The Man Who Uncovered a New (Old) Way to Fight Cancer

Matthew Vander Heiden helped revive the forgotten — but critical — study of cancer metabolism

MIT Technology Review
MIT Technology Review
9 min readMar 7, 2018

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Photo: Buck Squibb

By Sam Apple

One day last October, MIT biology professor Matthew Vander Heiden showed up in one of his trademark plaid shirts to teach his undergraduate course on cancer biology. As usual, he peppered his lecture with questions, filling six sliding chalkboards with arrows mapping cellular pathways; he had to erase the boards halfway through class to make room for more notations. But what might have seemed like an ordinary lecture was far from ordinary in one respect: although Vander Heiden was explaining some of the most fundamental aspects of how tumors grow, most of what he was teaching his students would have been absent from nearly every introductory course on cancer biology a decade ago. The science Vander Heiden discussed that afternoon amounted to a once-lost but recently rediscovered chapter in the history of cancer research.

What he didn’t mention in class is that he’d played as large a role as anyone in bringing it back.

That lost chapter focuses on metabolism, and how cancers use nutrients for energy and as building blocks for new cancer cells. It began with a discovery in the early 1920s that most cancers stuff…

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MIT Technology Review
MIT Technology Review

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