No. 79
Summer Backpacking with the Irvine Lab

The Irvine Lab has summer backpacking down to a T (cell). New work, published in Nature Biotechnology, describes how this Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine team is using nanoparticle "backpacks" to improve efficacy and lower toxicity of adoptive T cell therapy against solid tumors. Their latest particles can carry 100-fold more drug than their predecessors and will release their cargo only when the immune cells carrying them reach the tumor and become activated. Senior author and principal investigator Darrell Irvine is a co-founder of startup company Torque, which is preparing to blaze a trail into the clinic for these nanoparticles later this year. Read more.

The Unstoppable Nancy Hopkins

KI member and MIT Professor Emerita Nancy Hopkins may be officially retired, but she is not slowing down. After co-authoing a review of the molecular mechanisms of the preventable causes of cancer in the United States for Genes & Development, she sat down with MIT News to share her perspective on the impact and potential of cancer prevention. On September 5, Hopkins will be honored with the 2018 Xconomy Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to genetics, cancer research, and gender equity in science.

Weight For It

The KI's Vander Heiden Lab, in collaboration with researchers and clinicians at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, is exploring the connections between pancreatic cancer and weight loss. As seen in Nature, the team looked at tissue wasting mechanisms in mice with early stage tumors and found that loss of pancreatic digestive enzymes can contribute to early weight loss in pancreatic cancer. They also examined blood samples and clinical data from more than 700 pancreatic cancer patients, determining that tissue loss does not necessarily correlate with lower survival rates and suggesting that detecting such tissue loss could lead to earlier diagnosis. The work was supported in part by the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program through the Kathy and Curt Marble Cancer Research Fund and the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine. Get the breakdown from MIT News, Nature News & Views, and STAT.

We Built This Laboratory on 'Doc and Roll

What's it like to begin your career in a brand new laboratory? Nature spoke with KI postdoctoral scholar Timothy Fessenden and his advisor, KI faculty member and cancer immunology rockstar Stefani Spranger, about building a lab from the ground up. The process, they say, is not immune to challenges but both PI and postdoc are ready to roll out new research and keep learning from each other along the way. Read more.

A Little "Light" Cancer Detection

She may not consider herself a "real biologist" but KI and Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine member Angela Belcher, recently nominated for XConomy's Innovation at the Intersection Award, is making real progress in the fight against ovarian cancer. NEO.LIFE explores how she is engineering viruses to bind to tumor cells and carbon nanotubes, with the goal of improving tumor-removal surgerycancer patient prognosis. Read more.

Slow Down, You Grow Too Fast

Researchers in the laboratory of KI associate director and MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine member Matthew Vander Heiden are looking at aspartate as a limiting nutrient for cancer cells and feeling groovy. Their latest paper, published in Nature Cell Biology and further covered in Nature News & Views, explains how and why this amino acid is important for cell proliferation and argues that targeting aspartate production may reduce the growth of some tumors. Read more.

Top Scholars

Congratulations to KI members Michael Birnbaum and Alex Shalek for being named to the 2018 cohort of Pew-Stewart Scholars! Birnbaum is working to develop new immunotherapies for hard-to-treat cancers, while Shalek is working to uncover unique markers for metastatic disease.

Are you "envoying" your summer, Dr. Langer?

KI member Robert Langer, recently interviewed on the Partnering Insights blog and in Forbes, has been named one of five U.S. Science Envoys for 2018. As a Science Envoy for Innovation, Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor, will work at both the citizen and government levels to build international relationships and promote collaboration. Read more.

KI Announces Karches Mentorship Prize

Mentors play an incredibly important role at the KI, which is excited to announce a new prize celebrating mentorship. The Peter Karches Mentorship Prize will be awarded annually to up to four trainees (either post-docs or graduate students) serving as mentors to high school and undergraduate students working in KI laboratories.

In addition to recognizing the contributions of trainee mentors at the KI, this new prize celebrates Peter Karches’s extraordinary legacy. Mr. Karches spent his career at Morgan Stanley, rising to become president and chief operating officer of Morgan Stanley’s institutional securities and investment banking group. A passionate horse racing fan, he bred and raced thoroughbreds, and co-chaired the New York Racing Association. After a long battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, Mr. Karches passed away in April 2006. In honor of Mr. Karches’s generosity, intellect, and steadfast commitment to family and friends, James Goodwin, a close friend of the Karches family, has established the Peter Karches Mentorship Prize at the KI.

Eyes and Ears and Mouth And Nose...

