Big Think Interview With Sheena Iyengar
Question: How did you come to study choice?
Sheena Iyengar: I think I was always informally thinking about choice from when I was a very young child because I was born to Sikh immigrant parents, so I was constantly going back and forth between a Sikh household and an American outside world, so I was going back and forth between a very traditional Sikh home in which you had to follow the Five K’s. You know never cut your hair, always carry around a comb, never take off your underwear other than… I mean never take off your underwear even if it was in the shower, dress very conservatively and so I was living, growing up in a very traditional household and yet at the same time I was going to school in the United States where I was taught the importance of personal preference, so at home it was all about learning your duties and responsibilities whereas in school it was all about well you get to decide what you want you want to eat. You get to decide how you’re going to look and what you’re going to be when you grow up and when people learned that my parents actually had an arranged marriage people thought that was the most horrific thing on earth. I mean how could anybody allow their marriage of all things to be prescribed by somebody else? And you know I went home and they seemed… my parents seemed normal. They didn’t seem to feel like somehow they had been victims of some Nazi camp or something. So it was constantly going back and forth between these two cultures that kept raising the question, well, how important is personal freedom? And I think that has always been of interest to me.
Then, the other thing that affected my interest in choices growing up was the fact that I was going blind and that meant that there were lots of questions that constantly kept arising about how much choices I actually could have. So on the one hand in school you’re teachers are constantly telling you that you can be whatever it is you want to be as long as you put your mind and heart to it, and yet at the same time I was also getting the clear message of, well, what can you do really? I mean can you walk to school on your own? Can you study science? Can you study math? Can you go to a normal school? Do you need to go to a special school? What is going to become of you when you grow up? Are you going to have to live on social security and SSI? Are you going to be able to shave your legs? Are you going to be able to get married? So it was constantly thinking about both choice in terms of possibilities–I mean because choice is the thing that is supposed to enable you to be whatever it is you want to be–and yet, at the same time you have to think about choice in terms of its limitations. And I think that too ended up affecting a lot of the different research questions that I later asked was really was about well to what extent… How do we balance choice as possibility and choice as limitations?
Question: Do you approach choice differently from people who have sight?
Sheena Iyengar: I don’t know if I approach choice any differently than the sighted people do, but what I am very cognizant of is that choice does have limits and because of that I really try to take advantage of the domains in which I do have choice. And when I do have choice I try to be very picky about... or shall I say choosey about when I choose. I don’t automatically decide that I must be the one to choose or that it’s important for me to make every choice in my life. I pick what are my priorities and I limit those priorities to less than five in my life and really in those particular areas put in the energy to try to make good choices. I think of choosing as a… both a fun and an effortful activity and I think of choice as something that in order for you to really get what you want out of it you have to put a lot into it and so I’m only willing to do that for a few different things and for the rest I really just try to either satisfy, come up with a simple rule or let somebody else make the choice.
Question: How did you conduct your first study on choice?
