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10/03/2005 07:00:00

Caltech Receives $18 Million Over 5 Years to Start Nanosystems Biology Cancer Center

PASADENA, Calif.- Jim Heath wants to catch cancer earlier and provide more effective monitoring of patients' responses to therapies. The National Cancer Institute likes his plan and just awarded him $18 million over five years to get started.

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 biomarkers.

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. ¢ 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 to 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 cancer.

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. ### Contact: Jill Perry, Caltech, (626) 395-3226,

Ann Benner, National Cancer Institute, (301) 496-6641,

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Written by Jill Perry