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Battling cancer with engineering: NCI funds new $13 million cancer research center led by Cornell

ITHACA, N.Y. Adding potent research firepower and fresh physical perspectives to combat cancer, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has funded the new Center on the Microenvironment and Metastasis, which will be headquartered at Cornell University. It is one of 12 new research centers across the nation being announced today (Oct. 26, 2009) by the NCI. This grant is for $13 million over 5 years.

Cornell will serve as the lead institution in a partnership with the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City and the University at Buffalo. The center will focus on using nanobiotechnology and other related physical science approaches to advance the research on cancer.

Harold Craighead, Cornell professor of engineering and the director of Cornell's Nanobiotechnology Center, will serve as the principal investigator and director of the new center. Barbara Hempstead, professor of medicine and co-chief of the Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Weill Cornell Medical College, will serve as the senior co-investigator.

"Our center will be organized to unravel cancer's complexity using methods derived from the physical sciences and engineering to further understand how cancer travels through the human body," says Craighead. "The research may help identify new drug possibilities to inhibit metastasis and tumor growth."

Nationally, the 12 new centers will bring a new cadre of theoretical physicists, mathematicians, chemists and engineers to the study of cancer. During the initiative, the Physical Sciences-Oncology Centers will take new, non-traditional approaches to cancer research by studying the physical laws and principles of cancer; evolution and evolutionary theory of cancer; information coding, decoding, transfer, and translation in cancer; and ways to de-convolute cancer's complexity.

"By bringing a fresh set of eyes to the study of cancer, these new centers have great potential to advance, and sometimes challenge, accepted theories about cancer and its supportive microenvironment," said John E. Niederhuber, M.D., the director of the NCI. "Physical scientists think in terms of time, space, pressure, heat and evolution in ways that we hope will lead to new understandings of the multitude of forces that govern cancer and with that understanding, we hope to develop new and innovative methods of arresting tumor growth and metastasis."

Cornell's center will focus on three key projects:

  • Examining physiochemical transducers and their role in tumor angiogenesis, led by Claudia Fischbach-Teschl, Cornell assistant professor of biomedical engineering and Vivek Mittal, associate professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Weill-Cornell;

  • Physical and chemical cues in tumor cell migration, led by Cynthia Reinhart-King, Cornell assistant professor of biomedical engineering and Paraskevi Giannakakou, associate professor of pharmacology in Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Weill-Cornell; and

  • Adhesion of tumor cells in the vascular microenvironment, led by Michael King, Cornell associate professor of biomedical engineering and David Nanus, professor of medicine and urology, Co-Chief, Hematology and Medical Oncology at Weill-Cornell.

Gail M. Seigel, Ph.D., assistant professor at University at Buffalo's Center for Hearing and Deafness, also serves on the team.

Each of the 12 awarded Physical Sciences-Oncology Centers has convened groups of experts that individually and collectively will support and nurture a trans-disciplinary environment and promote research that originates and tests novel, non-traditional, physical-sciences-based approaches to understand and control cancer; generates independent sets of physical measurements and integrates them with existing knowledge of cancer; and develops and evaluates approaches from the physical sciences to provide a comprehensive and dynamic picture of cancer.

Ultimately, through coordinated development and testing of novel approaches to studying cancer processes, the network of centers is expected to generate new bodies of knowledge, in order to identify and define critical aspects of physics, chemistry and engineering that operate at all levels in cancer processes.


Contact: Blaine Friedlander
Cornell University

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