A unique pitch competition hosted by the MIT Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research on Friday awarded a team of researchers $300,000 to further develop — and potentially commercialize — a diagnostic platform that promises to catch leukemic cells in blood tests at very early stages of the disease. The “Shark Tank”-style competition, dubbed “Mission: Possible,” called upon Koch Institute researchers to develop innovations that aid in the prevention and early detection of cancer, for a shot at a one-year $300,000 research grant. Teams of professors, students, and postdocs submitted ideas in January.
Winning team IllumiRNA pitched an idea for a diagnostic platform that profiles individual cells in blood tests, to identify single leukemic cells among a sea of normal cells — like finding a needle in a haystack. “Ultimately, cancer is a disease of single cells gone awry, so we have to meet it at a single-cell level,” said team member Salil Garg, a postdoc in the lab of Institute Professor Phillip Sharp, who was also part of the team.
The other IllumiRNA team members were: Andrew Bader, a PhD student in the Langer and Anderson labs; Anthony Chiu, a PhD student in the Sharp lab; Courtney JnBaptiste, a PhD student in the Sharp lab; Vikash Chauhan, a postdoc in the Langer and Sharp labs and Suman Bose, a postdoc fellow in the labs of David H. Koch (1962) Institute Professor Robert Langer and chemical engineering professor Dan Anderson, who were both part of the team.