No. 80
League of Xtraordinary Gentlewomen (and Bob)

Congratulations to our 2018 Xconomy Awards winners!

KI member Angela Belcher, the James Mason Crafts Professor, won the Innovation at the Intersection Award for using materials science and nanotechnology to create cancer imaging agents that could one day help surgeons find and remove small tumors that they currently can’t see during surgery.

Nancy Hopkins, KI member and MIT Professor Emerita, won a Lifetime Achievement Award for her pioneering research on tumor-causing viruses and the genes controlling vertebrate development, as well as her pioneering use of a tape-measure as an elegant tool for fighting gender discrimination in science. See Hopkins receive her award (with a standing ovation) in this photo gallery​. Hopkins also interviewed with Scientific American about the recent Nobel wins for Frances H. Arnold and Donna Strickland and her hopes for the recognition of female achievement in science in the future.

The Human Cell Atlas (HCA), a project co-chaired by KI member Aviv Regev that aims to map out all human cell types and their interactions, was named Xconomy’s 2018 Big Idea. Read more about Regev and the HCA at MIT Technology Review and Wired.

The Xconomy winners received their awards as part of Biotech Week Boston, during which KI member and MIT President Emerita Susan Hockfield gave a keynote address on the convergence of biology and engineering in the 21st century, and Robert Langer, David H. Koch Institute Professor, had a fireside chat with Lyndra co-founder and CEO Amy Schulman on high impact ideas and use-inspired research.

Progress Against Pancreatic Cancer

From the humble beginnings of the KPC mouse model to cutting-edge developments in gene editing and immunology, the Jacks Lab has always been a place where innovation happens. On September 21, the Lustgarten Foundation honored the lab with a significant investment to advance several key areas of pancreatic cancer research and promote collaboration across MIT. The newly dedicated Lustgarten Laboratory for Pancreatic Cancer Research at MIT will focus on understanding the immunological factors and genetic events that contribute to pancreatic tumors' development, on using organoids and single cell analysis to test new strategies for early detection and treatment, and on bringing new researchers into the fold. Read more.

Culture Shock

Let's dish about chromosomes, shall we? Researchers in the Amon Lab have uncovered evidence that cells dividing in culture or in the absence of tissue architecture have significantly higher levels of chromosome mis-segregation (a condition known as aneuploidy) than those that divide within their native environments. Their findings, published in Cell and profiled by HHMI, suggest that the hallmark aneuploidy found in more than 90% of solid human tumors may be influenced by disrupted tissue architecture, independent of gene expression and mutations, and has important implications for the widespread practice of studying cells in a dish. Read more or see this work in the KI Public Galleries.

Lead author and 2014 KI Images Award winner Kristin Knouse just won a 2018 NIH Director's Early Independence Award. Congratulations!

Speedy Delivery

It's a beautiful day in the Love Lab, where researchers have developed a new way to rapidly manufacture small quantities of biopharmaceuticals on demand. The modular system is small enough to fit on a lab bench, switches easily between producing different drugs, and can make a batch of a drug in a few days. The system will have important applications not just for precision medicine, but also for treating rare diseases, responding to disease outbreaks such as Ebola, and supplying areas that lack large-scale drug manufacturing facilities. In a study published in Nature Biotechnology and featured in Nature Highlights, the Love Lab demonstrated the system's capacity to produce clinical-grade therapeutics by producing three different drugs, human growth hormone and cancer medicines interferon alpha 2b and granulocyte colony-stimulating factor. Read more.

In Good Company

Koch Institute faculty startups are keeping busy. From new investments and partnerships to clinical trials and FDA approvals, KI and MIT research is making its way to patients. Featuring advancements in immuno-oncology, precision cancer medicine, cell therapy, pathway inhibition and more, there's a little something for everyone, and good news for patients across the board. Get the scoop from Alnylam, CRISPR Therapeutics, Dragonfly, Glympse Bio, KSQ, Navitor, SQZ Biotech, Suono Bio, Trovagene, and Verastem here.

Diet and Cancer: Understanding the Big Picture

A research essay by KI faculty member Omer Yilmaz, for which he won the 2018 AAAS Martin and Rose Wachtel Cancer Research Award, was recently published in Science Translational Medicine. In it, Yilmaz, the Eisen and Chang Career Development Professor and a member of the MIT Stem Cell Initiative, describes his research on the role of dietary regulation in the development of cancer. His research has centered on the intestine and specifically on understanding how the interplay of diet (including high-fat and calorie-restricted diets), obesity, normal and cancer stem cells, and immune processes helps control or enable tumor formation. Ultimately, Yilmaz hopes to design diet-based strategies for maximizing regenerative and therapeutic impact while minimizing the risk of cancer development.

