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March 9, 2004 • Volume 1 / Number 10 E-Mail This Document  |  Download PDF  |  Bulletin Archive/Search  |  Subscribe

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Director's Update

Nanotechnology: Building Cross-Disciplinary Research Teams to Enable Advanced Technologies

Dr. Anna Barker Over the past year, NCI has been developing several major strategic advanced technology initiatives - including the cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid (caBIG), proteomics, biomarkers, and nanotechnology - to accelerate progress across the cancer discovery, development, and delivery continuum. Nanotechnology, the science of creating useful materials, devices, and systems by manipulating matter on the nanoscale (a nanometer is 1 billionth of a meter), has the potential to yield new devices that could transform cancer prevention, early detection, imaging, and smart therapeutics. Nanotechnology, and all of these crosscutting "cancer enterprise" programs, will require cross-disciplinary teams to fully integrate and deploy advanced technologies that will ultimately revolutionize discovery, enable development, and reduce the burden of cancer.

Our first two regional Cancer Nanotechnology Symposia were an important step in exploring how to develop teams able to leverage the promise of nanotechnology, and ultimately other advanced technologies, to detect, prevent, and treat cancer. At the symposia, scientists, engineers, chemists, and clinicians from two leading cancer centers exchanged ideas to develop a common understanding of nanotechnology and its potential applications to cancer. The meeting also highlighted problems in cancer research that may benefit from these technologies now and in the future. On March 3 and 4, Dr. Geoffrey Wahl, professor of biology, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and Dr. Lee Hartwell, director, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, hosted these symposia in La Jolla, Calif. and Seattle, Wash., respectively. We hope these types of meetings will facilitate and optimize the development of the cross-disciplinary, and even cross-sector, teams required to integrate potentially transformational advanced technologies.

Dr. Mauro Ferrari, professor of biomedical engineering and internal medicine at Ohio State University, and an expert in the field of biomedical nanotechnology, is leading the development of NCI's strategic plan for cancer nanotechnology, the Cancer Nanotechnology Plan (CNP). Dr. Ferrari and the NCI nanotechnology team attended last week's meetings. The priorities and strategies discussed at these symposia, along with extensive input from other intramural and extramural representatives, will be incorporated into the CNP to help guide NCI's efforts in nanotechnology. This plan will build on our existing nanotechnology programs, including the Innovative Molecular Analysis Technologies Program, the Unconventional Innovations Program, and the Fundamental Technologies for Biomolecular Sensors Program, managed by NCI's Office of Technology and Industrial Relations (OTIR).

The critical need for interdisciplinary teams that can integrate nanotechnology into cancer research was discussed at length during the symposia. For example, one of the teams at the La Jolla symposium, represented by Dr. Leroy Hood, president of the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), presented a compelling rationale for the role of inter- and cross-disciplinary teams in developing nanodevices that support systems-based cancer investigations. Dr. Hood is working with Dr. James Heath, professor of chemistry at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and others at the University of California, Los Angeles, ISB, and Caltech on the NanoSystems Biology Alliance, an initiative complementary to CNP. The Alliance seeks to integrate nanotechnology and microfluidics with cancer biology to develop new tools to create testable biological models that will elucidate the complex interrelationships among genes, RNA, and proteins within the cancer cell.

The integration of advanced technologies into cancer biology is a critical strategic priority for NCI. To extract maximum value from these technologies, NCI is seeking broad participation from the intramural and extramural communities in its planning efforts. The Cancer Nanotechnology Symposia represent an important mechanism for obtaining this type of input to build the strongest possible nationwide action plan for cancer research.

We will further explore the challenges of building cross-disciplinary teams and the development and integration of advanced technologies into the discovery, development, and delivery continuum in future issues of the NCI Cancer Bulletin.

Guest Editorial by Dr. Anna Barker Deputy Director,
Advanced Technologies and Strategic Partnerships