Bridge over the Charles River
April 2012
by Ashley Abraham  |  Email the author


CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—The David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC) have launched an extensive collaboration aimed at uniting oncology and bioengineering. Termed the Bridge Project, the initiative aims to raise and deploy $50 million over the next three to five years into additional research teams focused on potentially transformative initiatives.  
According to the partners, the Bridge Project is the most extensive collaboration of its kind between Boston's two National Cancer Institute (NCI)- designated cancer centers.
"New kinds of interdisciplinary collaboration are absolutely essential in order to rapidly translate research discoveries into clinical strategies that will benefit patients in the near-term," says Tyler Jacks, director of the Koch Institute.  
DF/HCC, composed of many of Boston's prominent research institutes and hospitals, has previously brought together thousands of researchers working in varied areas of cancer research. Their newest partner, Koch, offers expertise in technical solutions for unmet needs in cancer treatment. Their focus includes innovations that will allow for more precise treatment of some of the most clinically challenging cancers.
Funding for the Bridge Project's research grants comes in large part from philanthropists Arthur Gelb and Thomas Peterson and two nonprofit cancer research organizations, the Lustgarten Foundation and the National Brain Tumor Society. Together with the bioengineering expertise of Koch and the clinical knowledge of the DF/HCC's oncologists, the partners hope to extend their research efforts by jointly funding innovative research programs from both organizations.
Four research teams, selected by an external advisory board and composed of both DF/HCC and Koch Institute researchers, have been chosen for the initial phase of the Bridge Project. These research endeavors include glioblastoma analysis, improved drug delivery systems for pancreatic cancer, pancreatic chemotherapy and novel immunotherapy for pancreatic cancer.  
Both of these forms of cancer present as obstinate malignancies for which there are few or no treatments available. Glioblastoma is a malignant form of brain cancer with 10,000 new cases diagnosed each year. The five-year survival rate is less than 3 percent. There is currently no cure. While pancreatic cancer can be cured in its earliest stages, it often goes undetected until the disease is too advanced for treatment. The five-year survival rate is less than 6 percent, and it is the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in the United States.
"We have made tremendous advances in many cancers in recent decades, but pancreatic cancer and glioblastoma remain exceedingly difficult to treat," says David Livingston, deputy director of DF/HCC. "From a clinical perspective, we are eager to gain a more sophisticated understanding of the underlying biology that's driving these diseases, and to work with leading scientists and engineers to design fresh approaches for how we might intervene."  
According to the Koch Institute's website, future projects may include "new tools to deliver drugs to recalcitrant cancer tissues, newly engineered methods to rapidly define patient-specific molecular vulnerabilities and new embedded sensors that can rapidly assess if drugs being used are working." The Bridge Project may extend their target areas to melanoma and ovarian cancer over the next five years.
Ultimately, the Bridge Project hopes to cure cancer with ingenuity.
"We believe that success against cancer will come if we apply the same creativity and innovation to the research enterprise that we do to the research itself," says Jacks. "New kinds of interdisciplinary collaboration are absolutely essential in order to rapidly translate research discoveries into clinical strategies that will benefit patients in the near term."
Code: E041203

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