Sheena Iyengar: So when I was a PhD student at Stanford University I used to frequent this grocery store called Draeger’s and you know it was… It’s always a thrilling experience to go into a place that offers you a lot of choice. You know it’s like it reminds you of when you’re a kid and you go to the amusement park and whether it be Disneyworld or Six Flags you know that thrilling moment when you first enter and you know you’ve got all these possibilities for the day and it’s really a… it’s a wonderful feeling. So I used to go to this store called Draeger’s and you had a little bit of that same feeling because this was a store that offered you so many varieties, things you’d never contemplated before, you know like 250 mustards and vinegars and over 500 different kinds of fruits and vegetables, or over 2 dozen different types of water and this is at a time when you know most of us drank tap water, so I used to go to this store and examine all the varieties and we used to marvel at all the choices out there, but I found that I rarely bought anything and I kind of thought that was kind of curious. I mean, they had things that the other grocery stores didn’t have and yet I never bought anything. And so one day I went to the manager and I asked him whether his model was working and he said, “Well, haven’t you seen how many customers we have in this store?” And yes indeed I had. I mean it was definitely attracting a lot of customers, even attracting tourist buses that would land up at this store and people would go through the store and marvel at all the options, even sometimes take photographs of the various aisles. So the manager agreed to let me do a little experiment where we put out a little tasting booth next to the entry. We either put out 6 different flavors of jam or 24 different flavors of jam and we looked at 2 things. First, in what case were people more likely to buy a jar of jam? The first thing we looked at, in what case were people more likely to be attracted to the jar or jam, so in which case are people more likely to stop when they saw the display of jams and what we found was that more people stopped when there were 24 jams. About 60% of the people stopped when we had 24 jams on display and then at the times when we had 6 different flavors of jam out on display only 40% of the people actually stopped, so more people were clearly attracted to the larger varieties of options, but then when it came down to buying, so the second thing we looked at is in what case were people more likely to buy a jar of jam. What we found was that of the people who stopped when there were 24 different flavors of jam out on display only 3% of them actually bought a jar of jam whereas of the people who stopped when there were 6 different flavors of jam 30% of them actually bought a jar of jam. So, if you do the math, people were actually 6 times more likely to buy a jar of jam if they had encountered 6 than if they encountered 24, so what we learned from this study was that while people were more attracted to having more options, that’s what sort of got them in the door or got them to think about jam, when it came to choosing time they were actually less likely to make a choice if they had more to choose from than if they had fewer to choose from. And that really ended up starting an entire area of research where we began to look at "Why is that?" And a large part of that has to do with the fact that when people have a lot of options to choose from they don’t know how to tell them apart. They don’t know how to keep track of them. They start asking themselves "Well which one is the best? Which one would be good for me?" And all those questions are much easier to ask if you’re choosing from six than when you’re choosing from 24 and if you look at the marketplace today most often we have a lot more than 24 of things to choose from. In fact, even in that store Draeger’s they had 348 different kinds of jam actually in the jam aisle. And what we found over about, say, 10 years of research is that as the number of choices actually increase people are less likely to make a choice and sometimes they do this even when it’s really bad for them. Like, people are less likely to invest in their retirement when they have more options in their 401K plans than when they have fewer. People are, even when they do make a choice, they’re more likely to chooses things that are not as good for them. You know, like, they’ll make worse financial decisions for them if they’re choosing from a lot of options than if they’re choosing from a few options. If they have more options they’re more likely to avoid stocks and put all their money in money market accounts, which doesn’t even grow at the rate of inflation. Also if they choose from more options than fewer options they’re less satisfied with what they choose and that is true whether they’re choosing chocolates or which job offer to accept.
Question: Are all animals capable of making choices, or just those with a higher cognitive ability?
Sheena Iyengar: What we share with animals is a desire for choice. It’s a desire to have control over our life and a desire to live and use choice as a way in which we can facilitate our ability to live and that is something we really were born with. You know, whether it be humans or animals. So even humans–before we can speak or we can understand a baby’s cognition–they’re already showing us signs that they want choice. You know, you take a little infant and you turn on the music mobile on their crib and you find that if you give them a music mobile which turns on automatically versus a music mobile in which–if by chance their little legs or their little hands accidentally touches it–turns on they’re so much more excited if by chance it turns on because they touched it, so that desire for control over their environment is… really appears from very early on and if you look at children’s first words, “no, yes.” My child’s first word was "more," but and it’s all about, “I want.” “I’m going to tell you what I want and what I don’t want.” It’s about my desire to express my preferences. And that is really innate. Now to what…? How we teach people to make choices and the things they’re going to make choices over–that is culturally learned.
Question: Americans today have an abundance of choices. Is that a good thing?
