Cancer Systems Biology Consortium

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Cancer is a complex disease system involving multiple molecular, genetic, and cellular events. From its early initiation through progression and metastasis, cancer can adapt and evolve as a result of both internal and external signals. These properties make cancer difficult to predict, prevent, and treat. There has been significant progress in characterizing the genetics of cancer, as well as the downstream effects on the molecular and cellular pathways that are critical for the initiation and progression of cancer. However, studies focused on the role of one gene have highlighted the need to understand cancers as integrated systems of genes, networks, and intercellular interactions.

Cancer systems biology is uniquely poised to address the complexity associated with cancer through its unique integration of experimental biology and computational and mathematical analysis. Instead of viewing cancer through the lens of a single mutation or alteration, the goal of cancer systems biology is to provide a birds eye view of the changing cancer ecosystem, thus allowing cancer biologists and oncologists to understand and predict how one alteration effects an entire tumor system. The multidisciplinary Cancer Systems Biology Consortium, which includes cancer biologists, engineers, mathematicians, physicists, and oncologists, aim to tackle the most perplexing issues in cancer to increase our understanding of tumor biology, treatment options, and patient outcome.

The Impact of Cancer Systems Biology on Cancer Research

There has been an explosion in the quantity of available experimental data from high-throughput technologies, such as genomic sequencing, transcriptomics, metabolomics, and proteomics. Additionally, targeted experiments on a smaller scale have provided important information about complex interactions within and between cells. Systems analyses and predictive modeling are necessary to integrate across these datasets that span different length and time scales to convert them into knowledge. For ten years from 2004-2014, DCB supported the Integrative Cancer Biology Program (ICBP), a precursor to the current Cancer Systems Biology Consortium. The ICBP brought together cancer biologists and oncologists with computer scientists, mathematicians, and engineers to tackle important cancer questions including the identification of tumor master transcriptional regulators, the role of microRNAs in cancer progression and metastasis, the development of drug resistance in heterogeneous tumor contexts, and optimization of combination therapies for cancer treatment. It is envisioned that the past successes of cancer systems biology will encourage investigators to bring these tools to bear on emerging and difficult cancer questions that will require a systems approach to fully comprehend.

Funding Opportunities

The Cancer Systems Biology Consortium consists of specialized U01 Research Projects, U54 CSBC Research Centers, and a U24 Coordinating Center. Ongoing funding announcements for the CSBC components can be found at the following links:

  • Emerging Areas in Cancer Systems Biology (U01 Research Projects): PAR-16-131
  • Research Centers for the Cancer Systems Biology Consortium: RFA-CA-15-014

Currently Funded Projects (as of December 2016)

Research Centers awarded grants in the first round of RFA-CA-15-014 include:

Institution Principal Investigators Center Title
Columbia University Dr. Andrea Califano and Dr. Barry Honig Center for Cancer Systems Therapeutics (CaST)
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Dr. Christina Leslie and Dr. Alexander Rudensky The CSBC Research Center for Cancer Systems Immunology at MSKCC
Stanford University Dr. Sylvia Plevritis and Dr. Gary Nolan Modeling the role of lymph node metastases in tumor-mediated immune suppression
Yale University Dr. Andre Levchenko Systems Analysis of Phenotypic Switch in Control of Cancer Invasion


The Coordinating Center awarded for RFA-CA-15-015, which will contribute to the research missions of the Cancer Systems Biology Consortium and the Physical Sciences-Oncology Network is:

Institution Principal Investigator Center Title
Sage Bionetworks Dr. Justin Guinney Coordination Center for Open Collaboration in Systems Biology

Additional Information about the Consortium can be found on the CSBC page maintained by the Coordinating Center.

Several U01 Research Projects that were previously associated with the Integrative Cancer Biology Program were the initial members of the CSBC. These projects include those funded under the Bridging the Gap Between Cancer Mechanism and Population Science and the Collaborative Research in Integrative Cancer Biology U01 programs (no receipt dates remain for these programs).

Pre-application Webinar Materials

Slides for RFA-CA-15-014

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) held a public pre-application webinar on Thursday, January 26th, 2017 for the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) RFA-CA-15-014 entitled “Research Centers for Cancer Systems Biology Consortium (U54)”. NCI staff members involved in managing this program provided technical assistance to potential applicants by explaining the goals and objectives of the Cancer Systems Biology Consortium (CSBC) initiative and answered questions from attendees about the CSBC U54 Research Centers. 

Slides from the webinar held on 1/26/2017 are now available.  FAQs from the webinar held on 9/28/2015 are also available:

Slides for PAR-16-131

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) held a public pre-application webinar on Monday, October 17, 2016 for the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) PAR-16-131 entitled “Emerging Questions in Cancer Systems Biology (U01)”. NCI staff members involved in managing this program provided technical assistance to potential applicants by explaining the goals and objectives of the Cancer Systems Biology Consortium (CSBC) initiative and answered questions from attendees about the CSBC U01 Research Projects.

Slides from the webinar held on 10/17/2016 are now available:

  • Posted: August 29, 2016

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