired the Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel. Sangeeta Bhatia brings a technological perspective to the scientific advisory board of Biohub, recently announced as part of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative's $3 billion investment in curing disease. With cancer as one of its four focus areas, Biohub will bring together teams of scientists and engineers to "build tools and technology for the scientific community." The Boston Globe recently reported on how this effort might impact Boston—KI members Tyler Jacks, Susan Lindquist, and Eric Lander were all quoted, citing the importance of collaborative models for progress.

This signature KI approach was also highlighted in The Wall Street Journal, who spoke with KI faculty member Phillip Sharp about the Stand Up to Cancer-Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Convergence Dream Team and the importance of interdisciplinary research for biomedical solutions. Sharp, along with Jacks and fellow KI member and MIT President Emerita Susan Hockfield, captured the spirit of these initiatives in an almost predictive article in Science earlier this year. Cheers!

So Many Cells, (in) So Little Time

The need to pinpoint the effects of new treatments on cell growth, and to do it quickly, has become more critical than ever. In response to this demand, the KI’s Manalis Lab has significantly increased the throughput of their suspended microchannel resonators (SMRs) to measure cell characteristics at record speed — all while retaining its standing as the most accurate method of single-cell growth measurement. As described in a new paper published in Nature Biotechnology, the upgraded SMR device contains an array of 10 to 12 cantilever sensors that act like weigh stations. The array can measure 100 cells per hour  — a vast improvement from years past, when an SMR could only measure a couple of cells per hour. The enhanced capabilities of the technology have enabled new measurements, including the ability to identify varying growth patterns of different cells within individual cancer patient samples. This work was supported in part by the Bridge Project, a collaborative partnership between the Koch Institute and the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. Read more.

Sweet Success for KI Startups

Two KI startups are the winners of Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Golden Tickets for LabCentral, an innovative laboratory space designed as a launchpad for life-sciences and biotech startups. PanTher Therapeutics, a company focused on localized drug delivery for pancreatic cancer, will conduct pre-clinical research into chemotherapy efficacy using novel devices developed through the Bridge Project, which aims to improve understanding and treatment of cancer in areas of significant clinical need. Suono Bio, spun out of work happening in the KI’s Langer Lab, focuses on the ultra-rapid delivery of therapeutics to the gastrointestinal tract. With a new space and incredible resources to boost their research, we're sure these companies will take the great glass elevator to the top!

A New Release on Life

Nanoparticles are becoming an attractive option for targeted cancer therapy, but do these new delivery methods interfere with their cargo's functions? The Hemann Lab teamed up with the MIT Department of Chemistry’s Johnson Lab to measure cell response to their previously developed high capacity nanoparticles. The cells responded as expected to both doxorubicin and camptothecin; however, the DNA damage induced by cisplatin more closely resembled that of oxaliplatin (another chemotherapy drug.) The Johnson Lab is now working on an improved design for cisplatin delivery that retains the original mechanism of the drug. Read more.

Pearls Before STEM

“If you’re wearing pearls today, then you're wearing a biocomposite nanomaterial,” KI faculty member Angela Belcher told the crowd assembled at the KI for The Science of Gender and the Gender of Science. Belcher and fellow KI faculty member Angela Koehler presented their work and professional experiences as part of Cell Press’s LabLinks event. The day’s lecture and discussion sessions, which began with a welcome and call to action by KI Executive Director Anne Deconinck, ranged from protein engineering, endocrinology, and reproduction to diversity, lab culture, and the pay gap, and did not shy away from difficult questions affecting women and men alike. The event was co-hosted by the Association for Women in Science. Learn more about the motivation behind this meeting, read how other members of our faculty, including Sangeeta Bhatia, are promoting gender diversity in biotech, and explore contributions by KI members and meeting participants to Cell Metabolism's associated Rosie Project.

Rhythm of the Night

Thinking of pulling an all-nighter? The Jacks Lab might encourage you to think again. Recently, the team discovered how two genes responsible for regulation of cells’ internal clocks (circadian rhythms) influence tumor development and cancer progression. Studying Bmal1 and Per2 gene expression in a genetically engineered mouse model of non-small cell lung cancer, the team tracked the effects of jet lag and light/dark reversal (i.e., night shift work) on the formation of these aggressive tumors. Read more.

Mandal's Work is More Than Skin Deep

KI graduate student Anasuya Mandal wants to make a difference in human health. Working with KI faculty members Paula Hammond, a David H. Koch Professor of Engineering, and Darrell Irvine, Mandal has been leveraging the power of microneedle technology to improve disease management and vaccine design. The device she uses was previously featured in the Koch Institute Image Awards and has also been used to investigate strategies for studying tumorigenesis and cancer cell biology. Mandal, a chemical engineer whose work thus far has focused on autoimmune diseases, is interested in health care consulting and excited about the possibilities of expanding the microneedle technology’s applications to include diagnosis and monitoring. “I've always wanted to have a way to make somebody else's life better,” she says.

Bhatia Lab Helps CRISPR See the Light

Researchers in the laboratory of KI faculty member Sangeeta Bhatia have developed a new way to target cells for gene editing, using ultraviolet light. By creating customizable, light-sensitive DNA “protectors,” the team can turn the RNA “guides” that work within the popular CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing system to target individual sections of the genome, into switches to turn genes of interest off. This modularized approach offers greater control over the system, allowing researchers to study genetic drivers of disease more precisely, and could provide a new strategy for turning off cancer-causing genes within tumor cells. This work was supported in part by the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine. Read more.

Thanks for the Memories

Dear Cell Diary: Today we learned that researchers in the laboratory of KI member Timothy Lu are using CRISPR/Cas9 to engineer human cells to genetically encode their own history. Now these cells can maintain a record of multiple genetic events over the course of their lifetimes! Most immediately, this technology could be used in laboratory research; eventually, cells' ability to remember complex biological histories could be used to monitor cancer progression and identify key genetic contributions to the disease. Read more.

More Than Meets The Eye

In addition to being beautiful, images in the Koch Institute Public Galleries offer sneak peeks into ongoing work happening in MIT laboratories. Two recently published papers describe the science behind two award-winning images from the KI's annual competition.

Results from an ongoing Jacks Lab exploration of cancer initiation and progression were published in Nature Communications, offering insight into genetic events leading to tumor heterogeneity, as illustrated by lead author Mandar Muzumdar's 2014 image, The Bad Seed.

Earlier in the year, a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences described how multilayered nanoparticles developed by the Hammond and Belcher Labs provide a combined diagnostic and therapeutic ("theranostic") platform for early detection and treatment of microscopic tumors. This work was illustrated by Li Gu and Xiangnan Dang's 2016 image, Beyond the Red.

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