Sheena Iyengar: Well certainly not having any choice–having your entire life dictated by others... You know, like, none of us would choose–no matter where we are in the world–would choose to you know become a member of Orwell’s "Nineteen Eighty-Four" world, but how much choice is really the question. I mean we know that some choice makes you better off than no choice. Now do we get better off if we go from a lot of choice versus a few choices? And there I think the answer is much, much, much more complicated. If you truly have expertise–and expertise can be say a chess master who has really mastered something or an artist or a musician of some sort you know if you give a jazz musician... Once the jazz musician learns all the fundamentals they can keep track of a lot of choices in an instant. A chess master can keep track of more choices than the number of stars in the galaxy within an instant, but these are people that have truly learned and mastered the choices that they have and how to deal with those choices over a very, very long period of training, so essentially what they’re really doing is ruling out all the irrelevant choices and only zeroing in on the most relevant, useful choices at the moment. So most of the time when we are confronted by more, rather than a few, choices we’re often novices and so we don’t really know how to differentiate these various options. We also don’t always know what we want. And in those cases it can actually make us worse off because it’s actually easier to figure out what you want and to figure out how the options differ if you have about a handful of them than if you have a hundred of them.
Question: Is choice cultural?
Sheena Iyengar: Well, you find that in certain cultures we… they don’t put as much of an emphasis in expanding their choices, so that, you know, one of the things that I learned when I was in Japan way back in the 1990’s and there were all these quarrels happening between the U.S. and Japan about allowing more American products into the Japanese market. I would go to these Japanese stores and you’d see, like, two kinds of toothpaste or five different kinds of potato chips. You know, or three kinds of ice cream bars and you’d see this and like this… okay they could clearly benefit from some more choices and I remember having these discussions with the Japanese because they you know they often like to go to Hawaii for vacation because it was definitely much cheaper for them and I would ask them, “So when you go to Hawaii, you know do eat all these other things?” And it turned out when they went to Hawaii they would go straight and buy the same thing that they would buy in Japan. They just got it cheaper, which they liked. And so they would still eat the red bean ice cream or the green tea ice cream, but they didn’t really take advantage of the variety and it wasn’t clear that they cared. I mean it wasn’t that they sat around thinking oh gosh I needed more choices in my grocery stores the way I had come to think about it as an American growing up. So I do think that there are cultural differences in the extent to which we value having more and more choice.
To give you another example, when I was recently in Russia I found that I thought I was going to give these people that I was interviewing a whole bunch of choice in terms of what they could drink while we were chatting. And I put out a good 10 different types of drinks for them and they just said, “Oh, okay, so it’s just one choice.” One choice? I gave you Coke, Pepsi, Ginger Ale, Sprite. They saw that as one choice. Now why was that one choice? Because they felt, well, it was just all soda. I didn’t really give them anymore than one choice, soda or no soda. They didn’t… whereas we put a lot of stock in the differences between soda… I mean we might even go to war as to whether we love Coke or Pepsi and our whole identity is wrapped up in that choice. You know, for the Russians they felt that these minor differences between these various sodas was just hyped up and irrelevant. You know give me choices that are truly different from one another, otherwise they don’t regard them as meaningful choices. There is a different attitude about, you know, how much differentiation there needs to be between our options and how many choices do I need to have in order to make a choice.
Question: Is it better to make decisions rationally or go with your gut?
Sheena Iyengar: We are often in society told to make decisions in one of two ways. We’re either told "Use your gut, just go with how you feel about it and let that guide you," or we’re told to use reason–some very deliberative methodical process of pros and cons and really thinking it through. Most of the time you should use reason, there is no doubt about that because gut often makes us susceptible to lots of different biases, particularly if what you’re deciding is something that you really, that expertise can be brought to bear on it, there is a way in which you can align the odds, so then you should really use reason. About the only time our gut can truly outperform our reason is if we truly have developed a kind of informed intuition. So that means the chess master or someone who has really thought about it and given themselves feedback on a particular activity for at least 10,000 hours or more. About the only question that we would say and this is a big one in our lives that we would say you don’t just use pure reason to decide the answer to is anything that affects your happiness, because then gut and reason answer very different questions. So gut tells you "How do I feel about this right now?" It doesn’t tell me how I feel about it tomorrow or even a few minutes from now. It just tells me how I’m feeling right now. Reason tells me, when I do the pros and cons analysis, how I should feel about it right now and how I should feel about it in 10 years from now and so that the only… So for decisions about happiness you essentially need at least both and probably even more than that, you probably also need to do analysis that doesn’t involve yourself to get at the answer of what will make you happy in 10 years.
