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Targeted Cancer Treatment

MIT researchers and experts from Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center are studying a new cancer therapy that could attack malignant cells while sparing healthy ones. Now in advanced clinical trials, the treatment, called neutron capture therapy, could be more accurate and effective than conventional treatment and could reduce side effects. It is being tested on patients with glioblastoma, a virulent form of brain cancer, and two types of melanoma.

Patients are given an intravenous dose of a boron isotope, which concentrates in tumor cells. Then researchers use a beam of neutrons to irradiate the cancerous cells. The boron absorbs the neutrons’ energy and splits into two lethal subatomic particles, which kill the cells in their vicinity. But because the potent subparticles travel only a short distance (about a cell’s length) before they exhaust their kinetic energy, they affect nearby malignant cells almost uniquely.

The trials are taking place at a new facility housed within MIT’s nuclear research reactor lab. It is currently the only facility in the United States that can generate the neutron beam used in the procedure. MIT research scientist Kent Riley says that the trial’s first six patients tolerated the procedure well. However, researchers are still seeking to determine the maximum safe dosages of both neutron radiation and boron injections.

Fulfilling the Genome Promise

With the sequencing of the human genome complete, scientists are now poised to develop treatments for the causes of diseases, not just the symptoms. To jump-start that effort, MIT has formed a new collaborative research institute to study diseases at the molecular level and search for genetically based cures.

Named the Broad Institute and funded through a $100 million gift from philanthropists Eli and Edythe L. Broad of Los Angeles, the collaboration will draw on researchers from MIT, Harvard University, the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, and Harvard-affiliated hospitals. MIT biology professor Eric Lander, a leader of the Human Genome Project, will head the center, which will be housed within the Whitehead Institute. Research results will be available free to scientists worldwide.

“This is a special collaboration within the research community, with scientists working shoulder-to-shoulder in labs and in hospitals,” Lander says. He adds that the institute will “empower the next generation to think big and take risks.”

The institute will open later this year with a nucleus of about 32 faculty members culled from the founding institutions. MIT and Harvard have pledged to raise an additional $200 million to support the institute over the next 10 years.

A History of Hacks

If you happened to be walking by the Great Dome last Mother’s Day and noticed a giant pink heart stuck on it, then you witnessed one of MIT’s most recent large-scale hacks. The hacking tradition, which dates back to the earliest days of the Institute, has just been celebrated again in a new book, Nightwork: A History of Hacks and Pranks at MIT.

The book includes descriptions and photos of the Institute’s most creative hacks, gleaned from the MIT Museum. It updates previous histories by including hacks perpetrated through early 2002, and it characterizes the way the pranks have evolved. It covers everything from the cow on the Senior House dormitory roof in 1928 to the Great Dome’s adornment with a gold, Elvish-inscribed ring in tribute to the Lord of the Rings movies.

Kathleen Thurston-Lighty wrote this third book of hacks under the pseudonym “Institute Historian T. F. Peterson.” (Guess what acronym that produces.) She says writing under an alias is similar to hacking because “you put your all into something that might be very high profile, but that you can never take credit for. Of course, it’s all a vainglorious cover for shyness.” Shyness notwithstanding, Thurston-Lighty recently recounted some famous hacks on National Public Radio.

Brian Leibowitz ‘82, SM ‘84, another hack historian and a contributor to the book, says hacking “reflects the character and interests of the students, so as the student body changes, so do the content and style of the hacks.”

Joining Forces

One lab was a computing powerhouse in networking, cryptography, and speech interfaces. The other was an authority in robotics, computer vision, and machine learning. Now the two have officially become one.

In July, the Laboratory for Computer Science and the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory reunited after sharing the same building in Technology Square but functioning as separate entities since 1970. The new, combined lab has been named the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Recent collaboration between the two labs was a key factor in the decision to merge, according to computer science professor Rodney Brooks, who headed the AI Lab and is now the new lab’s director. The labs had been working closely over the past few years on several large joint projects, such as the Oxygen Alliance, a partnership with six companies that aims to create pervasive, human-centered computing systems.

Computer science professor Victor Zue, the new lab’s codirector, says the time was right for the merger because each lab was doing well enough in its research and funding to be able to enhance the other, creating an equal partnership. Zue also says the combination has created “a generation of opportunity” for research advances, because complementary fields that had historically been separated-speech recognition and natural-language processing, for example-have come together.

The new lab now has the largest research budget on campus. This winter, it will move into the Stata Center, where it will occupy two of the center’s three shared floors, all of the east tower, and five levels of the west tower.

Suing for Wrongful Death

The father of Julia Carpenter ‘03, an MIT sophomore who committed suicide in April 2001, has filed a multimillion-dollar wrongful-death lawsuit against MIT and individuals here, including President Charles M. Vest HM, dean for student life Larry G. Benedict, senior associate dean Robert M. Randolph, assistant dean Carol Orme-Johnson, Random housemaster Nina Davis-Millis, and Charvak Karpe ‘04.

The lawsuit, which Timothy Carpenter filed last June, alleges that officials at MIT responded inadequately to his daughter’s complaints that Karpe had stalked and harassed her, and that “harm to Julie, including her resultant suicide, was a foreseeable consequence of their failure to take appropriate action in light of the known risk.”

In a June 5 letter to the MIT community, Vest wrote, “Julie’s death was a tragedy that has deeply affected her family, her friends, and many others here at MIT. The allegations in the complaint do not give an accurate or complete picture of the events that preceded Julie’s death, or of the concern and the care that were extended to her.” Vest also noted that MIT will not comment further on the case to the media.

This is the third wrongful-death lawsuit filed against MIT in recent years. Previous lawsuits followed the accidental death of Richard Guy Jr. ‘99 in 1999 and the apparent suicide of Elizabeth Shin ‘02 in 2000. Those cases may go to court in 2005 or 2006.

A Digital City

Imagine the main street of a large city, where pedestrians interact with giant liquid-crystal displays, street lamps adjust their light output to the quantity of movement below, programmable street signs control traffic, and stores tailor personalized promotions to profiles stored in their customers’ pocket computers. This futuristic cityscape is the brainchild of architecture professor Dennis Frenchman, MCP ‘76, MAA ‘76, urban-studies senior lecturer Michael Joroff, and a team of South Korean urban planners. Their plan-a $1 billion Korean government project-is to transform an undeveloped part of Seoul into a high-tech media center.

The 56-hectare area, dubbed “Digital Media City,” will include a boulevard equipped with technologies to engage pedestrians. “We want to create interaction that wouldn’t happen in other ways,” says Frenchman, director of MIT’s City Design and Development group. Visitors will be able to locate parking spaces by Global Positioning System and play on public game clusters, among other services.

As one of the world’s first “mediated streets,” according to Joroff, the digital city, to be completed in 2010, will serve as a testing ground for innovative products and services, attract Korean and foreign technology companies to Seoul, and ultimately help South Korea become a major digital-content producer.

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