Matthew Vander Heiden, an MIT biology professor and pioneer in cancer cell metabolism research, will take the reins at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research as its new director.
Vander Heiden succeeds Tyler Jacks, who served as the director for the MIT Center for Cancer Research, which became the Koch Institute in 2007, for 19 years. Vander Heiden joined the Koch Institute in 2010 as one of the first faculty members hired under the new name and has been an associate director since 2017.
“Matt knows the landscape of cancer research deeply,” Jacks said. “He is very well positioned to guide our existing programs and to develop new ones that take advantage of the unique strengths at the Koch and at MIT more broadly at the intersection of science and engineering for cancer.”
The Koch Institute was created to bring scientists and engineers of different disciplines together under one roof to work on cancer problems, an experimental approach that Vander Heiden says has worked well.
“I don’t think of my colleagues as being scientists or engineers. I just view them as people who are asking interesting questions in cancer, trying to solve translational problems, and trying to solve basic problems,” he said. “We have broken down all these barriers, these traditional silos of fields, and I think that uniquely positions us to answer the big questions about cancer going forward.”
Vander Heiden said a key focus of the organization over the next few years will be “applying the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence to understanding cancer,” which he says MIT “should be a leader on,” given the new Schwarzman College of Computing, which is expected to open in a new building in 2023.
While serving as director, Vander Heiden plans to continue working as a medical oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where he treats prostate cancer patients.