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Angelika Amon Wins 2019 Breakthrough Prize

The Koch Institute is proud to congratulate Angelika Amon, Kathleen and Curtis Marble Professor in Cancer Research, on winning the 2019 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. Amon’s trailblazing work provided critical insights into the molecular mechanisms governing chromosome segregation and mis-segregation as well as the impact of aneuploidy on normal cells and tumor formation.

Amon accepted the award at a ceremony hosted by Pierce Brosnan earlier this month at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. Read more at MIT News, the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald or watch Amon's red carpet interview.

We are also pleased to add that Amon was named the recipient of the 2018 Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science by the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, likewise for her work on chromosome segregation. The prize is given annually to honor and recognize a woman scientist of national reputation who has a stellar record of research accomplishments and is known for her mentorship of women in science. Amon will accept her award and deliver the Flexner Discovery Lecture at Vanderbilt University on Thursday, January 31, 2019. 

Seeking Stem

In October, the Koch Institute highlighted the launch
of the MIT Stem Cell Initiative, a deep dive into the biology of normal adult stem cells and their malignant counterparts, cancer stem cells. With support from Fondation MIT, a Swiss philanthropic organization, the initiative seeks to identify, purify, and propagate these relatively rare and elusive cells. Doing so will allow researchers to better understand their biology and learn how to utilize them more effectively in regenerative medicine applications and to target them in cancer. Read more.

AI Comes to the Cancer Clinic

Regina Barzilay makes a splash in The New York Times discussing the AI technologies that she hopes will transform the cancer clinic with George Church, Jennifer Egan, Catherine Mohr and Siddhartha Mukherjee. MIT News profiled one such technology, an AI model that uses deep learning to identify dense breast tissue in mammograms. The convolutional neural network-based model—the first of its kind to be successfully used in a clinic on real patients—evaluated mammograms as reliably as expert radiologists, according to the study published in Radiology. Additional details available on the KI website.

Congratulations, 2018 Karches Prize Winners

The KI is proud to congratulate the first annual Peter Karches Mentorship Prize winners: Shelby Doyle, Kim Nguyen, Peter Westcott and Amanda Whipple. Each year, the prize will be awarded to up to four postdocs or graduate students in recognition of the important role trainees play in the mentorship of undergraduate students working in KI laboratories. Read more.

Charting New Heights in Kendall Square

Examining Kendall Square's transformation from “parking lots and gravel pits” to the epicenter of a biotech boom-town, Spectrum spoke with KI member and Kronos Bio founder Angela Koehler about her own journey from academia to industry. Her laboratory’s signature small molecule microarray technology uses chemical probes to screen for compounds that can fight back against some of the most recalcitrant targets in oncology. Kronos Bio stands poised to turn these “hits” into real blockbusters—taking both cancer research and Kendall Square by storm. Read more.

Right on Target

Researchers in the Keating Lab have developed a computer model capable of predicting how different peptides interact with members of the Bcl-2 protein family, which help to drive tumor growth. Drawing from a large pool of experimental data on the Bcl-2 family, the model generates a larger number of candidates and also offers greater control over a variety of protein traits than the standard approach of brute force library screening. Bcl-2 proteins are attractive candidates for cancer therapies; however, to avoid harmful side effects, such drugs often need to target just one family member. In a study appearing in PNAS, Keating and her colleagues used the model to design peptides that locked onto Bcl-2 proteins with high specificity and affinity, each binding strongly to one family member but not the other two. Read more.

The Future of Precision Cancer Medicine

The inaugural symposium of the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine is just around the corner! “The Future
of Precision Cancer Medicine” will convene leading researchers and clinicians to highlight recent advances in precision cancer medicine and share perspectives on the future. An industry panel will also discuss barriers to translating this research to clinical trials. Join us Thursday, December 13 at MIT's Samberg Conference Center—see a list of confirmed speakers and registration information here.

Beyond the Bridge: Manalis, Weinstock Honored

Congratulations to KI member Scott Manalis and his Bridge Project collaborator David Weinstock of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute on their Allen Distinguished Investigator Award. Taking aim at chemotherapy resistance and cancer relapse, the dynamic duo will use the Manalis Lab's signature cell-weighing technology to study minimal residual disease in lymphoma. Like the Bridge Project, the Allen Distinguished Investigator program funds early-stage research that is less likely to receive support from traditional funding sources, but which has the potential to significantly advance our understanding of biology. Read more.

