Artificial Intelligence

The Download: tech’s hardest problems, and cancer-fighting cell therapies

Technology is all about solving big thorny problems, yet one of the hardest things is knowing where to focus our efforts. There are so many urgent issues facing the world. Where should we even begin? 

We asked dozens of people to identify what problem at the intersection of technology and society that they think we should focus more of our energy on. We queried scientists, journalists, politicians, entrepreneurs, activists, and CEOs.

Some broad themes emerged: the climate crisis, global health, creating a just and equitable society, and AI all came up frequently. There were plenty of outliers, too, ranging from regulating social media to fighting corruption. Read the full list to find out what they said.

This story is from our most recent print issue of MIT Technology Review, which is all about society’s hardest problems, and how we should tackle them. If you don’t subscribe already, sign up now to get future issues when they land.

Innovative new cell therapies could finally get at tough-to-target cancers

The news: A biotech company is making headway in leveraging patients’ own immune systems to destroy cancerous cells in solid tumors. While researchers have recently had success in treating some hard-to-treat blood cancers with engineered T cells, solid tumors, which make up the vast majority of cancer diagnoses, have proved much more difficult.

How they did it: The technicians harvested T cells, which help the body fight infections, from a patient’s blood, before genetically engineering the cells to carry a receptor called a chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR, which can bind to a protein on the surface of the cancer cell. Next they grow these engineered cells in the lab, then reinfuse them back into the body. When the cells encounter the protein they’re designed to recognize, they activate and start destroying the cancer cells.