Special Research Programs
Physical Sciences Oncology Network (PS-ON)
The Physical Sciences in Oncology Initiative funds research projects that bring together cancer biologists and oncologists with scientists from the fields of physics, mathematics, chemistry, and engineering to address some of the major questions and barriers in cancer research.
The network facilitates innovative ideas and new fields of study by combining approaches of physical sciences and engineering with cancer biology and clinical oncology. The supported research originates and tests novel, non-traditional physical-sciences and engineering-based approaches to understanding and controlling cancer; generates orthogonal sets of physical measurements and integrates them with existing knowledge of cancer; and develops and evaluates theoretical physical sciences and engineering approaches to provide a comprehensive and dynamic picture of cancer.
For more information about the program, please visit the Physical Sciences in Oncology website.
Cancer Systems Biology Consortium (CSBC)
The CSBC focuses on combining advanced experimental approaches with mathematical modeling and computational methodologies to advance cancer research. The initiative takes an integrative approach to cancer research to complement and expand our current understanding of tumor development and progression across many physical and time scales, with the ultimate goal of improving cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, prognosis, and therapy.
This approach is especially important in the current climate of large multi-dimensional, multi-scale data sets and increased awareness of the complexity and inter-connectivity of cancer biology. The CSBC builds on past NCI efforts in cancer systems biology and is aligned with the goals of current NCI programs, such as CTD2, CPTAC, and the PS-ON.
Tumor Microenvironment Network (TMEN)
Research funded through this program expanded our understanding of the role of the tumor microenvironment in cancer initiation, progression, and metastases. The research focused on generating a more comprehensive understanding of the composition of the stroma in normal tissues, with the goal of delineating the mechanisms of tumor-stromal interactions in human cancer.
Eleven research centers formed the Tumor Microenvironment Network, an infrastructure that established repositories of critical reagents, resources, and information, as well as promoted and facilitated interdisciplinary collaborations and progress in understanding the role of host stroma in tumorigenesis.
In addition, TMEN had collaborative U01 programs that brought together a TMEN key investigator and scientists with expertise in other biological systems or organ sites not being modeled or studied within TMEN to form a new project in tumor microenvironment research.
Oncology Models Forum
This newly launched program encourages incorporating data from intelligent, informed use of animal and cell models into strategies for precision medicine. The Forum’s premise is that realizing the impact of basic research on precision medicine requires that the oncology community have full access to the breadth of available models, deep information about what each animal or other model represents vis-à-vis patients, and collaboration opportunities through the Forum environment.
The program, which includes two NCI-funded Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) for R01 grants, encourages validation and credentialing of animal models for translational research in therapy, prevention, early detection, epidemiology and population sciences, and development of new models to fill unmet needs. In addition to validating the thousands of currently available models, the Forum site will enable transparent access to knowledge and data on oncology models, comparisons of model data with human data, and organization of the animal modeling research community.
The Forum will use NCI Hub as its operating base; anyone in the extramural and intramural oncology community who wishes to participate may add content to, and participate in, the site. Recipients of grant awards from the two companion FOAs for pilot and demonstration projects will also contribute to the Forum site’s scientific content.
Barrett's Esophagus Translational Research Network (BETRNet)
The Barrett’s Esophagus Translational Research Network (BETRNet) is a trans-NCI program established to address the rising incidence of esophageal adenocarcinoma (EA) in the United States. BETRNet objectives are to achieve a better understanding of EA biology, examine research opportunities associated with its precursor lesion Barrett’s Esophagus (BE), and improve prevention of EA. BETRNet is collaboratively supported by the NCI Division of Cancer Biology and Division of Cancer Prevention.
The BETRNet program consists of multi-institutional and trans-disciplinary Research Centers, a Stem Cell Core Laboratory, and the Coordinating Center:
The Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, Mayo Clinic Research Center is investigating the role of stem cells in Barrett’s initiation and the effects of the tumor microenvironment on the early progression of esophageal carcinogenesis.
The University of Michigan, University of Washington, and Dana Farber Research Center is developing imaging methods to understand and visualize the spatial distribution of genetic mutations and cellular heterogeneity in BE and EA.
