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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

MIT Cancer Research by Matt McGann '00

The history and future of cancer research at MIT.

The MIT homepage has a great spotlight today about the Institute’s contributions to cancer research. I’ll reprint it below:


Even without a medical school, for more than 30 years MIT has helped shape the field of cancer research, from the isolation of the first human cancer genes to the development of a technique for delivering chemotherapy directly to a tumor.

Members of the MIT Center for Cancer Research have included five Nobel laureates (three presently at MIT), five Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators, and thirteen members of the National Academy of Sciences.

Today, more than 500 researchers continue this legacy. Only this month, an MIT professor, Robert A. Weinberg, won one of the largest prizes awarded to cancer researchers by a professional society of peers, the American Association for Cancer Research, and in November, CCR director Tyler Jacks shared the 2005 Paul Marks Prize for Cancer Research.

As is typical of MIT, the work is often multidisciplinary, bringing together nuclear engineers and biologists, neuroscientists and electrical engineers, and more. The CCR now includes 33 laboratories from more than four departments – this group includes cancer biologists, organic scientists, computer scientists, chemists and engineers, all dedicated to bringing the most advanced science and technology to bear on the challenges that cancer presents.

Key discoveries

  • Identified the molecules that led to two of the first FDA-approved, anti-cancer drugs produced by molecular medicine–Herceptin, approved by the FDA in 1998; and Gleevec, approved in 2001.
  • Nobel Prize-winning work:
    • Discovered that genes are encoded in discontinuous segments of DNA and are assembled by a process called mRNA splicing;
    • Pioneered the understanding of the genetic basis of apoptosis, or programmed cell death, which has gone awry in certain cancers;
    • Uncovered critical aspects of lymphocyte structure and function, furthering our understanding of the role of the immune system in cancer.
  • Isolated the first human cancer genes.
  • Discovered extracellular matrix components and their receptors which play a critical role in metastasis.
  • Contributed to the sequencing of the human genome.
  • Developed novel materials for sustained delivery of anticancer drugs.

New directions

MIT Program in Integrative Cancer Biology – Professor Richard Hynes of MIT’s Center for Cancer Research is the principal investigator on a five-year, $12.6 million grant which will be shared by a group of 13 investigators across MIT. Todd Golub, director of the Broad’s cancer research program, is the principal investigator on a grant of the same magnitude that will establish a collaborative program between the Broad Institute and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Global Enterprise for Micro-Mechanics and Molecular Medicine (GEM4) – GEM4 has one arm focused on micromechanics and another on global environmental health. The latter component builds on a longstanding collaboration among MIT, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and Thailand’s Chulaborn Research Institute. MIT’s Bevin Engelward, associate professor of biological engineering, recently traveled to a conference in Thailand focused on a range of global health issues, including the cancer-causing agent aflatoxin. “The Thai government has asked us to collaborate with their investigators on ways to prevent cancer and other illnesses related to environmental exposures,” she says.

MIT-Harvard Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence – The National Cancer Institute chose MIT and Harvard University to share one of seven national, multi-institutional hubs it is establishing to rapidly advance the application of nanotechnologies to cancer research. The MIT-Harvard Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence will be funded with a five-year, $20 million grant organized and administered by MIT’s Center for Cancer Research (CCR). Principal Investigator from MIT is Institute Professor Robert Langer.

See also

9 responses to “MIT Cancer Research”

  1. ET says:

    Wow, that’s awesome. I have to say that one of the things that attracted me to MIT was the collaboration and research available. Now, when I get to MIT, I’m looking forward to helping research things that would typically be outside of what I could do at other universities. =)

  2. Jen says:

    Go cancer research! Research, especially cancer research, is one of the reasons I want to come to MIT.

  3. renuka says:

    Had no idea that MIT has contributed so much to cancer research and treatment, until I read this article. Wow!!!

  4. Jason Murray says:

    This type of research and the spirit of discovery is why I applied to MIT.

  5. thekeri says:

    I’m hoping to go into some form of cancer research, so this made me squee a little bit. </fangirl>

    Go MIT!

  6. kt says:

    I am proud to be a prefrosh of such an amazing school!!!

  7. Drew says:

    Like those above me, that is one of the reasons that I applied and have MIT as my first choice. I spent last summer working for a lab in the area doing cancer research and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I am looking forward to doing the same once I get to MIT

  8. Jessie says:

    My freshman advisor was Philip Sharp, who discovered gene splicing. That was pretty cool.

  9. chen says:

    Cool. Another reason why MIT is so awesome. I would love to do cancer research at MIT.