No. 77
Breakthrough Cancer Nanotechnologies

On June 15, 2018, the Koch Institute will present its 17th annual Summer Symposium: Breakthrough Cancer Nanotechnologies. Nanomedicine is a converging field of study in biology and engineering where scientists work at the molecular level to engineer innovative approaches to better detect, monitor, and treat cancer. Speakers will discuss how nanotechnology can provide rapid and sensitive detection of cancer, as well as generate entirely novel and highly effective therapeutic agents. The symposium will also feature an industry panel to discuss the impact of nanomedicine on the future of cancer care. Check out this year's impressive roster of speakers and panelists, and register now.

You Oughta Be in Picture Shows

The Koch Institute Image Awards and Cell Picture Show are celebrating five years of collaboration! Ever since 2013, these two champions of biomedical research have come together to celebrate the role of imagery in uncovering and communicating scientific discoveries and technological progress. Take a stroll down memory lane and see the 2018 winning images in this month's slide show.

Intestine the Limits of MK2

Colon inflammation, as in ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, measurably increases colon cancer risk, but how has remained unclear. A recent paper in PNAS from the laboratory of KI member Michael Yaffe, director of the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine, offers new insight from studies of the MK2 signaling pathway. MK2 is a protein kinase well studied by the Yaffe group for its role in chemotherapeutic resistance, but also as a key regulator of cell stress and inflammation. Using mouse models of whole body and tissue-specific MK2 deletion, as well as studies of human cancer cell lines, the Yaffe team showed that the MK2 pathway promotes colon tumor development by regulating immune cells called macrophages. MK2 drives the macrophages into a tumor-promoting state that modulates the surrounding microenvironment and enhances development of tumor-supporting blood vessels. These findings support targeted blockade of MK2 as a potential preventative strategy for high-risk patients. This work was supported in part by the Charles and Marjorie Holloway Foundation.

KI Trainees are the Bee's Knees

Several Koch Institute trainees received accolades this spring, reflecting their accomplishments in academia, research, and STEM advocacy. Meenakshi Chakraborty, a UROP in the KI's Sharp and Garg laboratories, was named as one of two MIT recipients of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship Award for 2018-2019, along with UROP Anna Sappington, who works alongside KI member Aviv Regev. Two KI trainees — Jay Mahat from the Sharp Lab and Nicholas Struntz from the Koehler Lab — were also selected to be a part of the inaugural class of MIT-GSK Gertrude B. Elion Research Fellows. Last, but certainly not least, Ritu Raman of the Cima and Langer labs received the Curious Scientist award from Cambridge Science Festival for her work as a researcher and staunch supporter of women and girls in STEM fields. Congratulations to all!

Spreading Weinberg Wisdom

From shared insights to exciting new research — KI member and director of the Ludwig Center for Molecular Oncology at MIT, Robert Weinberg, has had his cancer research expertise on full display this spring. Take, for example, this characteristically frank comment on new claims linking coffee and cancer, or this overview of cancer and its prominence in modern life for The Guardian. Perhaps the most buzzworthy highlight from Weinberg this season, however, is new research on potential outcomes of breast cancer surgery. In April, he and his team published findings in Science Translational Medicine suggesting that surgery for breast cancer patients may trigger a systemic immune response that allows for early metastatic relapse during the healing process. However, the study also includes some good news, showing that taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) after breast cancer surgery may prevent such a relapse. This new understanding about the connections between post-surgical wound healing, inflammation, and metastasis could bring change to the standard of care for breast cancer patients. The work, also featured by STAT and WBUR, was supported in part by a TRANSCEND grant through the KI's alliance with Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Read more.

Powerhouse Spring Cleaning

Color us compressed — the Amon Laboratory has uncovered the mechanism behind an important molecular pathway, called mitoCPR, that helps mitochondria (the "powerhouse of the cell") function, and retain cell health, under adverse conditions. Their results, published in Science earlier this month, describe how cells can remove unwanted molecules from the surface of mitochondria when protein import into mitochondria fails. Read more.

Feeling Festive

The Koch Institute was well-represented at the 12th annual Cambridge Science Festival. Approximately 150 visitors swung by North Court on Friday, April 20 to "putt" cancer in its place, navigating the mysteries of metastasis, the nuances of nanomedicine, and the perilous pathways of precision medicine on the KI pop-up mini-golf course. Then, later that day, a crowd of 50 gathered in the Koch Institute Public Galleries for an evening of storytelling, all about the iconic KI visuals comprising the Festival's 2018 graphics "from cell lines to street signs." The KI would like to thank all the people who came out to learn about cancer research and biomedical imagery at MIT and all the volunteers who made these events possible — you rock!

More Than Your Average Cup of Joe

Here's some stimulating news — Giovanni Traverso, KI faculty member Robert Langer, and members of their research group have found that caffeine can take a different form than your morning cup of coffee. A new study in Biomaterials shows that caffeine can catalyze the formation of polymer materials and create gummy, biocompatible gels that could be used for drug delivery and other medical applications. Caffeine acts as a safer alternative to common and sometimes hazardous metal catalysts, and the gel-like texture makes it easy to chew or swallow, which could lead to better patient compliance for those who have difficulty swallowing pills. Read more.

Behind the Scenes of Downstream Dreams

Fresh off its appearance in the Koch Institute Public Galleries, the Lees Lab's 2017 award-winning image "Downstream Dreams" is more than just a pretty picture. Examining melanin-producing cells in a zebrafish model of uveal melanoma, researchers implicated GNAQ/11Q209L (known variants of the GNAQ and GNA11 genes) in mutagenesis and tumor initiation. Their results, recently published in Pigment Cell Melanoma Research, suggest that these alleles play a significant role in the pre-cancerous development of human uveal melanoma, the most common primary eye tumor in adults. This work was supported in part by the Kathy and Curt Marble Cancer Research Fund.

KI Community Highlights

MIT professors and members of the KI — including Phil Sharp, Susan Hockfield, and Regina Barzilay — joined together with prominent members of local pharmaceutical and healthcare organizations for a summit on applying AI and digital technologies to biomedical sciences.

KI members Robert Langer and Ram Sasisekharan appeared on the 2018 Medicine Maker Power List, with Langer taking the top spot on the list as the ultimate “Master of the Bench.”

KI member and newly-named Associate Dean of Innovation for MIT’s School of Engineering, Michael Cima, sat down with MassBio for a Q&A about his new role and what's in store for his keynote at their upcoming event, "The Convergence of Medical Devices and Drug Advances in Drug Delivery."

Carolyn Lanzkron is an unconventional MIT Biology undergraduate — she spent 20 years as a stay-at-home mother raising five children before starting at MIT. Read how she fell in love with bench science and how she applies her passion to her work in KI member David Sabatini's laboratory.

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's... the KI's Phil Sharp on a plane! Sharp, who chairs the Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) Scientific Advisory Committee, is featured alongside Marvel's Avengers and American Airlines, promoting a new collaboration across the organizations. The campaign rose to new heights when an American Airlines plane took on a new look to show support for SU2C's efforts in cancer research. Other cancer researchers and oncologists, including Marcela Maus and Kimberly Stegmaier, can also be seen in various aspects of the campaign. 

KI member and Director of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, Sangeeta Bhatia, gave a research briefing on her work in nanomedicine at the National Academy of Science's 155th Annual Meeting. Watch her talk (at the 1:29:00 mark) here

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