Meet Our Researchers

Viktor Adalsteinsson

Group Leader in the Cancer Program at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

Viktor Adalsteinsson runs the Cancer Program’s blood biopsy team—a group of scientists, engineers, oncologists, and computational biologists that develops technologies to monitor the progression of cancer and other diseases through a simple blood draw.

Project Description

BroadIgnite support will accelerate the team’s pioneering efforts to scan the free-floating DNA in blood for signs of cancer and other diseases. The funding will also support the development of high-powered cellular analysis technology, which can yield insights on the cell types commonly damaged during these diseases.

Watch a video about Viktor's research

The Question

Traditional cancer biopsies can be invasive, painful, and dangerous; for some patients, they’re impossible. Even when they are an option, they only provide a snapshot of the tumor at one point in time. Useful as that is, it doesn’t reveal how tumors evolve in response to therapy. But what if researchers and doctors had a noninvasive—and therefore, highly repeatable—technique to track, and learn how tumors change over time?

The Approach

Our team is pursuing such a technique: blood biopsies, in which all a cancer patient has to undergo is a simple blood test. Tumors typically shed fragments of DNA into the bloodstream, and the genomic sequences encoded in those fragments hold high potential as clinical biomarkers. That said, there are still many hurdles to making blood biopsies a viable substitute. We’re working towards overcoming those hurdles, with the aim of making blood biopsies a revolutionary tool for treatment and, perhaps someday, early detection. In addition, we’re exploring how to apply this method to different types of human disease. We’ve identified collaborators who could likely provide samples from patients with Alzheimer’s disease, kidney disease, and multiple sclerosis. In parallel, as a set of reference controls, we’re examining the DNA in the blood of several healthy individuals.