No. 69
The Importance of Being Convergent

On June 16, cancer research enthusiasts from the MIT community and beyond gathered for the Koch Institute’s 16th Annual Summer Symposium, “Convergence of Science and Engineering in Cancer" to learn about interdisciplinary approaches and new technologies to better understand, detect, monitor, and treat cancer. The event featured dynamic speakers that represented different facets of interdisciplinary research, and an exciting panel on the future of medical care made up of top biomedical experts and industry executives. It was an enlightening event, and we’re already looking forward to next year’s symposium — which will be dedicated to nanomedicine in cancer and held on Friday, June 15, 2018. Read more about the 2017 Koch Institute Summer Symposium and watch this year’s talks here.

Marble Center: One Year In

This summer, we mark the first anniversary of the launch of our Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, established through a generous gift from Kathy and Curt Marble ’63. Bringing together leading Koch Institute faculty members and their teams, the Marble Center focuses on grand challenges in cancer detection, treatment, and monitoring that can benefit from the emerging biology and physics of the nanoscale. In its first year, the Center funded six transformative research projects in the areas of drug delivery and immunotherapy, established a scientific advisory board, and provided fellowship support for trainees, along with valuable opportunities for mentorship, scientific exchange, and professional development. We look forward to continued success and progress at the interface of nanotechnology and medicine. Read more.

Cell Cycle Arrest and Immune Surveillance

Attention aneuploid cells: You have the right to remain senescent. Unless of course you begin producing pro-inflammatory signals that are recognized by the immune system. New research from the KI's Amon Lab reveals how cells containing an improper number of chromosomes — a condition known as aneuploidy — are detected and eliminated by natural killer cells following periods of genomic instability leading to cell cycle arrest (when cells become senescent, ceasing to grow or divide). These results, published in Developmental Cell, present an intriguing connection between aneuploidy and immune surveillance, and raise even more intriguing questions about how cancer cells, which are highly aneuploid, are able to divide uncontrollably and escape this immune recognition. The team hopes to eventually exploit the high levels of aneuploidy observed in cancer cells as a therapeutic weakness. Read more.

Tenure, They Wrote

Congratulations to resident KI faculty member Matthew Vander Heiden for being awarded tenure. Vander Heiden, an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology, is breaking new ground in the research area of cancer metabolism and is the recipient of numerous awards from such organizations as the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, Stand Up to Cancer, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He joins KI collaborators Bradley Pentelute and Jeremiah Johnson from the Department of Chemistry as one of seven newly tenured members of MIT's School of Science. Also among the newly tenured ranks are extramural KI faculty member Timothy Lu from the Departments of Biological Engineering and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and KI collaborators Polina Anikeeva from the Department of Material Sciences and Engineering and Katharina Ribbeck from the Department of Biological Engineering.

Fast Moving Frontiers

On May 24, 2017, approximately 200 people gathered to learn about the KI's signature Frontier Research Program, exemplified by the research of three KI trainees. Gertler Lab postdoc Madeleine Oudin opened the evening with a presentation highlighting the power of convergence research: repurposing engineering tools to answer fundamental biology questions related to metastasis and chemotherapy resistance. Next, recent Lees Lab Ph.D. Monica Stanciu spoke about a collaboration with the KI’s Hemann and Sharp labs that resulted in the identification of novel therapeutic vulnerabilities for personalized treatment of glioblastoma multiforme. Finally, Cima Lab graduate student Katerina Mantzavinou shared the latest advancements in developing an origami-inspired implantable device for drug delivery to combat metastatic cancer. All three projects were funded by the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program, which supports early-stage, high-risk, high-reward research that all too often does not qualify for traditional government funding. The event was the first in a series of public lectures that celebrates the impact of work conducted through the KI’s signature research programs. View photos and presentations here.

Honey, I Shrunk the Spheroids

How does continuous low-dose chemotherapy compare against intermittent high-dose treatment when it comes to tumor shrinkage? To explore the relationship between tumor size and the efficacy of continuous low-dose chemotherapy, Cima Lab researchers grew spherical ovarian cancer cell clusters 100 or 200 microns in diameter and exposed them to different doses of cisplatin. The new study, published in Gynecologic Oncology, showed that continuous low-dose cisplatin delivery was just as effective against 100-micron tumor spheroids as a single high dose, similar to established treatment delivered by a catheter. The researchers also found that 200-micron tumor spheroids were treated more effectively with the continuous low dose than with a single dose. These findings support the strategy behind the Cima Lab's development of an origami-like, drug-loaded device that is noninvasively inserted into the abdomen and remains in place for the full treatment course — helping to alleviate serious side effects of the invasive and often intolerable intraperitoneal chemotherapy regimen for ovarian cancer while maximizing cisplatin's effectiveness. This research was supported in part by the Koch Institute and Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center Bridge Project and the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program through the Kathy and Curt Marble Cancer Research Fund. Read more.

