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American Reinvestment and Recovery Act

NCI-Designated Cancer Centers: Recovery Act Investment Report

November 2009

Public Health Burden of Cancer

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease. In 2009, it is estimated that nearly 1.5 million new cases of invasive cancer will be diagnosed in this country and more than 560,000 people will die of the disease.

National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Cancer Centers Overview

NCI-designated Cancer Centers are medical research institutions recognized for their scientific excellence and extensive resources focused on cancer and cancer-related problems. These Centers receive core support from NCI through the Cancer Center Support Grants (CCSGs). They also receive substantial financial support from other NCI grants.

NCI-designated Cancer Centers are a major source of discovery into the nature of cancer and in the development of effective approaches to cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment. In addition, they deliver state-of-the-art medical care to patients and their families, educate healthcare professionals and the public, and reach out to underserved populations. They may be freestanding institutions, a center within a larger academic institution, or part of a consortium of institutions.

ARRA Funding and Cancer Center Support Grants

NCI-designated Cancer Centers across the United States received ARRA funding to supplement their Cancer Center Support Grants (CCSGs). ARRA funds are being used to provide additional resources in the following areas:

  • Faculty development and retention: Many cancer centers received supplements to their CCSG to support faculty development and retention in key scientific areas. For example, at Oregon Health & Science University, ARRA funds will support two faculty recruitment packages—one to hire an investigator, a research nurse, a research assistant, and a study coordinator to perform phase I clinical trials and to develop a research laboratory to support the studies; the other, to support a molecular pathologist, a post-doctoral fellow, a senior research assistant, and two research assistants to support genomic research in prostate cancer.(1) At the University of Hawaii at Manoa Cancer Research Center, two new physician scientists will be hired as faculty members to conduct translational research in translational oncology, and two new postdoctoral fellows and two research assistants will be hired to support them.(2)
  • Bioinformatics support: Information technology and bioinformatics are elemental requirements for 21st century biomedical research enterprises that need to share, analyze, and develop insights from volumes of data generated by scientists and researchers. Bioinformatics initiatives supported by ARRA funds at Cancer Centers will enable the effective utilization of information technology built on standards-based, interoperable systems for projects ranging from basic to clinical research that utilizes NCI's Cancer Bioinformatics Grid (caBIG®) framework. For example, the University of Alabama Comprehensive Cancer Center received support to implement a caBIG- compatible clinical trials management system that will enable better management of data collected from clinical trials, as well as implementation of a remote data-capture system that uses standardized case report forms to collect data from clinical trials.(3) The University of Iowa received funding to support the development of a Bioinformatics Shared Resource, including recruitment of a computational scientist and support for three faculty members.(4)

ARRA Funding and Grants to Cancer Centers for Major NCI Programs

ARRA funds are also being provided to NCI-designated Cancer Centers to support major NCI programs.  For example:

  • Clinical Trials: NCI-designated Cancer Centers play a major role in the development of new treatments for cancer. Accelerating Clinical Trials of Novel Oncologic Pathways (ACTNOW) is NCI's early-phase clinical trials program designed to help shorten the time it takes to move new cancer treatments from the discovery phase, to development, and, ultimately, to approval and safe use by adult and pediatric cancer patients. Several Cancer Center investigators have received support through ARRA to conduct clinical trials under the ACTNOW program. For example, an investigator at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute received support for a phase I clinical trial of ABT-888, a drug that blocks the activity of proteins called PARP1 and PARP2 that help cells repair damaged DNA, in combination with other chemotherapy drugs for advanced solid tumors. The rationale for using this combination is that ABT-888 will interfere with the repair of DNA damage caused by the other drugs, and the resulting higher levels of damaged DNA in cancer cells will cause them to die.(5) In addition, an investigator at Dana Farber Cancer Center received support for a Phase II clinical trial that is testing AZD6244, an agent that inhibits the activity of proteins called MEK1 and MEK2, which are components of a cell signaling pathway that regulates cell proliferation and survival. This signaling pathway often functions abnormally in cancer cells.(6)
  • Characterizing the Cancer Genome: The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), a collaborative effort involving NCI and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), is the first project to perform large-scale, high-volume genomic characterization of adult cancers. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center has received ARRA funds for a Genome Characterization Center that will provide comprehensive profiling of tumor gene expression (whole transcript, exon-level expression, and microRNA expression) and genomic gains and losses (whole genome and high-resolution, cancer gene-centered), and perform high level bioinformatic analyses to identify candidate genes for resequencing by the TCGA Genome Sequencing Centers.(7)
  • Biospecimens and Biorepositories: Biobanking is the process of storing biospecimens (materials from the human body, such as blood, tissue, urine, plasma, or saliva) in biorepositories. Cancer researchers need access to an ample supply of high-quality biospecimens in order to explore new ways to diagnose and treat the disease. Questions raised during the research process often can only be answered by analyzing hundreds or thousands of patient samples. One such project that received ARRA funds is led by an investigator at Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center, which will create a biorepository of blood, buccal cells, and/or urine from 90,000 men and women, nearly 70% of whom are African American. The project will continue following the participants to identify deaths and cancer incidence.(8) Annotating the biospecimens with regular patient input will help researchers assess the origins of the unexplained higher cancer rates among African Americans, develop new cancer prevention measures, and lower cancer rates among minorities.

Selected References

  1.  3P30CA069533-13S5 — OHSU Knight Cancer Institute — Drucker, Brian J. (OR)
  2.   3P30CA071789-12S6/S7 — Cancer Research Center of Hawaii — Carbone, Michele (HI)
  3.  3P30CA013148-38S3/S4 — Comprehensive Cancer Center Core Support Grant, University of Alabama at Birmingham — Partridge, Edward (AL)
  4.  3P30CA086862-10S2 — Cancer Center Support Grant, University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center  — Weiner, George J. (IA)
  5.  U01CA99168 — A phase I study of ABT-888 in combination with carboplatin and paclitaxel in advanced solid malignancies — Egorin, Merrill J. (PA)
  6.   U01CA62490 — Phase II clinical trial of the MEK 1/2 inhibitor AZD6244 in cancers with BRAF mutations identified by prospective genotypic analysis — Kufe, Donald W. (MA)
  7.  3U24CA126543-03S1 — The TCGA Cancer Genome Characterization Center at MSKCC — Ladanyi, Marc (NY)
  8.  3R01CA092447-08S1 — Southern Community Cohort Study — Blot, William J. (TN)