Harvard Stem Cell Institute

Progress Report: August 2018
engineered cancer cells
Cancer cells have a self-homing ability, moving around the body to locate tumors. A recent study by HSCI Principal Faculty member Khalid Shah exploited this ability, engineering self-targeting cells that deliver therapeutic molecules to tumors.
  • What they did: The researchers used CRISPR gene editing to equip cancer cells with a therapeutic protein. They also engineered the cells with a self-destruct mechanism.
  • What they found: The engineered cells targeted and eliminated primary and metastatic tumors in mice. Afterward, the engineered cells were successfully removed.
  • Why it matters: Engineered cancer cells are a potential therapeutic strategy for different types of tumors.
3D heart model
Many heart models are flat layers of cells in a dish that do not capture the 3D nature of the heart. In a recent study, HSCI Principal Faculty members Kevin Kit Parker and William Pu collaborated to create an improved 3D heart model.
  • What they did: The researchers built a scaffold by spinning nanofibers into the shape of a heart chamber. They then added heart muscle cells from rats or derived from human stem cells.
  • What they found: The 3D heart model contracted spontaneously, pumping fluid in and out of the chamber.
  • Why it matters: By combining bioengineering with stem cell technology, this 3D model can be used to study heart disease and test potential new therapies.
_undruggable_ cancer protein
"Undruggable" cancer protein targeted by new therapeutic 
A protein called SALL4 is involved in about one-third of cancers, and has been considered "undruggable" because there is nowhere on its surface for an inhibiting drug to bind. In a recent study, HSCI faculty members Li Chai and Daniel Tenen developed a therapeutic molecule that blocks SALL4.
  • What they did: The researchers analyzed the structure of SALL4 when it interacted with another protein, then designed a molecule to bind with SALL4 in a similar way.
  • What they found: The molecule limited tumor growth in a mouse model of liver cancer.
  • Why it matters: This therapeutic approach could be applied to treating liver cancers and leukemias.
stem-cell-inspired art
Boston-based artist Susan Heideman creates works inspired by biology, including organoids made by HSCI researchers. Organoids are small, 3D tissue cultures that are grown from stem cells and model the complexity of organs.
Heideman's art is currently on exhibit at the Chandler Gallery in Cambridge, MA through September 7.