ENDLESS FRONTIER:
INNOVATIONS IN SCIENCE & ENGINEERING

December 2010

Energy

A Step Toward Fusion Power
The long-sought goal of a practical fusion-power reactor has inched closer to reality with new experiments from MIT’s experimental Alcator C-Mod reactor, the highest-performance university-based fusion device in the world. Read more >>

Health

Nanoparticles Direct Drug Delivery
Doxorubicin, a drug commonly used to treat leukemia and other cancers, kills tumor cells by damaging their DNA. Though the drug is effective, it can also be toxic to heart cells. In 2005, the FDA approved a new type of doxorubicin, known as Doxil. In this new formulation, the drug is wrapped in a fatty coating called a liposome, which hinders its ability to enter heart cells (and other healthy cells). Doxil, usually prescribed for late-stage ovarian cancer, represents the first generation of cancer treatments delivered by tiny particles. Doxil particles are on the scale of millionths of a meter, but MIT scientists are now working on nano-sized particles, which are measured in billionths of meters. Such particles could allow doctors to give larger doses of chemotherapy while sparing healthy tissue from dangerous side effects. Read more >>

Turning Off Cancer Genes
A single cancer cell may harbor dozens or even hundreds of mutant genes. Some of those genes instruct the cell to grow abnormally large. Others tell it to divide repeatedly or to detach itself and roam the body looking for a new home. What if you could shut off one, two or even a dozen of those genes, all at once? MIT scientists are striving to do just that through RNA interference, a natural process that happens within cells. Read more >>

Know Thy Target
In 2004, the drug company AstraZeneca launched a clinical trial for a new type of lung-cancer drug. The drug, called gefitinib, interferes with EGFR, a molecule that abounds on the surface of many cancer cells. Although gefitinib had shown promise in earlier studies, this time the results were disappointing: most patients did not live longer. Cancer biologists later showed that gefitinib should only work in patients with a specific mutant form of EGFR. Since then, trials that screen patients for that mutation before giving them the drug have produced better results, and the drug is now available to certain lung-cancer patients. Read more >>

Science

Heading Off Traumatic Brain Injury
Raul Radovitzky, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, is among the researchers looking at ways to prevent combat-related injuries sustained by U.S. troops. In a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, he and his colleagues report that adding a face shield to the standard-issue helmet worn by the vast majority of U.S. ground troops could significantly reduce traumatic brain injury, or TBI. The extra protection offered by such a shield is critical, the researchers say, because the face is the main pathway through which pressure waves from an explosion are transmitted to the brain. Read more >>