Question: Is it better to have more choices when it comes to love?
Sheena Iyengar: What's interesting is that the way we go about finding our marriage partners today is quite different from the way it used to be in this culture. When you look at… I’ve done a number of studies with speed dating and Match.com and what's interesting is that you know we still walk into a speed dating event, you know, thinking about what it is we’re looking for in a mate and so you ask people, like women will say "I’m looking for somebody who is really kind and sincere and smart and funny." And guys will say looks matter, but they’ll also say things like "Well, she should be smart and kind." And you know those are... so the typical responses and if you give them just a few options, like five or six, then they will rate them on the very characteristics that they said were really important to them. You know if they said kindness or funniness was really most important to them then they will be more likely to say yes to the person that they thought was kind and funny. Now if you expand their choice set. Say you give them 20 different speed dates, everything goes out the window. Everybody starts choosing in accordance with looks because that becomes the easiest criteria by which to weed out all the options and decide "So who am I going to say yes to?"
A conversation with the Columbia Business School professor.
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Students who think the world is just cheat less, but they need to experience justice to feel that way.
- Students in German and Turkish universities who believed the world is just cheated less than their pessimistic peers.
- The tendency to think the world is just is related to the occurence of experiences of justice.
- The findings may prove useful in helping students adjust to college life.
The world is just? That’s news to a lot of people.<p>The study is the most recent addition to a long line of work focusing on the belief in justice, our behavior, and our reactions to evidence that might suggest injustice occasionally occurs. This study focuses on a personal belief in a just world, (PBJW) rather than a general belief in a just world (GBJW). The difference between them must be highlighted.</p><p>GBJW is the stance that justice prevails all over the world and that people tend to get what they deserve. PBJW is more focused on the individual's social environment and their belief that they tend to be treated justly. While several studies show PBJW correlates with a higher sense of well-being and a variety of other positive effects, a high GBJW is associated with less life satisfaction, negative behavior, and callousness towards the suffering of <a href="https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-1-4939-3216-0" target="_blank">others</a>. This study controlled for GBJW, and focused on PBJW as much as possible. </p><p>To assure that culture was not a factor, the study included students at universities in both Germany and Turkey. </p><p>The researchers gave students at the four participating universities a series of questionnaires that asked if they ever cheated in class, if they perceived the world to be just, if they though that justice always prevailed everywhere, their tendencies towards socially appropriate behavior, their life satisfaction, and if they felt like they were treated justly by their teachers and fellow students. </p><p>The answers were statistically analyzed for relationships. While some of the connections seem trivially true, others were surprising. <strong></strong></p><p>PBJW turned out to only be an indirect predictor of if a student was likely to cheat. Both a belief in a just world and a lower likelihood of cheating were mediated by the justice experiences of the students, with more of these positive experiences lowering the rate of cheating and improving their belief in justice. This was also associated with higher levels of life satisfaction. </p><p>These effects existed across all demographics in both countries. </p>
What does this mean? Is a belief in justice a self-fulfilling prophecy?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/6oMv-azHNCA" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p>In a way, it seems to be. People who have reason to think the world is just to them tend to interpret events in a way to sustain that belief and behave in a just manner. In a larger sense, the take away from this study is that experiences of justice, both from peers and instructors, is vital to student's wellbeing and understanding that the rules that exist about cheating are part of a larger, legitimate, system. </p><p>The researchers, citing previous studies on the perception of justice, note that "justice experiences (1) signal that university students are esteemed members of their social group, which in turn conveys feelings of belonging and social inclusion and (2) motivate them to accept and observe university rules and norms. These cognitive processes may thus strengthen their well-being and decrease the likelihood that they cheat."</p><p>The authors also suggest that if you want people (not only students) to act justly; consider treating them with "civility, respect, and dignity."</p><p>Sometimes, all it can take to help somebody act virtuously is to treat them well. Likewise, people treated harshly can rarely find reason to play by rules that don't protect them. The findings of this study will certainly add to the literature on how we perceive justice in the world around us, but might also help us remember that there are real consequences to our actions which can be much larger than we imagine. <strong></strong></p>
This could change how researchers approach vaccine development.
