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NCI Funds New Nanotechnology Center at Stanford

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The National Cancer Institute has established eight centers for honing the tiny tools of nanotechnology to reveal, monitor and treat cancer. One of these Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence will be based at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

On Feb. 27, the NCI announced that it has allotted roughly $20 million over five years to the Stanford center, which will be led by professor of radiology and bioengineering Sanjiv Sam Gambhir, MD, PhD, who directs the Molecular Imaging Program at Stanford.

Shan Wang, PhD, associate professor of materials science and of electrical engineering, will work closely with Gambhir on this grant.

NCI Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence are research alliances of cancer centers, medical institutions, schools of engineering and physical sciences, nonprofit organizations and private corporations.

Their mission is to integrate nanotechnology into cancer research. "It's the team science approach," said Gambhir.

The groups that will be included with the Stanford Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence Focused on Therapy Response are: UCLA, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the University of Texas-AustinGeneral Electric Global Research and Intel Corp. 

Within Stanford, faculty from the Schools of Humanities & Sciences, Engineering and Medicine will combine their expertise to develop methods to use nanotechnology to detect cancer and evaluate therapies.

In addition, outreach to the community will be done through the Canary Foundation, which is focused on early cancer detection.

"There is a big shift in science and medicine right now toward saying 'look, we can't just have individual labs doing their individual research'," said Gambhir. "This is the other extreme - a large team of a diverse group of scientists and physicians."

The team, said Gambhir, was chosen to represent scientists from a dozen disciplines, including chemistry, materials science, cancer biology, immunology, clinical oncology, radiology and molecular imaging.

He added that half of the team has already been actively involved in nanotechnology research, and that the center gives them the opportunity to interact with investigators whose primary focus is in cancer research.

"The first year, the biggest challenge is going to be getting these people working together," he said, referring to how unusual it is for people of such divergent scientific backgrounds to be collaborating. "It involves people speaking different languages."

The Stanford center will not be developing nanodevices that will be used to treat people. The group will aim their efforts at either imaging disease (in vivo) or detecting what is going on inside patients through blood or tissue samples outside of the body (ex vivo, or in vitro).

"There are a lot of people at work already on in vitro diagnostics - taking blood and other samples and trying to determine what disease state you are in - and others who are involved with in vivo molecularly imaging a living person," Gambhir explained. "The marriage between the two subdisciplines gives this grant a lot of potential."

In their grant application, the group explains, "Either the ex vivo or in vivo strategy alone will not be optimal; both together will likely provide significant synergy."

"Just by bringing these teams of scientists together in our planning meetings," Gambhir said, "we have come up with ideas for going after cancer detection that we would not have thought of individually."

The center is slated to receive $3.83 million in its first year, with the NCI to determine annually the exact amount for each of the four remaining years of the grant's term.