Hungry for Research

Although it has been 100 years since scientists first discovered that cancer cells metabolize nutrients differently than most normal cells, cancer metabolism research has been a relatively neglected field of research—until recently. A new profile from MIT News tells how KI Associate Director and MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine member Matthew Vander Heiden helped bring new life to the field with his appetite for more insight into how cancer cells alter their metabolism. At the beginning of grad school, Vander Heiden thought he would go into medicine, but in studying Bcl-x, an apoptosis regulator found in the membranes of mitochondria, he realized “that we don’t understand cell metabolism anywhere near as well as we thought we did, and someone should really study this.” Read more.

Set and Spike!

A new two-step approach to treating gliomas could help clinicians set the ball by quickly identifying mutations, then drive it home by delivering mutation-targeted treatment, all during the course of tumor removal surgery. In a study published in PNAS, a team of researchers including KI research affiliate Giovanni Traverso and KI faculty member Robert Langer developed both a 30-minute test for IDH1/2 mutations, found in 20 to 25 percent of all gliomas, and microparticles that bypass the blood-brain barrier by implantation directly into the brain. The researchers are now developing tests for other common brain tumor mutations, and expect their approach to be applicable to tumors in other parts of the body. Read more.

Trainees on Track

Congratulations to Bhatia lab postdoc Quinton Smith, one of 15 researchers nationwide to win a 2018 Hanna Gray Fellowship from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for their exceptional potential to be leaders in the life sciences.

A gold star for Langer Lab postdoc Ameya Kirtane, who was named a STAT 2018 Wunderkind for his work on an oral once-weekly drug delivery system. Once the star-shaped capsule is ingested, the points unfold to release doses over the week before the structure distintegrates to pass through the gastrointestinal tract.

In an MIT Technology Review profile, Bhatia Lab grad student Colin Buss talks about how he was inspired to trade medicine for medical research, when he realized he could “have a greater breadth of impact developing a new therapeutic technique rather than treating patients directly.”

By contrast, Cima Lab postdoc Khalil Ramadi writes about how spending five weeks at Mt. Auburn Hospital transformed his perspective on clinical medicine and how biomedical engineering students and researchers can connect with patients’ needs.

Take a deep dive into science with two of our inaugural Convergence Scholars, Ritu Raman and Kaitlyn Sadtler, on their ICEBERG: Under the Surface of Science blog. And don't forget to check out Sadtler's newly posted TED Talk all about new biomaterials that could make us a little more like Wolverine from X-Men by helping our bodies heal quickly and without scarring. Snikt!

Pub Crawl: News from the Research Journals

Check it out! The Bhatia Lab is developing a nanosensor library of proteases associated with prostate cancer. In mouse models, their diagnostic tool outperformed the current clinical gold standard, suggesting a new approach for early intervention and screening. (Published in PNAS)

A recent study from the Yaffe Lab and MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine investigates a subset of more than five hundred human proteins, known as protein kinases, that critically contribute to cancer. Using both computational and experimental methods, the investigators have identified mechanisms by which certain mutations in evolution and cancer may be changing the functions of the kinases, as well as potential avenues for therapeutic intervention. (Published in Cell Systems)

This news from the Shalek Lab is nothing to sneeze at: examining the cellular changes that lead to inflammation in the sinus, the team's findings have broad implications for a variety of conditions ranging from allergies and asthma to inflammatory bowel disease and cancer. (Published in Nature)

Members of the Cima, Graybiel, and Langer laboratories have created a sensor for extended dopamine tracking in the brain. Dopamine deficiencies are associated with Parkinson's disease, depression, and schizophrenia, and long-term monitoring is crucial for understanding and treating these conditions. (Published in Nature)

Do you see what we see? New results from the Chen Lab and collaborators suggest that glaucoma may be an autoimmune disease. Their work illuminates the role that T cells play in retinal degeneration and suggests possible interventions for prevention and treatment. (Published in Nature Communications)

In other Chen Lab news, researchers discovered that, in some patients, immune cells called natural killer cells fail to turn on the genes needed to destroy malaria-infected blood cells. The findings not only offer a possible explanation for why some individuals experience malaria more severely than others, but suggest possible interventions to reduce the severity of infection in certain populations. (Published in PLOS Pathogens)

Finally, Nature Biotechnology has crunched the numbers and revealed that Robert Langer is 2017's top translational researcher. Cheers!

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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