Gerstner Family Foundation Commits $10 Million to Broad Institute

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Eric Lander, PhD

Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard announced a $10 million gift from the Gerstner Family Foundation, which will expand cancer research at Broad Institute and broaden collaborations with Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The research will focus on the changes tumors undergo as they become resistant to drugs—the biggest hurdle to conquering the disease. The Gerstner Family Foundation gift will allow Broad Institute to identify the mechanisms that drive cancer drug resistance and pave the way for new treatments.

“Cancer treatment has seen amazing progress over the past decade,” said Eric Lander, PhD, President and Director of Broad Institute. “However, many cancer treatments are only temporary. Curing cancer will require solving the problem of drug resistance. This critical next phase of cancer research is becoming a reality, thanks to the Gerstner Family Foundation’s generous gift.”

Funding a New Approach

The Gerstner Family Foundation gift will support a two-pronged approach to the problem of cancer drug resistance: one based in the laboratory and the other in partnership with clinical researchers.

First, researchers at Broad Institute will systematically and comprehensively identify the mechanism of drug resistance, using CRISPR genome-editing technology. This revolutionary tool was developed in part at the Broad Institute and allows researchers to use experimental models to rapidly test which genes are responsible for cancer drug resistance in a laboratory setting.

Second, Broad Institute is partnering with two of the world’s leading cancer centers— Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center—to launch the largest study to date of pretreatment and drug-resistant tumors. By comparing the genome sequence of pretreatment tumors to resistant tumors, researchers hope to identify the mutations that cause resistance.

At the same time, a Broad Institute team will build on efforts to develop ‘blood-based’ tumor biopsies. They are techniques to isolate and study rare tumor cells in a patient’s bloodstream. If successful, they would provide doctors a much less invasive alternative to more traditional biopsies. Broad Institute researchers will focus on improving methods to conduct genome sequencing of some circulating tumor cells.

The Gerstner Family Foundation has invested over $50 million in biomedical research over the past 20 years with leading institutions across the United States. ■