- The reason children suffer less from the novel coronavirus has remained mysterious.
- Researchers identified a cytokine, IL-17A, which appears to protect children from the ravages of COVID-19.
- This cytokine response could change how researchers approach vaccine development.
A member of staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) takes a child's temperature at the Harris Academy's Shortland's school on June 04, 2020 in London, England.
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images<p>Experts don't want to place kids at the back of the line, regardless of how strong their immune systems appear. At least one company, Moderna, <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-vaccine-for-kids-moderna-plans-pediatric-trial-2020-9" target="_blank">hopes to begin testing</a> vaccines in pediatric volunteers by year's end.</p><p>Innate immune response is especially high during childhood (compared to adaptive immunity). This makes evolutionary sense: nature wants an animal to survive until its ready to procreate. Turns out the children in the study possessed high levels of cytokines that boost their immune response. The biggest impact is made by IL-17A, which appears to protect the youngest cohort from the ravages of the coronavirus. </p><p>While both age groups produced antibodies to fight off the infamous spike protein, adults that produce neutralizing antibodies actually suffer a <em>worse</em> fate. Herold says this "over-vigorous adaptive immune response" might promote inflammation, triggering acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). </p><p>This matters for vaccine development. As Herold says, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Our adult COVID-19 patients who fared poorly had high levels of neutralizing antibodies, suggesting that convalescent plasma—which is rich in neutralizing antibodies—may not help adults who have already developed signs of ARDS. By contrast, therapies that boost innate immune responses early in the course of the disease may be especially beneficial."</p><p>Herold says current vaccine trials are focused on boosting neutralizing-antibody levels. With this new information, researchers may want to work on vaccines that boost the innate immune response instead. </p><p>With <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/science/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker.html" target="_blank">at least 55 vaccine trials</a> underway, every piece of data matters. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Astronomers spot an object heading into Earth orbit.
Minimoons<p>Scientists have confirmed just two prior minimoons. One was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_RH120" target="_blank">2006 RH120</a>, which orbited us from September 2006 to June 2007. The other was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_CD3" target="_blank">2020 CD3</a>, which got stuck in the 2015–2016 timeframe, and is believed to gotten away in May 2020.</p><p>2020 SO, the new kid on the block, is expected to arrive in October 2020 and pop out of orbit in May 2021.</p><div id="37962" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4c0fc8a2cba6536ea4cd960ebed3e6e"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1307729521869611008" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Asteroid 2020 SO may get captured by Earth from Oct 2020 - May 2021. Current nominal trajectory shows shows capture… https://t.co/F5utxRvN6Z</div> — Tony Dunn (@Tony Dunn)<a href="https://twitter.com/tony873004/statuses/1307729521869611008">1600621989.0</a></blockquote></div>
Identifying 2020 SO<p>The first clue 2020 SO isn't your ordinary asteroid is its exceptionally low velocity. It's traveling much more slowly that a typical asteroid — their <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank">average rate of travel</a> <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"></a>is 18 kilometers (58,000 feet) per second. Even <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_rock" target="_blank">moon rocks</a> sent careening into Earth orbit by impacts on the lunar surface outpace pokey 2020 SO.</p><p>For another thing, 2020 SO has an orbital path very similar to Earth's, lasting about one Earth year. It's also just slightly less circular than our own orbit, from which it's barely tilted off-axis.</p><p>So, what is it? <a href="https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/ca/" target="_blank">NASA estimates</a> that the object has dimensions very reminiscent of a discarded Centaur rocket stage from the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveyor_2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Surveyor 2 mission</a> that landed an unmanned craft on the moon. Back in the day, rocket stages were jettisoned as craft were aimed toward their desired position. This stuff, if released high enough, remains in space. It appears that this Centaur rocket, launched in September 1966, is now making its way back homeward, at least for a little bit.</p><p>When 2020 SO arrives at its closest point in December, the rocket is expected to be about 50,000 kilometers from Earth. Its next closest approach is much further: 220,000 kilometers, in February 2010.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzMDk3NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyODg1MTQ1MX0.HGknDwqp0GmeuczKY_AS7vrPG7KMFUc_XO95tNoI2xo/img.jpg?width=980" id="e5cda" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="85eb1f790d8c3ee5b261f7ba13eaa5e1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Centaur rocket stage" />
Centaur rocket stage
What we may be able to learn<p>Earthly space programs being as young as they are, scientists would love to know what's happened to our rocket during a half century in space.</p><p>While 2020 SO won't get close enough to drop into our atmosphere, its slow progress has scientists hopeful that they'll still get some kind of a decent look at it.</p><p>Spectroscopy may be able to reveal what the rocket's surface is like now — has any of its paint survived, for example? Of course, being out in space, it's likely to have been hit by lots of dust and micrometeorites, so the current state of its surfaces is also of interest. Experts are curious to know how reflective the rocket is at this point, valuable information that can help planners of future long-term missions anticipate how well a craft out in space for extended periods will remain able to reflect sunlight.</p>
Researchers from the University of Toronto published a new map of cancer cells' genetic defenses against treatment.
