This summer, the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT marks the first anniversary of the launch of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, established through a generous gift from Kathy and Curt Marble ’63.

Bringing together leading Koch Institute faculty members and their teams, the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine focuses on grand challenges in cancer detection, treatment, and monitoring that can benefit from the emerging biology and physics of the nanoscale.

These challenges include detecting cancer earlier than existing methods allow, harnessing the immune system to fight cancer even as it evolves, using therapeutic insights from cancer biology to design therapies for previously undruggable targets, combining existing drugs for synergistic action, and creating tools for more accurate diagnosis and better surgical intervention.

Koch Institute member Sangeeta N. Bhatia, the John J. and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, serves as the inaugural director for the center.

”A major goal for research at the Marble Center is to leverage the collaborative culture at the Koch Institute to use nanotechnology to improve cancer diagnosis and care in patients around the world,” Bhatia says.

Transforming nanomedicine

The Marble Center joins MIT’s broader efforts at the forefront of discovery and innovation to solve the urgent global challenge that is cancer. The concept of “convergence” — the blending of the life and physical sciences with engineering — is a hallmark of MIT, the founding principle of the Koch Institute, and at the heart of the Marble Center’s mission.

“The center galvanizes the MIT cancer research community in efforts to use nanomedicine as a translational platform for cancer care,” says Tyler Jacks, director of the Koch Institute and a David H. Koch Professor of Biology. “It’s transformative by applying these emerging technologies to push the boundaries of cancer detection, treatment, and monitoring — and translational by promoting their development and application in the clinic.”

The center’s faculty — six prominent MIT professors and Koch Institute members — are committed to fighting cancer with nanomedicine through research, education, and collaboration. They are:

Sangeeta Bhatia (director), the John J. and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science;

Daniel G. Anderson, the Samuel A. Goldblith Professor of Applied Biology in the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science;

Angela M. Belcher, the James Mason Crafts Professor in the departments of Biological Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering;

Paula T. Hammond, the David H. Koch Professor of Engineering and head of the Department of Chemical Engineering;

Darrell J. Irvine, professor in the departments of Biological Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering; and

Robert S. Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor.

Extending their collaboration within the walls of the Institute, Marble Center members benefit greatly from the support of the Peterson (1957) Nanotechnology Materials Core Facility in the Koch Institute’s Robert A. Swanson (1969) Biotechnology Center. The Peterson Facility’s array of technological resources and expertise is unmatched in the United States, and gives members of the center, and of the Koch Institute, a distinct advantage in the development and application of nanoscale materials and technologies.

Looking ahead

The Marble Center has wasted no time getting up to speed in its first year, and has provided support for innovative research projects including theranostic nanoparticles that can both detect and treat cancers, real-time imaging of interactions between cancer and immune cells to better understand response to cancer immunotherapies, and delivery technologies for several powerful RNA-based therapeutics able to engage specific cancer targets with precision.

As part of its efforts to help foster a multifaceted science and engineering research force, the center has provided fellowship support for trainees — as well as valuable opportunities for mentorship, scientific exchange, and professional development.

Promoting broader engagement, the Marble Center serves as a bridge to a wide network of nanomedicine resources, connecting its members to MIT.nano, other nanotechnology researchers, and clinical collaborators across Boston and beyond. The center has also convened a scientific advisory board, whose members hail from leading academic and clinical centers around the country, and will help shape the center’s future programs and continued expansion.

As the Marble Center begins another year of collaborations and innovation, there is a new milestone in sight for 2018. Nanomedicine has been selected as the central theme for the Koch Institute’s 17th Annual Cancer Research Symposium. Scheduled for June 15, 2018, the event will bring together national leaders in the field, providing an ideal forum for Marble Center members to share the discoveries and advancements made during its sophomore year.

“Having next year’s KI Annual Symposium dedicated to nanomedicine will be a wonderful way to further expose the cancer research community to the power of doing science at the nanoscale,” Bhatia says. “The interdisciplinary approach has the power to accelerate new ideas at this exciting interface of nanotechnology and medicine.”

To learn more about the people and projects of the Koch Institute Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, visit nanomedicine.mit.edu.