Revolutionary Science

Revolutionary Science

Patients around the world are counting on us.

Despite incredible scientific progress, 600,000 Americans and 8 million people worldwide still die of cancer each year. We are determined to find a solution for each individual patient. The Dana-Farber Campaign will enable us to discover new ways to prevent, treat, and Defy Cancer. Forever.

Cancer Prevention & Early Detection

Cancer Prevention & Early Detection

To reduce the burden of cancer we must increase our ability to prevent more cancers, detect more cancers earlier, and stop the same or different cancers from developing years later in those who have been successfully treated. Dana-Farber physician-scientists have been leaders in cancer prevention and early detection for decades. Our scientists were the first to identify abnormalities in certain inherited genes that explained why some families had a pattern of cancer across generations. We have studied hundreds of genetic mutations that can cause an array of adult and pediatric cancers, including critical discoveries about how BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations,...

To reduce the burden of cancer we must increase our ability to prevent more cancers, detect more cancers earlier, and stop the same or different cancers from developing years later in those who have been successfully treated.

Dana-Farber physician-scientists have been leaders in cancer prevention and early detection for decades. Our scientists were the first to identify abnormalities in certain inherited genes that explained why some families had a pattern of cancer across generations. We have studied hundreds of genetic mutations that can cause an array of adult and pediatric cancers, including critical discoveries about how BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, for example, lead to breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancers. Our researchers have discovered genetic mutations associated with an increased risk of heart disease and blood cancers, which could lead to much-needed early detection and screening methods for blood cancers.

Investments in The Dana-Farber Campaign will:

  • Develop new tests to detect cancer sooner.
  • Integrate molecular knowledge and risk profiles to more accurately identify individuals at highest risk.
  • Develop personalized screening and prevention plans based on an individual’s genomic profile and lifestyle factors.
  • Detect blood cancers sooner, building on Dana-Farber discoveries about genetic mutations associated with increased risk of blood cancers and other diseases.
  • Improve prediction and prevention strategies for patients and families with hereditary cancers.

Through all these efforts, we will increase our ability to use the right prevention strategies in the right patients at the right time, from the very start.

Our goal is no less than revolutionizing a total paradigm shift: from saving lives by treating cancer to saving lives by finding and stopping cancer at its earliest stages—and ultimately preventing cancer altogether.

Cancer Immunotherapy

Cancer Immunotherapy

Immunotherapies use the body’s own disease-fighting immune system to kill cancer cells. In 25 percent of cases, the results are lifesaving. Immunotherapies have already improved outcomes in several cancer types: melanoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, lung, kidney, bladder, head and neck, liver, Merkel cell, and gastrointestinal cancers. Dana-Farber has been at the forefront of these advances. To extend the powerful benefits of immunotherapies to more patients, The campaign seeks funds to advance a comprehensive precision immunotherapy initiative. Funds will speed efforts to answer the biggest unanswered questions in this field: why does immunotherapy work for some patients and not others? Can...

Immunotherapies use the body’s own disease-fighting immune system to kill cancer cells. In 25 percent of cases, the results are lifesaving. Immunotherapies have already improved outcomes in several cancer types: melanoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, lung, kidney, bladder, head and neck, liver, Merkel cell, and gastrointestinal cancers. Dana-Farber has been at the forefront of these advances.

To extend the powerful benefits of immunotherapies to more patients, The campaign seeks funds to advance a comprehensive precision immunotherapy initiative. Funds will speed efforts to answer the biggest unanswered questions in this field: why does immunotherapy work for some patients and not others? Can side effects be reduced? How do we combine immunotherapies with other treatments to improve survival rates? And how do we treat all cancers with immunotherapies?

We will expand our therapeutic cancer vaccine efforts, which can stimulate the immune system to recognize and kill cancer cells. Our research has already spurred development of one personalized cancer vaccine approach, first tested by Dana-Farber in patients with melanoma. Called NeoVax, this methodology is now being tested here in glioblastoma, kidney cancer, and ovarian cancer. Our goal is to discover new ways to maximize this vaccine’s effect and make it an option for treating many different cancers.

The campaign will also help us sharpen and strengthen the immune system’s cancer-fighting powers by enhancing the effectiveness of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, currently available only at Dana-Farber and a handful of other centers in the U.S. Our goal now: to make this therapy, used to treat some forms of leukemia and lymphoma, effective in treating a range of other blood cancers and some solid tumors.

