How Scientific Teams Develop New Anti-Cancer Drugs

How Scientific Teams Develop New Anti-Cancer Drugs




Lisa Cucolo
Research Associate
Laboratory of Dr. Todd Golub
Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02141 USA

Kristina Masson
Postdoctoral Associate
Cancer Program
Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02141 USA

Megan E. Rokop
Educational Outreach Program Director
Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02141 USA

Lesson Feedback


In this lesson, students will see first-hand how all different kinds of scientists work together in the process of discovering anti-cancer drugs. Students meet cancer doctors, biologists, chemists and learn how they take part in the various steps of drug discovery. This lessons uses, as an example, a type of leukemia called CML, which is caused by a translocation that leads to production of the fusion protein Bcr-Abl. The activity of this mutant protein is inhibited by a famous drug that was found to be an effective treatment for CML.

We recommend that this lesson be the final BLOSSOMS lesson on cancer, that the students use, from the series of three cancer lessons made by scientists at the Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard. Before using this lesson, students should have already learned about DNA structure & function, and how different kinds of mutations affect genes. Only paper and writing utensils, and the ability to print out or display the provided handouts, are necessary to complete this lesson. 

This lesson is intended to take one or two class periods. The two most central hands-on activities in the lesson are: 

  1. Students analyze data obtained at various steps of the drug discovery process, including: identifying rearrangements in chromosomes of cancer cells, identifying promising potential drugs from photos of cancer cells treated with various chemicals, & determining the most effective inhibitors of cancer cell growth.
  2. Students do an activity in groups, during which they have to work together as a team to put in order their assigned career functions, in the over-arching steps of drug discovery. Each student must figure out which kind of scientist they were assigned to be. Instructions for an optional career project – focused on a science career of each student’s choosing – are also provided.

Instructor Biography

Lisa Cucolo graduated in 2010 from Williams College in Massachusetts, with a degree in Chemistry and a concentration in Biochemistry. Since college, Lisa has spent the past two years working in the laboratory of Dr. Todd Golub, in the Cancer Program at the Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard.

Kristina Masson grew up in Sweden and received her Masters degree in Biomedicine, and her PhD in Molecular Signaling, at Lund University in Sweden. Kristina moved to Cambridge Massachusetts in 2009 to work as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Todd Golub, in the Cancer Program at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT.

Megan Rokop is the Director of the Educational Outreach Program at the Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard, a biomedical research institute located on the MIT campus. Megan earned her Ph.D. in biology at MIT, and has taught biology both to high school students in the Boston area, and to undergraduate students at MIT.

The project described was supported by Grant Number U54CA112962 from the National Cancer Institute. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Cancer Institute or the National Institutes of Health.

Additional Online Resources

 Videos of each year's Broad Institute Midsummer Nights' Science lecture series (an annual seminar series for the general public), including: 

“Screening for new cancer drugs” video from the Broad Institute DNAtrium digital exhibits:

Websites describing cancer research at the Broad Institute:

The website for NCI (the institute at the NIH that focuses on cancer):

Harvard University MCB department animations on “The Biology of Cancer:”