No 63
Susan Lindquist: Trailblazer, Mentor, and Friend

The Koch Institute shares its sorrow with the MIT and scientific communities over the news that Susan Lindquist, Ph.D., Member and former Director of the Whitehead Institute, and extramural KI faculty member has passed away at age 67 from cancer. Susan was well-known as a trailblazer in the study of protein folding; her research has had profound influences in fields as wide-ranging as human disease, evolution, and nanotechnology.

Our admiration for Susan goes beyond her visionary groundbreaking research. Susan was a tireless advocate for women in STEM fields, and her inspirational career is one that will be lauded for years to come. Her tenacious, vibrant, and innovative spirit was contagious, and we are incredibly fortunate to have had her as a foundational part of the KI community.

"Susan was a towering figure in biomedical science, a bold and creative scientist, a wonderful mentor, a role model for women in science, and a friend,” said KI Director Tyler Jacks. "Sue will be missed greatly in our community and well beyond. Our hearts and thoughts go out to her family and to the members of her laboratory, present and past.” 

Read more about Susan's life and legacy via the Whitehead Institute, The Boston Globe, and The New York Times.

Doubling Down on Immunotherapy

They say the best offense is a strong defense and cancer immunotherapy is just that—leveraging the body’s natural defense mechanisms to overcome cancer’s immunosuppressive nature. KI researchers have designed a new immunotherapy that combines strategies developed by the Irvine and Wittrup laboratories to activate both innate and adaptive immunity. Their approach, described in Nature Medicine and featured in Nature's Research Highlights, shows unprecedented results eliminating large, aggressive tumors in mice, and offers great potential for matching the current effectiveness of adoptive T cell transfer at a much lower cost, thus leveling the playing field for future patients across the board. It could also be customized to target multiple cancer types, while simultaneously training the immune system to tackle future challenges if new tumor cells return for an instant replay. Read more on MIT News and Gen Eng News.

Hammond Elected to National Academy of Medicine

Congratulations to Paula Hammond, a David H. Koch Professor of Engineering and head of MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering, on her election to the National Academy of Medicine (NAM). Hammond, known for her focus on polymeric materials, including her powerful layer-by-layer assembly technique, is being honored for her outstanding professional achievements and commitment to bettering the field of medicine. Hammond is one of 79 new members announced; membership to NAM is considered to be one of the highest honors in health and medicine. Read more.

Predicting Tumor Response for Cancer Care

When cancer drugs do their job, the cells in a patient’s tumor will ultimately slow their rate of mass accumulation and die. However, this can be difficult to measure until treatment is underway, and in many cases, the cells’ susceptibility to treatment is invariability overridden at some point by a phenomenon known as acquired resistance. The KI’s Manalis lab, in partnership with clinicians and other researchers working under the auspices of the KI-DF/HCC Bridge Project, has mobilized their suspended microchannel resonators to quickly and accurately determine drug sensitivity (and resistance) by analyzing how mass accumulation of individual cancer cells changes after exposure to different drugs. The researchers are currently determining if their approach can successfully predict patient response for personalized medicine, and also hope to use their findings to better understand the mechanisms by which resistance develops. Read more.

Vander Heiden Metabo-lites Up Cancer Research

Koch Institute faculty member Matt Vander Heiden, the Eisen and Chang Career Development Professor, Associate Professor of Biology, and a clinical oncologist, is an expert on cancer metabolism.  Research like Vander Heiden’s helps us not only to understand how cancer cells fuel their proliferation, but to identify ways in which we can intervene in these processes for therapeutic effect.  While metabolism is a relatively new direction in cancer research, findings in some cases have translated very quickly into clinical applications and show promising results.

Insights from Vander Heiden’s work, which includes a series of new high-profile publications in such journals as Science and Cell Metabolism, are generating palpable excitement, and his efforts have garnered a notable succession of honors. Recently, he secured a major grant from the Lustgarten Foundation and an Innovative Research Grant for early-career scientists from Stand Up to Cancer. He was also selected as a Faculty Scholar by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a new high profile program launched by HHMI, the Simons Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The KI and MIT communities were able to honor these achievements at the Biology Department Colloquium in late September, when Vander Heiden presented “The role of metabolism in cancer” to a standing-room-only crowd of colleagues, family, and friends. Congratulations, Matt!

The Secreted Lives of Tumors

Like iron filings caught in a magnetic field, researchers in the KI’s Bhatia Lab are drawn to small-scale solutions to large-scale problems. To tackle the challenge of localized, non-invasive diagnosis and monitoring of the environment surrounding a tumor, the lab has expanded the use of their nanoparticle-mediated biomarker detection system. The new magnetically-activated nanosensors can profile tumors by measuring the activity of certain members of a family of enzymes, known as proteases, in the surrounding environment. Because aggressive cancers are often associated with high levels of some of these proteases, and because a new class of experimental drugs has been designed to hijack disease-associated proteases to become active, Bhatia's group hopes to use their nanosensor to help predict which tumors will respond to which targeted therapies. The capacity to personalize treatment based on how tumors interact with their surroundings is both powerful and attractive. Read more.

Alan Ashworth To Deliver Annual Lippard Lecture

On Friday, November 4, the KI will host the second annual Judith Ann Lippard Memorial Lecture in Cancer Research, featuring Alan Ashworth, PhD, FRS, President of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.  A translational biologist, Dr. Ashworth’s research focuses on understanding breast cancer genetics and applying what he learns to change the way patients are treated. The Lippard Memorial Lecture, brings together the most innovative minds in cancer research from a variety of disciplines — biology, chemistry, engineering, clinical medicine — and features individuals whose research is poised to change the course of cancer. The Lippard Lecture unites MIT’s Koch Institute and the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Cancer Center. The Judith Ann Lippard Memorial Lecture was established in 2014 in memory of Judy Lippard, the wife of KI member Stephen J. Lippard, the Arthur Amos Noyes Professor of Chemistry at MIT and recipient of the 2016 Welch Award in Chemistry. In addition to the formal lecture at the KI, Dr. Ashworth will deliver Grand Rounds at MGH and spend time with trainees, researchers, and physician-scientists at both institutions to inspire the best and brightest young minds to advance cancer therapies.

Kendall Square Convergence in the Spotlight

All eyes are on Cambridge biotech when it comes to the intersection of academia and industry. Kendall Square Convergence, hosted in June by the Koch Institute, in partnership with MIT economist Andrew Lo, brought together MIT researchers with local pharmaceutical companies and venture capitalists to explore the high-impact, interdisciplinary work being done in genetics, immunotherapy, nanomedicine, and more. Catch presentations by such luminaries as Phillip Sharp, Nancy Simonian, Robert Langer, Terry McGuire, and Noubar Afeyan here.

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