US Vice President Joseph Biden, Jr, (right) participated in the session 'Cancer Moonshot: A Call to Action' at the Annual Meeting 2016 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 19, 2016. Image: WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM/swiss-image.ch/Photo Moritz Hager (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
US Vice President Joseph Biden, Jr, (right) participated in the session ‘Cancer Moonshot: A Call to Action’ at the Annual Meeting 2016 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 19, 2016. Image: WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM/swiss-image.ch/Photo Moritz Hager (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

During his State of the Union speech on January 12, President Obama issued a challenge, with a new White House initiative to back it up: “Let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.”

Déjà vu, perhaps, for those who heard President Nixon declare a “war on cancer” in that same chamber in 1971? Physician Michael Yaffe, the David H. Koch Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, spoke last week with Radio Boston about why this “moonshot” is different: “It comes at just the right time—a critical time, really a golden era for cancer research. We’ve laid the groundwork and we’re poised with incredible technologies, knowledge, and understanding of the disease. Our ability to deal with big data has never been better and we’re at a unique time in our ability to translate the research rapidly into new therapies.”

In a blog post shortly after Obama’s speech, the cancer initiative’s head, Vice President Joe Biden, blogged about the initiative’s dual aim: not only to increase financial resources for cancer research but “to break down silos and bring all the cancer fighters together—to work together, share information, and end cancer as we know it.”

This is exactly the MO, notes Yaffe, of MIT’s Koch Institute: “We have seven floors of…scientists and engineers, one thousand cancer researchers, working elbow-to-elbow at the lab bench, learning to speak each other’s language…. We’ve been blowing up the traditional boundaries at the Koch Institute to speed up discovery of new ways to diagnose cancer in its early stages and cure cancer even when it’s become far advanced.”

Hear the full 12-minute interview, which also features Dana-Farber oncologist Nikhil Wagle—an alumnus of the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology—reporting on his recent meeting with Biden’s staff.

At the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, this week, Biden was on hand to discuss the new initiative with experts in the field of cancer research. Among them was another faculty member of the Koch Institute: Paula Hammond, MIT’s David H. Koch Professor in Engineering and head of the Department of Chemical Engineering. Jump to 27:30 of the video of the panel discussion to hear Hammond’s remarks on the potential of nanotechnology to fight cancer with personalized medicine.

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