A moving target<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzNjQ2Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDM3OTA0N30.z4u2eaulqRu8cslqqny8t9G7iaHr_DarbDJSFKLdDwI/img.jpg?width=980" id="21b22" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aefbbccdf3bb0d25bf14268ab87a821f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="IV drip" />
Credit: Marcelo Leal/Unsplash<p>Speaking to <a href="https://www.utoronto.ca/news/u-t-researchers-identify-genes-enable-cancer-evade-immune-system" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">U of T News</a>, lead author of the study molecular geneticist <a href="http://www.moleculargenetics.utoronto.ca/faculty/2014/9/30/jason-moffat" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Jason Moffat</a> of the university's <a href="https://ccbr.utoronto.ca/donnelly-centre-cellular-and-biomolecular-research" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research</a> says, "Over the last decade, different forms of immunotherapy have emerged as really potent cancer treatments, but the reality is that they only generate durable responses in a fraction of patients and not for all tumor types."</p><p>There can be a significant degree of heterogeneity between cancer cells from human to human, and even within the same person, making the development of therapies maddeningly difficult. Attempting to address potential cancer-cell vulnerabilities across these variations is a life-or-death game of whack-a-mole.</p><p>"It's an ongoing battle between the immune system and cancer, where the immune system is trying to find and kill the cancer whereas the cancer's job is to evade that killing," says Moffat.</p>
Mapping the mechanisms<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzNjQ3Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjQ1OTM0MX0.HNtivrlU9VBYxcG9JaWKvPJ5RrBsgqd8Fw6ohfSpfh0/img.jpg?width=980" id="0faa6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7687cdc5abe93503764c1c0401b65fd4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Illustration: genes (red, green, and blue spots within the nuclei of HeLa cells) artificially superimposed on images of multi-well plates.
Credit: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash<p>Moffat and his colleagues decided to investigate and identify genes within cancer cells that help them defeat treatment. Co-lead author Keith Lawson of Moffat's lab explains that "it's important to not just find genes that can regulate immune evasion in one model of cancer, but what you really want are to find those genes that you can manipulate in cancer cells across many models because those are going to make the best therapeutic targets."</p><p>To accomplish this, the researchers, working with scientists at <a href="https://www.agios.com" target="_blank">Agios Pharmaceuticals</a> in Cambridge, Massachusetts, first exposed cells from breast, colon, kidney and skin cancer tumors to T cells in lab dishes. This established a baseline of their responses to treatment. Next, using CRISPR, the scientists went through the cells, exhaustively turning off one gene at a time to determine its role in immunotherapy resistance by comparing the cells' response to the T cells compared to their original baseline response.</p><p>The team identified 182 "core cancer intrinsic immune evasion genes" that affected the cells' response to T cells. The fact that some of the identified genes were already known to be involved in resistance provided the researchers with some confidence that they were on the right track.</p><p>Still, many of the genes they ID'ed had not been previously implicated. "That was really exciting to see because it means that our dataset was very rich in new biological information," says Lawson.</p>