Caltech Receives $3.6 Million to Start Nanosystems Biology Cancer Center

Oct 03, 2005, 01:00 ET from California Institute of Technology

    PASADENA, Calif., Oct. 3 /PRNewswire/ -- Jim Heath wants to catch cancer
 earlier and provide more effective monitoring of patients' responses to
 therapies. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) likes his plan and just awarded
 him $3.6 million to get started. The first year award from NCI is tentatively
 expected to continue at the same level for the next five years totaling $18
     Heath, the Elizabeth Gilloon Professor and professor of chemistry at the
 California Institute of Technology, will direct the Nanosystems Biology Cancer
 Center at Caltech (NSBCC).  This center will focus on the development and
 validation of tools for early detection and stratification of cancer through
 rapid and quantitative measurement of panels of serum and tissue-based
     The new center establishes a collaborative team comprising investigators
 from Caltech, the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB) in Seattle, and UCLA's
 Institute for Molecular Medicine and Jonnson Comprehensive Cancer Center.
 Former Caltech professor and ISB founder Lee Hood is a co-Director of the
 NSBCC, and Michael Phelps, Norton Simon Professor and Chair of the UCLA
 Molecular & Medical Pharmacology Department, is also a co-Director.
     The grant is part of an overall effort by the National Cancer Institute
 (NCI), which is part of the National Institutes of Health, to establish seven
 Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNEs).  The centers were
 announced today by the NCI as a major component of its $144.3 million five-
 year initiative for nanotechnology in cancer research. First year awards
 totaling $26.3 million will help establish the centers.
     The focus of the Caltech center will be to develop and validate tools for
 the early detection and stratification of cancer through rapid and
 quantitative measurements of panels of serum and tissue-based biomarkers, and
 to also use those tools to evaluate the efficacy of various cancer therapies.
 In addition to general oncology applications, this CCNE will focus on prostate
 and ovarian cancer, glioblastoma and melanoma. During the course of the
 projects that this CCNE will conduct, investigators will develop:
     * Nanotechnology and microfluidics-based chips for profiling various
       cancers through serum analysis.  The goal is to use a fingerprick of
       blood as a diagnostic window into health and disease by detecting a
       panel of serum-based proteins that reflect the onset, progression, and
       therapeutic responses of cancer.
     * Chip-based tools for isolating rare circulating white blood cells as a
       means of understanding how to better harness a patient's own immune
       system for fighting off cancer.
     * Identification of biomarkers that are indicators of the health status of
       specific organs, such as the prostate or ovaries, and are secreted into
       the blood.  Such biomarkers are then detected using the nanotech-based
       chips for achieving an informative diagnosis of various cancers through
       serum analysis.
     * Technologies for visualizing cancer in patients (and thus directing
       therapies) through the use of in vivo molecular imaging.  Highly
       targeted molecular imaging probes, prepared using "click" chemistry
       approaches, will be developed.
     * The development of high-throughput nanofabrication methods for
       constructing the low-cost diagnostic chip-based devices.
     "The clinical treatment of cancer will undergo profound change over the
 next 10-15 years," said Heath.  "This change will be catalyzed by a systems
 biology approach toward understanding the disease, and by microfluidics and
 nanotechnologies that can translate that approach into clinically useful
 tools.  These advances will allow for an early and informative diagnosis of
 cancer through in vitro diagnostics and in vivo molecular imaging of patients.
 These new technologies will guide drug discovery and treatment selection on an
 individualized basis, providing the right drug for the right patient.   The
 goal of the NSBCC is to serve as the agent of that change by developing the
 core technologies for achieving this vision, and by catalyzing the
 commercialization of those technologies.  The combination of nanotechnologies
 from Caltech, proteomics, genomics, and computational biology from the
 Institute for Systems Biology, and the molecular imaging, cancer biology and
 clinical cancer programs from UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center provide
 the cross-disciplinary basic and clinical science expertise committed to
 realizing this vision."
     "We believe that nanotechnology will have a transformative effect on
 cancer diagnosis and treatment. In fact its impact is already visible in the
 research being conducted through many of the centers we are announcing today,"
 said Andrew von Eschenbach, M.D., director of the National Cancer Institute.
 "Through the applications of nanotechnology, we will increase the rate of
 progress towards eliminating the suffering and death due to cancer."
     Nanotechnology, the development and engineering of devices so small that
 they are measured on a molecular scale, has demonstrated promising results in
 cancer research and treatment. NCI launched the plan to create the NCI
 Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer in September 2004, as a comprehensive,
 integrated initiative to develop and translate cancer-related nanotechnology
 research into clinical practice.
     NCI's Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer encompasses four major program
 components, including the CCNEs. CCNEs are multi-institutional hubs, which
 will focus on integrating nanotechnology into basic and applied cancer
 research and providing new solutions for the diagnosis and treatment of
     Each of the CCNE awardees is associated with one or more NCI-designated
 cancer centers, affiliated with schools of engineering and physical sciences,
 and partnered with not-for-profit organizations and/or private sector firms,
 with the specific intent of advancing the technologies being developed.
     Similar centers will be established by University of North Carolina, UC
 San Diego, Emory-Georgia Tech, MIT-Harvard, Northwestern University, and
 Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.
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SOURCE California Institute of Technology