Thursday, December 19, 2019

They said she cooked her own cancers for people who crossed her..., |  Ronald Raines ’80 was first drawn to chemistry and biology as an undergraduate at MIT, where he completed a double major, studying enzymes in a chemistry lab on the first floor of the Dreyfus Building.

Some three decades later, he is back in that same building, gesturing excitedly at protein models arrayed in his office along with books and travel mementos. As he discusses his research, the “Brass Rat” class ring on his hand provides a tangible reminder of where he began. And, it’s clear he is just as interested in chemistry and biology as he ever was.

Raines, who joined the MIT faculty in 2017 after a long career at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, serves as the Firmenich Professor of Chemistry at MIT—a professorship with a distinguished 40-year history. He leads a lab pursuing projects at the interface of both fields that are poised to have a major impact on medicine and society.

“I’ve always liked tangibility, I’ve liked science I could touch, and chemistry and biology are both sciences that I can touch,” Raines explains. “I love projects that span from very fundamental science all the way to a clinical outcome—that’s the goal.”

One such project that has occupied Raines’s lab for the past five years started with a straightforward concept: Proteins are complex molecules that carry out many key tasks in cells, but mutations in the DNA blueprint used to build them may result in dysfunctional proteins—and when these damaged proteins are involved in how cells grow or divide, it can lead to cancer. So, Raines thought, what if you could overcome such cancer-causing mutations by simply replacing dysfunctional proteins with working versions?