Fundamentals of Cancer Research: Introduction and Overview

author: Susan Hockfield, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Robert J. Silbey, Department of Chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Tyler Jacks, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
published: Feb. 21, 2011,   recorded: June 2006,   views: 212

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This inaugural address lays the groundwork for an 11-part series on MIT’s efforts in cancer research. Susan Hockfield views MIT’s Center for Cancer Research as a central example of how “life sciences are coming into conversation with engineering in a powerful way.” Robert Silbey provides historical background on the notion of faculty ‘short courses’, and positions the Center as “the jewel in the crown of MIT, a spawning ground for scientific discovery and rewards.”

Tyler Jacks introduces the key research areas and scientists who will speak in the succeeding sessions. He offers a thumbnail sketch of cancer as a molecular genetic progression involving sequential alterations in, and the proliferation of, abnormal cells. “Think of a cancer cell like an integrated circuit: the same kinds of complexities in electronic networks also exist within cells,” notes Jacks. Because of work on the human genome, and advances in scientists’ ability to untangle these complex molecular interactions, “We now have the first generation of anti-cancer drugs targeted against molecular alterations in cancer,” says Jacks. Two highly successful drugs have already been derived from MIT research.

In addition, says Jacks, collaboration among biologists, engineers and mathematicians are yielding “a tremendous collection of tools and technologies.” These include tiny probes that enable diagnosis of cancers at earlier stages, nanoparticles that deliver a therapeutic payload directly to cancer cells, and devices that can be implanted in the body.

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