Research at NCI Frederick
The majority of research conducted on the NCI Frederick campus takes place at the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research (FNLCR). FNLCR takes on urgent public health challenges by accelerating the development and delivery of effective preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic technologies to people living with cancer and HIV/AIDS, along with those threatened by other infectious diseases.
Among the many cancer research laboratories operated by NCI, FNLCR is unique as a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC)—one of 42 such centers in the United States that operate under a broad charter to respond rapidly and efficiently to the research and development needs of their government sponsors. FNLCR is also the only FFRDC in the United States solely dedicated to biomedical research.
As a national resource, FNLCR provides cancer researchers within NCI and the extramural community a bridge between basic research and clinical practice through support not readily available elsewhere. By using private sector resources to accomplish tasks integral to the mission and operation of NCI, FNLCR brings together public and private partners to address significant cancer research challenges.
Much of FNLCR’s work is foundational science: technologies, platforms, and services that government, academic, and industry scientists use in their studies. These highly technical efforts help make basic science discoveries, therapeutic development, technological advances, and clinical testing possible in areas where industry opts not to invest. As cancer research becomes more complex, FNLCR’s work becomes more crucial. Its discoveries and insights into cancer and newly emerging threats like COVID-19 are a testament to the national lab’s value.
Full listings of the research conducted at FNLCR can be found on the FNLCR website. Below is a sample of major FNLCR programs:
- COVID-19 pandemic response: FNLCR has leveraged the expertise and advanced technology it applies to cancer research to investigate the SARS-CoV-2 virus at cellular and molecular levels. FNLCR is collaborating with other federal agencies to conduct studies and clinical trials for investigational treatments such as the antiviral drug remdesivir.
- RAS Initiative: The largest program at FNLCR, the RAS Initiative was established in 2013 to explore approaches to the long-standing, seemingly intractable problem of mutations in the RAS gene family that are involved in over 30% of all cancers.
- Biopharmaceutical Development Program (BDP): The BDP develops, manufactures, and provides novel biological agents for early-phase clinical trials in areas where industry is not typically making research investments.
- Pharmacodynamic Assay Development and Implementation Section (PADIS): PADIS analyzes molecular drug action in tumors from patients and preclinical models to confirm their mechanism of action and optimize dosage regimens. PADIS is focused on the development of assays that can measure many analytes at once to assess drug target engagement and the pharmacodynamic consequences of drug activity.
- Molecular Characterization Laboratory (MoCha): MoCha is a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment (CLIA)-certified lab performing next-generation sequencing assays to support NCI's Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis and precision medicine initiatives, including NCI-sponsored clinical trials assessing key genes in patients’ tumors to prescribe the best targeted drug therapy.
- Natural Products Support Group: This group provides scientific and technical support to isolate and understand biologically active small molecules of interest from naturally occurring organisms.
- Patient-Derived Models Repository (PDMR): The PDMR creates and shares cancer research models made directly from patients’ tumor tissue for use in laboratory research.
- NCI's Experimental Therapeutics (NExT) Program: NExT shortens the timeline for new drug development and advances cancer therapy breakthroughs by partnering with companies to facilitate new cancer drugs (small molecules, biologics) and imaging agents for clinical evaluation and registration.
- AIDS and Cancer Virus Program: The lab aims to improve the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of HIV infection, AIDS, and AIDS-related tumors, including cancer-causing viruses.
- Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory: This lab pioneers the application of nanotechnology in precision medicine for basic and applied cancer research.
A unique feature of FNLCR is the many cancer and biomedical science resources available to the extramural research community. Many of these resources are available free of charge or for a small fee:
- National Cryo-Electron Microscopy Laboratory
- Laboratory Animal Sciences Program
- Genomic Data Commons
- NCI Frederick Central Repository
- NCI-60 Human Tumor Cell Lines Screen
In addition to research conducted at FNLCR, NCI Frederick is home to part of NCI’s Intramural Research Program (IRP). NCI’s IRP includes investigators whose expertise span a variety of disciplines and who share a mission to enhance cancer research, prevention, treatment, and training. As federal government investigators, IRP researchers are free to respond to public health needs without constraints that can occur from other funding means. They share research resources and develop strategic partnerships across NCI, NIH, other federal agencies, academia, and private industry. These researchers are members of the following NCI groups:
- Center for Cancer Research (CCR): Centrally supported by long-term funding and a culture of complete intellectual freedom, CCR’s intramural research programs at NCI Frederick are grounded in an exceptionally strong discovery research program that provides the foundation for the seamless translation of insights from bench to bedside.
- Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics (DCEG): In collaboration with FNLCR’s Cancer Genomics Research Laboratory (CGR), DCEG leverages advances in genomics to investigate the contribution of genetic variation to cancer susceptibility and outcomes. Working with epidemiologists, biostatisticians, and basic research scientists in DCEG, CGR staff conduct genome-wide and targeted studies to identify heritable determinants of cancer and other public health concerns. The Molecular and Digital Pathology Lab within CGR conducts somatic research with the use of tumor and normal tissue nucleic acids for cross-platform comparisons and integrative analysis. CGR supports DCEG in all stages of research from planning to publishing, including experimental design and project management, sample handling, genotyping and sequencing assay design and execution, molecular and digital histopathology, development and implementation of bioinformatic pipelines, and downstream research and analytical support.
- Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis (DCTD): DCTD conducts research on the development of novel diagnostics and therapies for cancer. DCTD works alongside initial efforts in drug discovery through late-stage clinical trials to advance cancer imaging and understand the relationship of genetic characteristics in tumors to therapeutic efficacy. The overall goal is to develop more clinical trials that define distinct patient populations within each type of tumor, thereby enhancing the potential for target-based, therapeutic success.