The Case Comprehensive Cancer Center and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine Research Center is determining genetic, genomic and epigenetic changes that influence the development of BE and EA for translation into clinical applications.
The University of Houston Stem Cell Core Laboratory is cloning stem cells from BE, dysplastic Barrett’s, and EA to enable investigation of key questions regarding the transformation from BE to EA and the functional heterogeneity of esophageal tumors.
The Vanderbilt University School of Medicine BETRNET Coordinating Center is providing logistical and administrative support to the program and managing the BETRNet Patient Registry-Virtual Biorepository.
New Approaches to Synthetic Lethality for Mutant KRAS-Dependent Cancers
Collaborative effort of DCB with NCI’s Office of the Director and Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis (DCTD). The scientific goal is to use next-generation approaches and model systems to identify new targets whose inhibition would induce synthetic lethality in cancers dependent on the expression of mutant KRAS.
Investigators supported by this initiative form a collaborative network that encourages exchange of results and resources, participates in cross-validation of potential targets, and interacts regularly with the RAS Program team at the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research (FNLCR).
Molecular and Cellular Characterization of Screen-Detected Lesions
This program, sponsored by DCB and the Division of Cancer Prevention (DCP), promotes research on the comprehensive cellular and molecular characterization of early lesions, including the tumor cell and its microenvironment. The primary goal is to establish Molecular Characterization Laboratories (MCLs) to identify features that distinguish indolent from aggressive and/or progressive lesions, to increase the ability to predict the ultimate fate of early lesions.
Seven MCLs focusing on breast, prostate, pancreas, and lung cancers form the collaborative consortium.
A second goal of the program is to develop reagents, tools and technologies, and experimental models to enhance the pace of research in this area. The findings of the consortium will help clinicians avoid overtreatment in cases where tumors are destined to remain indolent, and will indicate when earlier aggressive therapeutic intervention is warranted.
The Coordinating and Data Management Group, or CDMG (companion RFA CA-14-011), provides critical support for the consortium. The CDMG support includes network coordination, data management, specimen tracking, and study evaluation, in addition to development of statistical methodologies and computational tools.
Fusion Oncoproteins in Childhood Cancers
Several types of pediatric cancer, including leukemias, brain cancers, and bone or soft tissue sarcomas, are characterized by tumor-associated chromosomal translocations that result in expression of fusion oncoproteins critical for oncogenesis. These oncoproteins are thought to transform specific cells of origin and subsume normal developmental and gene regulatory pathways. Although the presence of specific fusion oncoproteins is now diagnostic for these cancers, there are many outstanding questions about the molecular and biochemical mechanisms by which they drive oncogenic transformation.
The recently launched NCI Program on Fusion Oncoproteins in Childhood Cancers aims to stimulate research and enhance our understanding of the molecular and biochemical mechanisms of transformation driven by fusion oncoproteins. One key component of this Program is the establishment of collaborative groups of scientists to use interdisciplinary approaches to develop faithful models of these pediatric cancers, identify their key dependencies, and use this information to develop novel therapeutic approaches that target these mechanisms. Using a collaborative approach to study fusion oncoproteins as major drivers of childhood cancer was recommended by the Blue Ribbon Panel convened in 2016 as part of the Cancer Moonshot to establish NCI priorities for accelerating cancer research.
Cancer Tissue Engineering Collaborative
The Cancer Tissue Engineering Collaborative (TEC) Research Program supports targeted research efforts aimed at the development and characterization of state-of-the-art biomimetic tissue-engineered technologies that mimic tumor biology to elucidate specific cancer processes that are otherwise difficult to examine in vivo. The Cancer TEC Research Program fosters collaborative, multidisciplinary projects that engage the fields of cancer research with regenerative medicine, tissue engineering, biomaterials, and bioengineering.
Funded projects will advance innovative, well-characterized in vitro and ex vivo systems available for cancer research and explore cancer phenomena with biomimetic tissue-engineered systems. Learn more about the Cancer TEC Research Program.