Through a combination of laboratory research, enhanced technology, and clinical trials advancing “first-in-human” tests of potential new treatments, we will swiftly translate discoveries into the next breakthrough immunotherapy drugs for patients.

Pediatric Cancers

Pediatric Cancers

When Dana-Farber Cancer Institute was founded in 1947, cancer in children was almost always a death sentence. Today, thanks to the determination of Sidney Farber, MD, and those who followed, the cure rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common childhood leukemia, is nearly 90 percent. Today, our pediatric patients receive world-class care in our Jimmy Fund Clinic, and have access to hundreds of clinical trials representing the most cutting-edge treatments. We consistently rank #1 or #2 among pediatric cancer centers in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report. Yet, pediatric cancers of all types are still...

When Dana-Farber Cancer Institute was founded in 1947, cancer in children was almost always a death sentence. Today, thanks to the determination of Sidney Farber, MD, and those who followed, the cure rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common childhood leukemia, is nearly 90 percent.

Today, our pediatric patients receive world-class care in our Jimmy Fund Clinic, and have access to hundreds of clinical trials representing the most cutting-edge treatments. We consistently rank #1 or #2 among pediatric cancer centers in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Yet, pediatric cancers of all types are still the leading cause of disease-related death in children in the U.S. We are still a long way from our ultimate goal: a world where children always survive a cancer diagnosis.

Gifts to The Dana-Farber Campaign will accelerate efforts in our laboratories to find new prevention and treatment measures, reduce treatment side effects, and stop every childhood cancer in its tracks. Gifts will fund pioneering work to better understand even the rarest pediatric cancers and develop new drugs, including immune-based therapies and precision medicine approaches.

Epigenetics

Epigenetics

Epigenetics refers to changes in how genetic material is read and processed by the cell, rather than changes to the DNA itself. Like mutations in genes, epigenetic changes can also cause cancer. For decades, cancer research has focused on the role of genetic mutations, or changes in the DNA sequence, in driving cancer. But DNA is only part of the story. We now know epigenetic changes can be reversed, opening the door to a new class of cancer-fighting drugs. With our dual focus on adult and pediatric cancer research, Dana-Farber is leading the epigenetics revolution, translating findings from genetically simpler...

Epigenetics refers to changes in how genetic material is read and processed by the cell, rather than changes to the DNA itself. Like mutations in genes, epigenetic changes can also cause cancer.

For decades, cancer research has focused on the role of genetic mutations, or changes in the DNA sequence, in driving cancer. But DNA is only part of the story.

We now know epigenetic changes can be reversed, opening the door to a new class of cancer-fighting drugs.

With our dual focus on adult and pediatric cancer research, Dana-Farber is leading the epigenetics revolution, translating findings from genetically simpler pediatric cancer studies to more complex adult cancers.

Our researchers’ basic science discoveries in pediatric sarcomas in the early 2000's, for example, played a leading role in the recent FDA approval of the first-ever epigenetic drug to treat solid tumors.

We discovered that the pediatric cancer mixed lineage leukemia (MLL) is driven by an abnormality that leads to widespread epigenetic changes that spur the cancer’s growth. Working with collaborators in biotech, we discovered that a drug can block these changes and halt cancer growth. That drug is now in clinical trials.

Gifts will empower us to create an “epigenetics tool box” of compounds, animal models, and computational approaches for studying epigenetic mechanisms more rapidly and effectively. They will empower us to lead major collaborative research efforts with academic institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and biotech firms to translate discoveries into clinical trials of epigenetic drugs, either alone or in combination with other therapies.

Drugging the Undruggable

Drugging the Undruggable

Dana-Farber is a leader in drug development, playing a critical role in developing 1 in every 4 FDA-approved cancer drugs. We lead the revolution to transform treatment through precision cancer medicine, analyzing genetic material in patient tumors to pinpoint weaknesses to exploit with targeted drugs. Our programs in cancer chemistry, biology, and imaging give us the unique ability to manufacture and test prototype drugs, spurring a paradigm shift: treatments now routinely aim to match patients with medicines that target vulnerabilities specific to their individual tumors. Yet, we still don’t have drugs for many targets—some of which are considered “undruggable” because...

Dana-Farber is a leader in drug development, playing a critical role in developing 1 in every 4 FDA-approved cancer drugs. We lead the revolution to transform treatment through precision cancer medicine, analyzing genetic material in patient tumors to pinpoint weaknesses to exploit with targeted drugs. Our programs in cancer chemistry, biology, and imaging give us the unique ability to manufacture and test prototype drugs, spurring a paradigm shift: treatments now routinely aim to match patients with medicines that target vulnerabilities specific to their individual tumors.