A Banner Year for the Irvine Lab

If you thought the eight-foot tall lightboxes in the Koch Institute Public Galleries were impressive, you should see the banners in Lobby 7! Part of the MIT Better World campaign and put on display for all to admire on the eve of MIT's 2017 commencement activities, these four flags represent the four pillars of MIT's approach to improving the world — education, passion, research, and innovation. Of particular note is the research banner, which displays the 2015 KI Image Awards winner "Easy Breezy" on its 36'9" face. The image, showing microparticles designed to block metastasis to the lungs, could have been used to illustrate any of the four concepts, but we are honored that a project that combines science and engineering to improve human health has been chosen to exemplify MIT's research arm.

Understanding the Spread of Lung Cancer

In a collaborative effort, researchers from the Jacks and Hynes laboratories applied quantitative proteomics to identify microenvironmental regulators of lung cancer metastasis. Their study, published in PNAS, identifies Tenascin-C, an extracellular matrix protein, as a novel lung cancer metastasis promoter and demonstrates the prognostic value of Tenascin-C expression for lung-cancer-patient survival. This study paves the way for future explorations of the tumor microenvironment, underexplored sources of diagnostic markers, and potential therapeutic targets for cancer patients.

Honoring the Lippard Legacy

Congratulations to KI member Stephen J. Lippard, the Arthur Amos Noyes Professor of Chemistry, on his upcoming retirement and for being named to the 2017 cohort of Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center's "the one hundred," which annually celebrates 100 individuals and groups who display outstanding efforts — from caregiving to research to philanthropy to advocacy — in the fight against cancer. Recognized for his groundbreaking research in platinum-based cancer therapeutics, and his commitment to education and mentoring, Lippard's stake in this work is both professional and personal. He lost his wife, Judy, to endometrial cancer in 2013, and to honor her memory, Lippard — along with sons Josh and Alex — created the Judith Ann Lippard Memorial Lectureship to honor individuals whose research has the possibility to change the face of women’s cancers. In addition to giving a formal lecture at MIT and delivering Grand Rounds at MGH, the Lippard Lecturer also spends time with trainees, researchers, and physician-scientists at both institutions, inspiring the best and brightest young minds to advance cancer therapies.

Lippard earned his PhD in chemistry from MIT in 1965 and spent a year at the Institute as a postdoc before joining the faculty of Columbia University in 1966. He returned to MIT as a professor in 1983 and served as the head of the department of Chemistry from 1995 to 2005. In 2013, Lippard delivered MIT's Killian Lecture, and has been an extramural member of the Koch Institute since its founding. We wish him all the best in his retirement and fully anticipate that we will continue to reap the benefits of his extraordinary body of research. We also look forward to seeing him at the 2017 Annual Lippard Lecture that will take place on October 27 and feature Dr. Laura van 't Veer from the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. Learn more.

Budget Balancing Acts

With the future of federal funding for biomedical research under constant scrutiny, many members of the KI community are stepping out of the lab and into the fray. This spring, the Koehler Lab’s Shelby Doyle joined the MIT Science Policy Initiative on an advocacy trip to Washington, D.C. to learn about the legislative process and how to interact with policy makers to better serve the science and engineering community. KI faculty members Tyler Jacks (who testified in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to advocate for federally funded cancer research earlier this year), Robert Langer, Phillip Sharp, and Robert Weinberg — along with Gertler Lab postdoc Madeleine Oudin and former Langer Lab postdocs Omid Veiseh and Jeffrey Karp — spoke with The Boston Globe about NIH's controversial plan to cap the number of grants awarded to larger, more established labs. The plan was ultimately abandoned in favor of new programs like the Next Generation Researchers Initiative, which will provide dedicated funding to early- and mid-career investigators. By speaking out and working together, researchers at all levels have the ability to change the course of cancer — and of cancer research.

Life of a Pioneer

Did you know that KI faculty member Robert Weinberg once built a cabin by hand in the woods of New Hampshire? Or that during the Civil Rights movement, he housed sharecroppers in Alabama who had been evicted from their land for registering to vote? Fascinating facts, that we enjoyed learning about in a recent article by MedPage Today. In the article, Weinberg — who is widely regarded as a cancer research pioneer for his discoveries of the first human oncogene, and the first tumor suppressor gene — talks about successes and setbacks over the course of his career, reflects on his tenure at MIT as a student, as a member of MIT's Center for Cancer Research (predecessor to the Koch Institute), and as a founding member of the Whitehead Institute. Read more.

Hockfield Hall of Fame

Congratulations to KI member and MIT President Emerita Susan Hockfield for her induction into the U.S. News and World Report STEM Leadership Hall of Fame, which recognizes pioneers that have “strong track records of achievement in advancing STEM education and workforce development, and share firm commitment to developing a blueprint for the future of STEM.” Recent examples of her inspiring leadership can be seen in the Iconic Voices from MIT lecture organized by the Singapore University of Technology and Design, and her "Storied Women of MIT" video profile for Women's History Month. Read more.

Farewell to a Friend

The Koch Institute remembers — with admiration, affection, and gratitude — Jennifer C. Johnson, who passed away on May 15, 2017. The wife and partner of late Koch Institute Leadership Council member and MIT alumnus Charles W. Johnson (1955), Jen shared with Chuck a commitment to service, a love of family, friends, and community, and a passion for MIT. A self-described ‘domestic engineer,’ she was also a business owner and active in the Racine, WI community where she lived for many years, generously contributing her personal talents and generosity to numerous organizations. Read more.

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