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Cancer symposium packs Kresge

An audience of 1,300 packed into Kresge Auditorium on June 23 to listen to Nobel laureates and other prominent scientists discuss cancer research.

The topic for the fifth symposium of MIT's Center for Cancer Research (CCR) was "Genomes, Chromosomes and Cancer." Among the presenters were MIT Institute Professor Phillip Sharp and former MIT professor and current Caltech President David Baltimore. Both are Nobel laureates.

Sharp focused his talk on micro, or "short" RNAs, which can cause cancer if not regulated properly.

Baltimore talked about using gene therapy methods to engineer the immune system -- for example, programming the T cells of the immune system for anti-tumor immunity. "Cancer uses various tricks," he said. "Cancer cells can inhibit T cells so they can't respond." A consortium that includes Caltech is working to engineer the immune system to treat melanoma, with a goal of testing the treatment in a human patient by 2007.

Other speakers included Angelika Amon, professor in the Department of Biology, who talked about the control of chromosome segregation. Her work involves looking at how chromosomes are regulated and integrated with other cell-cycle events.

Tyler Jacks, director of the CCR, said the cancer center is approaching the halfway mark in raising funds for its new $80 million building project. He said he hopes the fund raising will be concluded next year.

Other investments in cancer research at MIT include funding from the National Cancer Institute for the MIT-Harvard Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence. The new center was established to advance the application of nanotechnologies to cancer research.

Jacks also revealed future symposium topics. Next year's program will focus on systems biology in cancer, and the following year's program will focus on nanotech biology.

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