MIT breaks ground for Koch institute

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MIT broke ground on Friday for the new David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, a facility that its director, Tyler Jacks, said will usher in "the next generation in cancer research."

The institute, scheduled to open in December 2010, will house 25 laboratories occupied by MIT engineers, scientists and clinicians working together towards a common goal--creating better ways to detect, prevent and cure cancer.

"The challenges of cancer are immense, and the solution to the problem does not lie in a single field of study," Jacks said during the groundbreaking luncheon. "Only by working together can we prevail."

The institute will be largely funded by a $100 million donation from David H. Koch SB 1962, SM 1963. Koch, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer 16 years ago and given only a short time to live, said he became a "passionate crusader" for cancer research after beating the disease himself.

"This occasion is one I have long waited for," Koch said Friday. "The synergy between these two groups (scientists and engineers) will be very powerful and accelerate the development of cures. I'm very hopeful that by the time my children grow up, such cures will be available."

Koch, who received a standing ovation after his remarks, said that having the cancer institute named for him is the greatest honor he has ever received. "This is a day I will always remember," he said.

The new institute will be built on the corner of Main and Ames streets, across from the Broad and Whitehead institutes. That location puts it directly in the center of the science and engineering nexus that includes not only the Broad and Whitehead but MIT's departments of biological and chemical engineering, the Stata Center and Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex, said MIT President Susan Hockfield.

"The kind of ideas being developed here… could revolutionize the way we detect cancer, the way we treat it, and the steps we take to prevent this disease altogether," Hockfield said.

The Koch Institute will be equipped with the most sophisticated research tools currently available, including facilities for bioinformatics and computing, genomics, proteomics and flow cytometry, large-scale cell and animal facilities for genetic engineering and testing, advanced imaging equipment and nanomaterials characterization labs.

National Cancer Institute Director John Niederhuber said the new facility will set the "gold standard" for research on cancer and other diseases.

"This is not only an historic moment for MIT, but also for the nation's very important cancer center program," Niederhuber said. "What you are beginning today is a new era in how we approach and study the processes that lead to disease."

The new institute will replace and build on the work of MIT's Center for Cancer Research, which was established in 1974, shortly after the federal government declared a "war on cancer." Hockfield said that much progress has been made since then, but more is needed.

"This is a moment to invest in a decisive change," she said.

Several Cambridge city officials, including Mayor Denise Simmons, attended the groundbreaking . Simmons thanked MIT administrators and faculty for "stepping up to the plate" to fight cancer.

"We wait with bated breath to learn about your advancements," she said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 12, 2008 (download PDF).

Topics: Cancer, Campus buildings and architecture

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