NCI Launches New Integrative Cancer Biology Program
Every day, researchers make new discoveries about cancer that elucidate the disease process, but also demonstrate its increasing complexity. To address this complexity, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has announced $14.9 million in funding for the Integrative Cancer Biology Program (ICBP). "We need to hone our efforts toward an integrated approach to the study of cancer," said NCI Director Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach. "ICBP will take advantage of the explosion in research and technology to comprehensively weave together the disparate pieces of knowledge and reveal how cancer develops and progresses within the context of the human system."
ICBP will work toward this goal by combining efforts from the entire spectrum of cancer researchers, from wet-lab biologists and computer scientists to epidemiologists and clinicians, through nine integrative biology centers: Massachusetts General Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ohio State University, University Hospital of Cleveland, Duke University, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Stanford University, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Each site will feature a team of investigators focused on a few specific events within the cancer process, such as the signaling networks that develop within and between cells as they become cancerous, the process by which a tumor cell invades neighboring tissues, and how cancer cells respond to drug or radiation treatment.
"The key aspect that sets the ICBP effort apart from other projects," said Dr. Daniel Gallahan, Associate Director of NCI's Division of Cancer Biology, "is the focus on building predictive cancer models, and not just analyzing data." Each of the ICBP centers will apply their research findings to generate computer and mathematical models that simulate the various cancer processes they work on. While the centers will work individually, NCI intends that they also interact with one another, with other NCI programs, and with external groups, building a single comprehensive model of cancer as a biological system.
Another key aspect of ICBP will be the accessibility of the models and the data to the larger cancer research community, with ICBP centers providing training and outreach, educating fellow researchers about their projects and teaching them how to use the modeling programs and other techniques. This outreach effort will also enable other scientists to validate the usefulness of the ICBP models as a predictive tool. One important collaborator will be NCI's Cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid (caBIG) program, which will coordinate all the bioinformatics software needed by ICBP and provide NCI's research partners access to the information generated by ICBP centers.
"One possible application of these models is that experiments and clinical trials traditionally conducted in a lab or clinic may be facilitated or performed through the use of these new models," said Dr. Gallahan. "Our ultimate hope is that these models will provide us with a new way to examine and explore some of the basic properties of cancer and afford both basic and clinical researchers unique opportunities to understand and manage this disease."