Yet, we still don’t have drugs for many targets—some of which are considered “undruggable” because current treatments have no effect. In many cases, tumors become resistant to existing drugs, allowing cancer to return or worsen. We need entirely new drugs that work in unconventional ways to attack new targets common to multiple cancers.

Determined to move beyond the 1 percent of the cancer genome that we currently understand, we aim to decode the remaining 99 percent—the “dark matter” of the cancer genome, in which Dana-Farber scientists discovered the first cancer-related mutations nearly a decade ago. We also want to leverage our success in the fast-moving field of targeted protein degradation.

Tens of thousands of proteins in each cell control its workings. Many diseases, including cancer, are due to abnormal or malfunctioning proteins, not genetic mutations. Drugs that block abnormal proteins are standard treatments for cancer, but most proteins can’t be “drugged” using current methods. Targeted protein degradation works differently: rather than block or inhibit a protein, it removes it from the cell by exploiting the cell’s mechanism for eliminating—or degrading—proteins that are misshapen, worn-out, or no longer needed. Our scientists have already built the first tools to hijack that mechanism and turn cancer against itself. But there is much more to do.

Funds from The Dana-Farber Campaign will accelerate efforts to identify and exploit new molecular and genomic targets, “drug the undruggable,” and develop next-generation therapies to overcome treatment resistance, for the benefit of patients everywhere.

Data Science, Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning

Data Science, Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning

Our expert biostatisticians, computational biologists, and knowledge systems engineers are driving innovation to Defy Cancer by creating and employing tools to leverage patient and genomic data into actionable treatments. Cancer is a complex set of diseases, with myriad genetic and biological underpinnings, symptoms, drug interactions, and treatment side effects. The revolution in genomic technologies gives scientists the unprecedented ability to mine the cancer genome, as well as the mountain of clinical data we partner with our patients to collect. The ability to curate and analyze this data has a substantial impact on the lives of current patients, while empowering researchers...

Our expert biostatisticians, computational biologists, and knowledge systems engineers are driving innovation to Defy Cancer by creating and employing tools to leverage patient and genomic data into actionable treatments.

Cancer is a complex set of diseases, with myriad genetic and biological underpinnings, symptoms, drug interactions, and treatment side effects. The revolution in genomic technologies gives scientists the unprecedented ability to mine the cancer genome, as well as the mountain of clinical data we partner with our patients to collect. The ability to curate and analyze this data has a substantial impact on the lives of current patients, while empowering researchers to make discoveries to transform cancer care for future patients.

MatchMiner, an award-winning Dana-Farber innovation, is the world’s first open-source platform for matching patients to clinical trials using genomic and clinical markers—using data science to ensure patients have customized cancer care. We now want to employ machine learning to scan handwritten patient notes and automatically extract crucial data into formats that enable ready analysis.

For example, our teams recently used machine-learning tools to interpret the text of radiology reports from more than 1,000 lung cancer patients. By building a database of outcomes to help “train” the machine-learning software to interpret text, they found that the software could generate outcome descriptions similar to those from radiologists—and dramatically faster. Human curators took about 20 minutes to annotate a single imaging report. In half that time, the computer models could annotate 30,000 imaging reports.

Advanced statistical analyses will filter and translate data into diagnostic assessments and treatment recommendations. Artificial intelligence will help unlock potentially revolutionary insights by identifying patterns not readily apparent to humans. And while we can already pinpoint mutations driving many individual cancers and identify which treatments might help, investments will catalyze clinicians’ ability to act on this information more quickly to save more lives.

1 in 4

In the last 10 years, nearly one in four FDA-approved cancer drugs was developed in part with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute community.

#3 Cancer center in the world according to Newsweek
90% Cure rate for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)
Dana-Farber is a pioneer in the field of cancer genetics and hereditary cancer risk
Dana-Farber was the first cancer center in New England to offer CAR T-cell therapy
Dana-Farber pioneered the use of one's own stem cells in bone marrow transplants
51 Biotech start-ups have been launched using Dana-Farber research and intellectual property
#1 Dana-Farber is the top-ranked cancer center in New England by U.S. News and World Report for the past 20 years
Discovery Science

Discovery Science

Many of today’s most important advances in cancer care trace their origins to basic science—research that uncovers biology’s fundamental principles. Research by Dana-Farber's William G. Kaelin Jr., MD, for example, revealed how cells sense and respond to oxygen. That basic research led to new medicine for kidney cancer, and could do the same for cardiovascular disease, macular degeneration, and anemia. The generous support of more than 700 donors over the years helped to fund Dr. Kaelin’s pursuit of innovative ideas that led to this breakthrough. This is but one example of how gifts to Dana-Farber have financed breakthroughs in the...

