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Belcher Elected to NAE

Hearty congratulations are in order for Koch Institute member Angela Belcher for being elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE)! Belcher, the James Mason Crafts Professor and Professor of Biological Engineering and Materials Science, was honored for her work in developing novel genetic evolution methods for the generation of new materials and devices. She is one of four newly elected members from MIT to be included in the 2018 class. Belcher's selection brings the total number of current KI faculty members elected to the NAE to nine. Read more or check out this in-depth profile of her work in Chemical & Engineering News.

Lights! Cameras! Convergent Action!

On World Cancer Day this year, we were excited to contribute to the global conversation on cancer with a new video highlighting how the Koch Institute uses convergence to bring new cancer solutions to more patients, faster. In this video, various KI investigators—including MIT President Emerita Susan Hockfield, KI Director Tyler Jacks, and professors Paula Hammond, Michael Yaffe, Sangeeta Bhatia, and Scott Manalis—tell the story of how convergence accelerates cancer research progress. Watch the video here.

Making What's Old New Again

KI Associate Director and Associate Professor of Biology, Matthew Vander Heiden, is bringing metabolism back to the forefront of cancer research. In a new profile, MIT Technology Review details Vander Heiden's path to a career focus on the once-neglected research area of cell metabolism and his role in its revival as one of today's most promising avenues for treating cancer and other diseases. Read more.

Cima Appointed to MIT Engineering Leadership

Michael Cima, KI member and David H. Koch Professor of Engineering, has been named the new co-director of MIT's Innovation Initiative and associate dean of innovation for the School of Engineering. A successful entrepreneur and acclaimed materials sciences researcher, Cima has served in various leadership positions throughout his tenure at MIT, including an ongoing appointment as faculty director of the Lemelson-MIT Program. This triad of industry, research, and administrative leadership experience make Cima a natural choice for these new positions. Congratulations and may the force of innovation be with him! Read more.

Hockfield Talks Convergence at AAAS

At this year's American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting, convergence was the hot topic as discussion focused on accelerating science and technology to meet the needs of 9.5 billion people by 2050. Before the meeting, MIT President Emerita and KI member, Susan Hockfield, wrote an editorial for Science titled "Our science, our society" that stressed the importance of investing in science to advance technology. She also delivered her final address as AAAS President on how 21st-century innovation will be driven by the convergence of scientific disciplines. Plenary speakers included 2017 KI summer symposium panelist Cori Bargmann and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. Watch their talks and Hockfield's address here.

Adjuvantageous Approach Boosts Ovarian Cancer Survival

A new adjuvant (or auxiliary) therapy developed in the Hammond and Yaffe laboratories shows great promise for improving outcomes against ovarian cancer. The team's RNA-peptide nanoplexes, described in Bioengineering & Translational Medicine, profoundly sensitized mice with aggressive ovarian tumors to standard chemotherapy, extending median survival by 37% over chemotherapy alone and decreasing metastatic spread to the lungs, all without observable side effects. The nanoplexes — tiny conjugates of gene-silencing siRNA and protective peptides — block the MK2 cell signaling pathway, which several cancers use to resist the effects of chemotherapy. Studies of this approach are underway in additional tumor types and more advanced models. This work, featured in the 2017 KI Image Awards exhibition, is a classic example of the KI’s convergence-driven cancer research: the Yaffe Lab previously showed that shutting down MK2 makes tumors more responsive to chemotherapy, and absent a suitable small molecule inhibitor of MK2, they turned to siRNA and enlisted help from the Hammond Lab to protect and deliver it. The research was supported in part by the Charles and Marjorie Holloway Foundation, by the S. Leslie Misrock (1949) Frontier Research Fund for Cancer Nanotechnology, and by a Department of Defense Ovarian Cancer Teal Innovator Award to Hammond.