KI researchers have an impressive body of work when it comes to human health. MIT Spectrum's recent "head to toe" review of MIT's pioneering biomedical technologies and discoveries features innovative work by KI members Paula Hammond (eyes), Robert Langer (ears), Elazer Edelman (tissue), and Angelika Amon (cells). Read more.

Oh Say Can You CPCM

Genomics has long been a staple of precision cancer medicine; however, in recent years, there has been a push to move beyond genome sequencing and explore other pathways to targeted treatment. Author Siddhartha Mukherjee examines the various stars and stripes of this endeavor in The Search for Cancer Treatment Beyond Mutant-Hunting, quoting MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine director Michael Yaffe. Fellow CPCM member Angela Koehler also sheds dawn's early light on CPCM's alternative approaches in a conversation with Chemical & Engineering News' Stereo Chemistry. In it, Koehler and her compatriots discuss how the chemical probes being developed in her laboratory give proof through the night that transcription factors can be used as small molecule drug targets. Learn more about CPCM research here.

'Pub' Crawl: News from the Research Journals

A team from the laboratories of KI members Daniel Anderson and Robert Langer is paving the way for more efficient delivery of therapeutic messenger RNA to specific organs, using innovative amino-polymer nanoparticles. (Published in Advanced Materials

Researchers in the laboratory of KI member David Sabatini are using CRISPR/Cas9 to interrogate a well-known cancer therapeutic. Their work both illuminates the biology behind methotrexate and suggests a dietary supplement to improve its efficacy. (Published in Nature)

Chronic neural implants developed in the laboratory of Michael Cima, in collaboration with Robert Langer and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research's Graybiel Lab, offer great promise for targeted drug delivery in the brain. (Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

The Amon Laboratory has identified aging factors that accumulate in old budding yeast mother cells and describes how they interfere with cell division leading to new insight into the molecular processes that cause aging of human cells. (Published in Genes & Development)

New work from the Anderson and Langer Labs shows how researchers are using nanoparticles to selectively knock down genes in blood vessels, demonstrating new potential for the treatment of various diseases, including cancer. (Published in Science Advances)

In Good Company

The Koch Institute congratulates the KI faculty members whose startup companies (and associated CEOs) are being celebrated by this year's Xconomy Award nominations. Each category honors a person, company, or organization within the Boston life sciences ecosystem, including:

  • Young Innovator: Former KI postdoc Carl Schoellhammer (CEO and co-founder, along with KI member Robert Langer, of Suono Bio)
  • Newcomer: Bill Haney (CEO and co-founder, along with KI director Tyler Jacks, of Dragonfly Therapeutics)
  • CEO: John Maraganore (CEO of Alnylam, co-founded by KI member Phil Sharp)
  • X of the Year: KI member and Senti Biosciences co-founder Timothy Lu (nominated as Scientific Founder of the Year)
  • Big Idea: Travera (co-founded by KI member Scott Manalis, and profiled here) and the Human Cell Atlas (co-led by KI member Aviv Regev and profiled here).

See all the nominations (including KI members Angela Belcher and Nancy Hopkins mentioned above!) here.

KI Community Highlights

Congratulations to KI faculty member David Sabatini, whose research on cell growth and its potential for treating cancer and other diseases earned him the 2018 Switzer Prize

KI postdoc Ritu Raman, who develops biohybrid materials in the Cima and Langer Labs, has been named a finalist in the inaugural Nature Research Awards for Inspiring Science and Innovating Science.

Former Langer Lab graduate student James Dahlman is among MIT Technology Review's 35 Innovators Under 35, recognized for his work developing "bar code" nanoparticles for drug delivery.

Nature interviewed KI faculty member Christopher Burge about ongoing efforts to repurpose old sequencing technology to perform new tricks.

Cheers to KI alumna Laura Indolfi, CEO of Bridge Project startup company PanTher Therapeutics, on the receipt of her Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) Massachusetts Next Generation Initiative (MassNextGen) award

KI alumnus Omid Veiseh spoke with STAT about his experience at the interface of academia and industry.

The New Scientist interviewed KI member Regina Barzilay about the application of artificial intelligence to cancer diagnosis and treatment. Fun fact: Barzilay co-chairs next year's KI summer symposium about AI, machine learning, and cancer on June 14, 2019.

Finally, a shoutout to the Aspen Institute whose 2018 Aspen Ideas Festival and Spotlight Health conference featured eight winning images from the KI Public Galleries—we are honored to have been a part of these events.

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