Sadtler Up to the Challenge

Congratulations to 2018 KI Image Award winnerTED fellow, and KI Convergence Scholar Kaitlyn Sadtler on being named to the “Forbes 30 Under 30” list. A postdoctoral researcher in the Anderson and Langer Labs, Sadtler studies how novel biomaterials and implants can help the body's own immune system regenerate functional tissue. Read more.

Gene Therapy Express

The Weiss Laboratory has created a new tool to control gene expression. Drawing on techniques used to program synthetic DNA circuits, the researchers seek to regulate the interactions between RNA and RNA-binding proteins. The study, published in Nature Chemical Biology, demonstrates how these new synthetic RNA-only circuits can use small molecule drugs to precisely control the production of therapeutic proteins in vivo, without the need to deliver potentially unsafe DNA that could integrate chromosomally and be oncogenic. Strand Therapeutics, a startup company founded by Weiss, fellow KI faculty member Darrell Irvine, former Weiss Lab postdoc Tasuku Kitada, and the study's co-lead author Jacob Becraft, is adapting the approach for cancer immunotherapy. Read more.

Putting the SQZ on Cancer Immunotherapy

SQZ Biotech, whose initial application of cell-squeezing technology to enhance production of antigen presenting cells for immunotherapy was a KI Frontier Research Program spin-out, recently announced the expansion of its partnership with Roche Pharmaceuticals. The combination of the startup's “CellSqueeze” microfluidic device and Roche's clinical oncology expertise will accelerate the development of cell-based immunotherapies for cancer, the first of which is expected to enter clinical trials in mid-2019. A recent paper in PNAS compares the use of cell squeezing to electroporation for intracellular delivery of immune engineering agents. SQZ CEO and former KI postdoc Armon Sharei spoke with MIT News about the goals and history of the company's groundbreaking technology. Read more.

Together for Trainees

From imaging to immunology, mutations to metabolism, proteins to platform technologies, the 2019 class of Convergence Scholars boasts an impressive body of research, but it takes more than scintillating science to achieve professional success. The new cohort of post-doctoral researchers—members of ten KI laboratories within the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine and the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine—is stepping beyond the lab bench to build skills in leadership, communications, science policy and more. Learn more about the program and the projects here and here.

The Odd Couple

Normally, probiotics and antibiotics don't get along, but a new study from the Langer Lab proves that, in the right conditions, they can team up to fight drug-resistant infection. In a study published in Advanced Materials, researchers showed that by delivering a combination of antibiotic drugs and probiotics, they could eradicate two strains of drug-resistant bacteria that often infect wounds. To keep the antibiotics from killing off the probiotics, they encapsulated the probiotic bacteria in a protective shell of alginate. If shown to be successful in future tests in animals and humans, the researchers envision that the probiotic-antibiotic duo could be embedded in new types of bandages and other wound dressings, where it could help heal infected chronic wounds. Read more.

Pub Crawl: News from the Research Journals

Cell-free with purpose: A study from the Love Lab, with collaborators from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a Broad Institute research group led by KI alumnus Viktor Adalsteinsson, demonstrated that tumor content in circulating cell-free DNA correlates with clinical features associated with overall survival in prostate cancer, and could potentially be used as a biomarker for initial therapeutic response. (Published in JCI Insight)

Linking outside the box: The Pentelute Lab has developed a new method for linking peptides to antibiotics that could make them more effective against drug-resistant infections. (Published in Nature Chemistry)

More than a niche interest: A recent study including KI members Aviv Regev, Alex Shalek and Ömer Yilmaz uncovered the role that immune cells play in niches of accessory cell types that support the generation of mature epithelial cell types from, and renewal of, intestinal stem cells. (Published in Cell)

Check your cell! Single-cell RNA sequencing work from the Regev Lab sheds light on why some melanoma patients benefit from immune checkpoint inhibitors, but not others. (Published in Cell)

Gone with the WNT: In a review, Stefani Spranger and her colleagues discuss how deregulated WNT signalling may impair anti-cancer immunosurveillance, as well as the potential for using WNT modulators for cancer immunotherapy. (Published in Trends in Cell Biology)

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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