Fresh Faces of Biology at MIT

Course 7, biology, is a staple of the MIT undergraduate experience and the academic home to many Koch Institute researchers. The biology department's newly updated website offers fresh perspectives from students and researchers shaping the future of cancer research and human health. Take, for example, Alissandra Hillis, an undergraduate in the Vander Heiden Lab whose current investigations of cancer metabolism are rooted in childhood curiosity and her own family's encounters with the disease. Hillis's time at MIT has led her down the paths of both translational and policy-based work. Similarly, undergraduate Courtney Diamond, former Irvine Lab researcher and advisee of KI member Robert Horvitz, is combining both personal and professional interests to shape her anticipated career in public health. On the flip side, graduate student Faye-Marie Vassel has shifted her focus away from science policy to a more hands-on study of cancer biology, thanks in part to her early forays into science outreach and her current studies of chemotherapy resistance in the KI's Hemann and Walker laboratories. Likewise, undergraduate Elizabeth Li has been inspired by her time in three different cancer-related labs—including the Yilmaz and Lees labs—to one day start her own. Finally, graduate student Zhaoqi Li describes how multidisciplinary and multicultural experiences led him to the Vander Heiden Lab to study how cancer cells fuel their growth. We are sure that all five of these researchers, along with others featured in graduate, undergraduate, and postdoctoral testimonials, will continue to push boundaries and uncover fundamental truths, as a matter of course.

Winter Blues No Match for Reviews

Late-winter weather got you down? Curl up fireside with one of two new KI research reviews. In Nature Reviews Cancer, Stefani Spranger, the Howard S. (1953) and Linda B. Stern Career Development Professor, helps uncover the mystery behind which tumors respond to cancer immunotherapies called checkpoint blockades, and how activation of certain signaling pathways in tumor cells can impair local antitumor immune responses.

Mystery not your genre? ACS Nano recently featured a page-turner by members of the Langer lab and their collaborators describing recent advances in drug delivery, materials science, and nanotechnology to develop next-generation nanoparticle platforms to overcome barriers for delivery of TRAIL. TRAIL is an immune molecule that has received significant attention as a cancer therapeutic because it can selectively trigger cancer cell apoptosis — or cell suicide — without causing toxicity, but creating viable delivery systems is no linear plot. The team has received support from the S. Leslie Misrock (1949) Fund for Cancer Nanotechnology, the Bridge Project, and the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine.

In Good Company

Rubius Therapeutics raised $100 million in a crossover round to fund the advancement of its red blood cell therapies for cancer and autoimmune disorders. KI member Robert Langer serves on its board of directors and the company was co-founded by KI member Harvey Lodish.

MetaStat announced the successful completion of its pilot research project with Celgene Corporation to reverse cancer cell invasion and metastasis by inhibiting activation of the MenaINV protein. KI biologist Frank Gertler, a member of MetaStat's Scientific Advisory Board, is an expert on Mena. Research from his lab, supported in part by the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program, has led to diagnostic and therapeutic applications that the company is pursuing.

KI member Timothy Lu is the co-founder and CEO of new company Senti Biosciences, which kicked off its launch with the announcement of $53 million of Series A funding. Senti Biosciences aims to create "circuits" using synthetic biology that could better program cell therapies to be safer and more effective when treating conditions including cancer and autoimmune diseases.

KI Community Highlights

Bhatia lab researchers have shown they can grow dormant human malaria parasites in engineered human liver tissue for several weeks, allowing them to closely study how the parasite becomes dormant, what vulnerabilities it may have, and how it springs back to life. This technology can help researchers develop and test new antimalaria drugs.

KI member Ed Boyden and colleagues have created a fluorescent sensor that allows imaging of neurons' electrical communications without electrodes.

A new profile from MIT News describes how KI member Timothy Lu seeks to combat disease by reprogramming biological systems.

Cell Stem Cell does a Q&A with Robert Langer to discuss the importance of mentorship for both mentors and mentees in the lab setting.

Various KI community members and friends will lend their expertise to the upcoming MassBio meeting on March 21-22. Highlights include "Rock Stars of Life Sciences" featuring KI members Angela Belcher and Harvey Lodish (along with 2017 Image Awards winner and renowned geneticist George Church), and a fireside chat with KI member Robert Langer and friend of the KI Terry McGuire. Numerous trainees, past and present, from KI labs will also speak.

KI members Rudolf Jaenisch and Richard Young sit down for the Whitehead Institute's blog TabulaSynthase to discuss their adventures together in science and around the world — including Chile’s Patagonia, the Namibian desert, and the Himalayas.

The 2018 Koch Institute Image Awards displays will be unveiled tonight, with the new exhibition opening to the public tomorrow, Friday, March 9. Stay tuned for our next issue to see the new and vivid #KIimages!

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