Many of today’s most important advances in cancer care trace their origins to basic science—research that uncovers biology’s fundamental principles. Research by Dana-Farber's William G. Kaelin Jr., MD, for example, revealed how cells sense and respond to oxygen. That basic research led to new medicine for kidney cancer, and could do the same for cardiovascular disease, macular degeneration, and anemia.

The generous support of more than 700 donors over the years helped to fund Dr. Kaelin’s pursuit of innovative ideas that led to this breakthrough. This is but one example of how gifts to Dana-Farber have financed breakthroughs in the lab that speed to the bedside as new treatments for many types of cancer.

Another example is the work of Dana-Farber’s Gordon Freeman, PhD, to unravel the workings of PD-1, a protein that was known to help cancer cells evade the immune system. Two decades ago, Freeman and his colleagues discovered a pair of partner molecules, PD-L1 and PD-L2, that work with PD-1 to protect normal cells from being mistakenly attacked by immune cells. Cancer exploits this interaction to switch off the body’s anti-tumor response. This finding opened up a whole new field of immunotherapy research and resulted in FDA approvals of PD-1 therapies for several cancers.

Dana-Farber is at the forefront of curiosity-driven science that ultimately translates lab discoveries into medicines. For example, several years ago, Dana-Farber’s Pasi Jänne, MD, PhD, set out to develop a new targeted therapy for patients with a drug-resistant form of lung cancer. Working with Dana-Farber colleague and structural biologist, Michael Eck, PhD, he generated a detailed structural map of the protein he wanted to target, and in collaboration with Dana-Farber chemists, designed a molecule that could bind to and inhibit the target protein. Thanks to the many cross-disciplinary collaborations that occur regularly at Dana-Farber, the project went from concept to preclinical testing in fewer than six months, setting the stage for clinical trials of drugs similar to this compound.

Supporting The Dana-Farber Campaign will foster this constant flow of ideas among our experts, enabling us to pursue ideas that could be the next home run in cancer care.

Trailblazer-Kimmie

Trailblazer-Kimmie

Colorectal cancer is one of the most prevalent and lethal cancers in the United States. The risk of developing this cancer increases with age. That’s why most cases occur in people over the age of 50. But, something has changed. There’s a new mystery to solve. My colleagues and I are seeing younger and younger patients who are developing colorectal cancer. At Dana-Farber, we have colorectal cancer patients in their 20s. Even more unusual is that as a group, they do not exhibit the typical risk-factors—they don’t have a family history of the disease. It’s not their genetics. They don’t...

Colorectal cancer is one of the most prevalent and lethal cancers in the United States. The risk of developing this cancer increases with age. That’s why most cases occur in people over the age of 50. But, something has changed. There’s a new mystery to solve.

My colleagues and I are seeing younger and younger patients who are developing colorectal cancer. At Dana-Farber, we have colorectal cancer patients in their 20s. Even more unusual is that as a group, they do not exhibit the typical risk-factors—they don’t have a family history of the disease. It’s not their genetics. They don’t have lifestyle risk-factors. They are not obese. It is predicted that the steep rise in this cancer happening in young people that we see now will continue over the next decade. At Dana-Farber, we are determined to stop that from happening.

The goal of our research is to find out if there is a unique molecular signature, gene-expression signature, or microbiome signature that would identify those most at risk.

That would help us unlock how to develop more effective prevention and treatment strategies. To do that, we are partnering with our young patients in this research. We are collaborating with cancer centers worldwide to enroll more young patients to get answers more quickly. We’ve already uncovered some clues.

Cancer is different within each person and it is always changing within each person. And now, cancer is also developing in different people for different reasons. That’s why at Dana-Farber, we are continually changing as well. Each day, we’re learning, evolving, and getting smarter. We are accelerating breakthroughs as we speed from the lab, to the bedside, back to the lab, and back to the bedside again. Our goal is to provide each patient with the right treatment at the right time in the right way. Because that’s how we will Defy Cancer.

— Kimmie Ng, MD, MPH
Director, Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center
Director of Clinical Research, Gastrointestinal Cancer Center
Co-Director, Colon and Rectal Cancer Center
Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

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