Featured Postdoc (Travel grant winner): Dr. Michael J. Mitchell

Dr. Michael J. Mitchell was awarded a PDA travel grant for the Jan-June 2015 cycle.

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BIO: Dr. Michael J. Mitchell obtained his PhD in Biomedical Engineering in July 2014 from Cornell University, in the laboratory of Dr. Michael R. King. His graduate work focused on the development of “Unnatural Killer Cells”, a unique therapeutic approach to target and kill circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in the bloodstream, before metastasis formation in anatomically distant organs. This approach represents an entirely new preventive measure upon diagnosis of highly metastatic hematogenous cancers such as those originating in breast, prostate, and lung. The results of this work were reported in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, and gained national and international attention from over 100 different news organizations. He has received awards from the Society for Biomaterials, Biomedical Engineering Society, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Saint Etienne, and the International Society of Biorheology for his dissertation work. Michael is now a postdoctoral associate in the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, in the laboratory of Dr. Robert Langer. His postdoctoral research is focused on targeted in vivo delivery of nucleic acids and small molecule drugs to the bone marrow microenvironment.

RESEARCH OVERVIEW: Metastasis remains responsible for over 90% of cancer-related deaths, and can be described as a series of physical events including tumor cell detachment from the primary site, invasion into the circulation, translocation through the blood to microvessels in distant organs, and transmigration through endothelium to form secondary tumors. Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are effective at treating primary tumors, but the difficulty in treating and detecting metastasis typically signals a poor patient prognosis. One of the most common sites for metastasis is bone, which confers increased morbidity, a 5-year survival rate of ~25%, and median survival of ~40 months. Upon colonization in bone, tumor cells become highly resistant to chemotherapy, and effective treatments remain elusive. There is a pressing need to develop novel therapeutic strategies that disrupt the metastatic niche and thus reduce the capacity of tumor cells to home to and engraft in bone. Our work is currently focused on developing in vivo nucleic acid delivery vehicles to reprogram the bone marrow niche to suppress tumor cell homing and engraftment, as a means to prevent bone metastasis. Additionally, we are developing biomaterial surfaces to both isolate and grow metastatic tumor cells from patient blood samples, as a means to develop personalized medicine regimens for metastasis.