EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University has been awarded a significant five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to establish a Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNE). The new center will develop innovative nanotechnology approaches and devices to combat cancer.
The center at Northwestern is one of seven CCNEs established across the country. These centers are a major component of NCI’s $144.3 million five-year initiative for nanotechnology in cancer research. First-year funding for Northwestern is $3.9 million. Funding for the following four years has not yet been determined, but is expected at approximately the same level, said Chad A. Mirkin, who will direct the new center.
“This is a truly exciting opportunity,” said Mirkin, George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry, professor of medicine and professor of materials science and engineering. “We look forward to establishing this center and working for years to come on the important problems of cancer diagnostics and therapeutics.”
Capitalizing on the existing partnership between the University’s International Institute for Nanotechnology (IIN) and the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, the center will support multidisciplinary teams of nano-scientists, cancer biologists, engineers and clinicians who will work collaboratively to develop nanomaterials and nanodevices for cancer therapeutics, drug delivery, imaging, diagnostics and monitoring applications.
“This new center will bring together two of Northwestern’s strongest research entities with the shared goal of using advances in nanoscience and technology to address one of the world’s most deadly and debilitating classes of diseases,” said Mirkin, director of the IIN. “It is possible that nanotechnology will become one of the fundamental drivers in oncology and cancer research, and we are extremely excited about focusing our research in this direction.”
The new center will build upon and leverage previous research advancements and discoveries. For example, significant advances at Northwestern in the development of highly sensitive and selective nanoscale sensors will provide a research foundation for the early detection of ovarian cancer. Although the cure rate for ovarian cancer is high if detected early, ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancers. Using nanotechnology, researchers hope to provide a screening tool that identifies patients in early stages of ovarian cancer, when treatments are most effective.
Center researchers also will combine advanced research in molecular and cell biology with nanotechnology with the goal of developing a new class of drugs that inhibit cancer cells from spreading throughout the body. Other projects include developing imaging probes hundreds of times more sensitive than those currently available and with the ability to report on physiological changes in cells and developing nanoscale cargo bins that can target cancer cells, bind to them and unload chemotherapeutic agents directly to the source.
“This new effort will build a bridge between scientists, engineers and clinicians -- all focused on advancing the application of nanotechnology for the diagnosis, early detection and treatment of human cancer,” said Steven T. Rosen, M.D., director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and Genevieve Teuton Professor of Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine. “I am confident that this effort will lead to new discoveries that will enhance the care of patients and lead to approaches that prolong life.”
The center will be able to leverage existing infrastructure as well as an extensive array of equipment, facilities and laboratories. On the Evanston campus, center researchers are housed in the four-story, 44,000 net square-foot, state-of-the-art Center for Nanofabrication and Molecular Self-Assembly, which opened in 2002; the O.T. Hogan Biological Sciences Building; the Technological Institute; and the Arthur and Gladys Pancoe-Evanston Northwestern Healthcare Life Sciences Pavilion. On the Chicago campus, center researchers will be housed in the Montgomery Ward Memorial Building and the 12-story, 220,000 net square-foot Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center, which opened in April 2005.
Additionally, researchers will be able to utilize a wealth of instrumentation at 16 existing shared facilities including the recently established Nanoscale Imaging, Fabrication, Testing and Instrumentation (NIFTI) Facility on the Evanston campus and the Bioinformatics Core and Biostatistics Core facilities on the Chicago campus.
The center will provide an array of educational and training programs to a diverse constituency. Speakers at seminars and symposia will disseminate research progress and results to the clinical oncology community and build effective bridges of communications between practitioners and researchers. A research program in ethical and social implications of nanotechnology in translational research will be launched, engaging center researchers with philosophers, social scientists, public policy makers and the public. Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows will be involved in center research at all levels, and curriculum enhancements are expected to reflect this new initiative.
Eighteen companies have expressed formal interest in partnering with the center to help transition new technologies into the private sector. Academic collaborators include the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Yonsei University in South Korea.
Key leadership of the new center will be provided by Mirkin as director; Rosen as a member of the executive committee; Jill Pelling, professor of pathology and associate director for translational research at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, as associate director; and Kathleen Cook, director of operations and marketing of the IIN, as director of operations. All were instrumental in the development of this new initiative.
The International Institute for Nanotechnology, a collaboration between Northwestern University and the Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne National Laboratory, is an umbrella organization which unites more than $275 million in nanotechnology research, educational programs and infrastructure under one umbrella.
The Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University is an NCI-designated, comprehensive cancer center conducting a broad range of multidisciplinary basic, clinical and population science research with more than $116 million dollars in annual extramural funding.