The NCI Intramural Research Program
Research at NCI
The scientists, physicians, and clinicians who make up the NCI intramural research program (IRP) conduct basic, clinical, and genomic and population-based research at the NIH Clinical Center and NCI offices and laboratories in Maryland. These researchers are members of two NCI components: the Center for Cancer Research (CCR) and the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics (DCEG).
The NCI IRP includes investigators whose expertise spans a wide variety of disciplines and who share a mission to enhance cancer research, prevention, treatment, and training. These investigators:
- perform basic scientific research to discover the causes and mechanisms of cancer and to understand the molecular changes that occur in cancer initiation and progression
- develop technologies that enable earlier and more accurate detection, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer
- develop clinical trials of new treatments for patients with cancer, including rare cancers
- develop cutting-edge methodologies to assess exposures and sophisticated statistical approaches to address complex problems
- expand opportunities for collaboration with extramural investigators in academic institutions throughout the United States and globally and with the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry
- support education and training in basic and population sciences and clinical disciplines
As federal government investigators, IRP researchers are free to respond to public health needs associated with cancer free from the constraints of revenue and profit. And they are able to form wide partnerships. Indeed, CCR and DCEG investigators share research resources and develop strategic partnerships across NCI and the National Institutes of Health and with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, other federal agencies, academia, and private industry.
IRP researchers have collaborated with more than 2,000 extramural investigators at more than 800 academic institutions in 46 states, the District of Columbia, and 68 countries around the world. And IRP researchers have partnered with more than 180 biotechnology and pharmaceutical organizations.
The close proximity of basic and clinical IRP researchers at the NIH Clinical Center creates a “culture of the corridors” that fosters collaboration across disciplines, facilitates bench to bedside discoveries, and attracts talented researchers. Intramural researchers are able to quickly test new approaches to cancer prevention and treatment at the NIH Clinical Center, which treats patients from all over the world, including those with rare cancers. Team science is encouraged, and clinical studies can be developed in close collaboration with researchers from extramural institutions and the findings extended by extramural investigators.
Rigorous reviews are critical for planning and to ensure that only the most outstanding research is funded. IRP researchers usually undergo a review every 4 years by one of NCI’s two Boards of Scientific Counselors. The boards are made up of experts from outside of NCI who have outstanding scientific credentials and are committed to providing rigorous, objective reviews. IRP researchers are evaluated both on accomplishments since their last review and on proposed plans for future research. Intramural research projects are evaluated for their potential significance and innovation.
Why the NCI IRP Is Important to Cancer Research
The activities of NCI’s intramural research program complement those of other aspects of the National Cancer Program. With both academic and private sector partners, intramural researchers carry out projects that may be difficult, if not impossible, through traditional funding mechanisms for a variety of reasons.
The IRP emphasizes high-risk, high-reward research and research that other entities are unlikely—for various reasons—to fund, including projects:
- for which the clinical applications are not always clear, as with basic cancer research
A basic research discovery by CCR’s John Schiller, Ph.D., and Doug Lowy, M.D., about the ability of a papillomavirus protein to self-assemble into noninfectious virus-like particles led to the development of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines that prevent cervical cancer and other HPV-caused cancers.
- that may require years of sustained funding and resources, including longitudinal and population-based studies
For example, a team of DCEG investigators led by Mark Schiffman, M.D., M.P.H., has been analyzing data from long-term cohort studies, lasting more than 15 years in some cases, aimed at understanding the risks of developing cervical cancer.
- that may benefit only a small number of people or disproportionately affect underserved patients
Early-stage clinical trials led by Raffit Hassan, M.D., and his CCR colleagues have shown that an immunotoxin that targets the protein mesothelin on tumor cells—developed by CCR researcher Ira Pastan, M.D.—could dramatically shrink tumors in patients with mesothelioma that is no longer responding to chemotherapy.
- that address emerging public health issues or threats that require quick mobilization of resources and/or the cooperation of local, national, or international governments
DCEG researchers, for example, are investigating a number of water contaminants that are thought to be associated with cancer risk.
These types of research receive relatively little funding from sources that are driven by profit. For this reason, federally funded intramural cancer research is critical.