Grants worth $8 million enable study of how cancer spreads

Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University (Bronx, NY) has garnered two grants totaling $8 million from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to study metastasis, the microenvironments that drive the spread of cancer from the primary tumor to other parts of the body. One of the grants will enable study of metastasis using multiphoton microscopy as well as advanced fluorescent proteins.

Metastasis is responsible for the vast majority of cancer-related deaths, but understanding it is extremely limited and so are the opportunities for preventing it, explains John Condeelis, Ph.D., professor and co-chair of anatomy and structural biology, co-director of the Gruss Lipper Biophotonics Center, director of the program in microenvironment and metastasis in the Albert Einstein Cancer Center, and holder of the Judith and Burton P. Resnick Chair in Translational Research at Einstein. Dr. Condeelis is a principal investigator on both grants.

The first grant, for $4 million over five years, will establish a tumor microenvironment research center (TMEN Center) at Einstein, one of 11 new national centers created by NCI's Tumor Microenvironment Network. The Einstein center will be led by principal investigator Dr. Condeelis and co-principal investigator Vladislav Verkhusha, Ph.D., professor of anatomy and structural biology.

The scientists will study two types of primary-tumor microenvironments. The first type programs cancer cells to disseminate from the primary tumor as dormant tumor cells. These cells eventually awaken after many years and give rise to recurrent cancers at distant sites—a condition currently not possible to detect and treat. Also under investigation is the type of microenvironment that controls whether disseminating tumor cells will grow immediately upon arrival at distant sites and are therefore sensitive to treatment.

The research will focus on breast and head and neck tumors, but the results should be applicable to a wide variety of solid tumors. Other investigators on this grant are from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York; College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering, University at Albany, State University of New York; and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The second $4 million NCI grant, titled "In vivo multiphoton based imaging of complex cancer cell behavior," will enable study of the spread of breast tumor cells from the primary tumor using high-resolution multiphoton microscopy, advanced fluorescent proteins, and a novel methodology that uses computer modeling to analyze cancer, the latter of which may be able to identify the genes that propel cell migration, dissemination, and other tumor-cell behaviors involved in metastasis.

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