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American Reinvestment and Recovery Act

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Additional Recovery Act Resources from NIH

NIH and the Recovery Act

Physical-Sciences Oncology 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.

Physical-Sciences in Oncology Program and ARRA

Although the overall rate of cancer incidence in the United States has declined since the early 1990s, the incidence rates for specific cancers continue to rise. Moreover, cancer remains the second most common cause of death in this country. In recent decades, we have witnessed tremendous advances in technology and our understanding of cancer at the molecular level, and these advances have been exploited to make major improvements in cancer detection, diagnosis, and treatment. To further the aim of reducing the burden of cancer, ARRA funding is facilitating NCI's exploration of nontraditional approaches to gain additional understanding and control of cancer. Through its Physical Sciences-Oncology Centers (PS-OCs) Program, NCI is partnering with scientists from various non-biological disciplines to explore new avenues of cancer research.

In the PS-OCs Program, NCI is convening teams of experts in physical sciences and cancer biology to work together in innovative ways to investigate cancer. Building on recent progress in the molecular sciences and advanced technologies, NCI is merging the disparate fields of physics, mathematics, chemistry, and biology to generate new hypotheses that address fundamental questions related to cancer development and progression. It is anticipated that the PS-OCs will generate new bodies of knowledge that define the physical, chemical, and engineering processes that operate in cancer. 

Examples of the research that ARRA is funding in this area include the following:

  • Cancer Progression: It is increasingly clear that malignant cells change over time, acquiring the ability to grow abnormally, proliferate, spread, and become resistant to available therapies.  Mathematical modeling of the initiation and progression of cancer as a continuous process that involves principles of evolutionary ecology has the potential to offer new insight into the disease and inform the development of new therapies, particularly with regard to drug resistance. In this area, ARRA funds are supporting a study of the evolutionary dynamics of brain, lung, and hematopoetic (blood system) tumors, as well as a study of the physical microenvironment of tumors.(1, 2)
  • Metastasis: Metastasis is the main cause of cancer-related death, and yet it is still poorly understood. How do circulating tumor cells survive in the bloodstream, and what features determine their ability to metastasize to some tissues but not others? In this area, ARRA funds are supporting an effort to characterize the precise changes that occur in circulating tumor cells over time. The findings should help illuminate how these changes contribute to the metastatic process, with implications for both diagnosis and treatment.(3)
  • Physical Properties of Cancer Cells: Malignant cells exert physical forces on their surrounding tissue environment and vice versa. Systematic physical differences in cells may, therefore, be linked to cancer progression. In an ARRA supported research project, pioneering methods—including the use of 3-dimensional imaging of single cells through computerized tomography—will be used to survey these physical differences. Studying cancer cells and tumors in terms of their physical properties and investigating interactions between gene expression, physical forces, and the cellular environment will open a new area of research for developing diagnostic and treatment strategies (e.g., physical changes as potential cancer signatures).(4)

Selected References

  1.  1U54CA143798-01 — Evolutionary dynamics of brain, lung and hematopoietic tumors — Michor, Franziska (NY)
  2.  1U54CA143970-01 — The physical microenvironment in cancer biology and therapy — Gatenby, Robert A. (FL)
  3.  1U54CA143906-01 — Four-dimensional heterogeneity of fluid phase biopsies in cancer (4DB-Center) — Kuhn, Peter
  4.  1U54CA143862-01 — A center for the convergence of physical science and cancer biology — Davies, Paul (AZ)