Koch Institute begins relocation

New Building 76 to host interdisciplinary cancer research

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The Koch Institute’s new building, running along Main Street between Ames and Vassar, will promote collaboration between different departments on cancer research.
Andrew Swayze—The Tech

The David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research has begun moving into its newly finished home in Building 76, which replaced a parking lot along Main Street between Ames and Vassar.

The first group of faculty moved into the new building in the first week of November; the Koch Institute will gradually shift into Building 76 through mid-December. Once full, the seven-story building will contain about 600 researchers working in 25 faculty labs. According to the Koch Institute website, the first floor will feature a “changing display of art and information on MIT’s leadership role in life sciences.”

Construction began in March 2008 and finished a month earlier than projected and well within the original budget, which included a $100-million donation by David H. Koch ’62. The building was designed by Ellenzweig, an architectural firm founded by Harry Ellenzweig, who has designed and redesigned numerous MIT academic and research buildings.

“It’s also important to recognize President Hockfield’s commitment to the project and her role in inspiring this convergence,” notes Professor Tyler Jacks, Director of the Koch Institute. “This is a very tangible representation.”

One of Hockfield’s goals for MIT is collaboration between scientists and engineers. When the Koch Institute was founded in 2007 to replace and expand on the work of MIT’s Center for Cancer Research, it aimed to bring together people from various disciplines to study and approach cancer from new angles.

“In terms of its occupants, the new building will have an equal number of cancer scientists and cancer-oriented engineers,” Jacks said. “That’s very important because we’re trying to promote interdisciplinary cancer research.”

A number of different departments principally housed in separate respective departments will be represented in Building 76, including the Biology, Chemical Engineering, and Materials Science and Engineering departments.

Each of the seven floors will have labs for scientists and engineers with common areas gathered in the center, leading to more chance encounters between researchers of different disciplines.

“Structurally, the building is designed to increase interaction between these different groups of people,” Jacks said. “Existing collaborations will be enhanced through this proximity.

“We have several engineering colleagues who are experts in nanotechnology — Robert Langer and Angela Belcher, for example, among many others. They are interacting and increasing collaboration with colleagues from the biology side to, for example, develop new materials for the delivery of drugs directly to the cancer cells.”

The new facilities are geared to cover the needs of cancer research, but the building also includes areas dedicated to nanomaterial characterization. There are also many projects still ongoing from when the Koch Institute replaced the Center for Cancer Research in 2007, and Jacks expects these to increase in progress and number through the interaction directly induced by the new building.

Another example of the Koch Institute’s integrative cancer research is tumor immunology, figuring out better ways to use the immune system to eradicate cancer. This involves interactions between immunologists, cancer biologists, and engineers to manipulate the immune system to recognize tumors.

“A collection of such individuals will be on the second floor,” Jacks said, “and we’re expecting really great things from that group of people, and they will significantly benefit from the building structure of the Koch Institute.”

With all the benefits of Building 76, the Koch Institute hopes to accomplish something that Jacks calls “a bit of a departure from our history” — translating discovery and technologies into applications that directly benefit patients clinically.

“We’ve been focused more on discoveries in the past and let others do the clinical aspects,” Jacks said.

The Koch Institute laboratories have also served as a training ground, with well more than 100 undergraduates working in the labs.