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Biomedical Engineers Get $11.6 Million from National Cancer Institute to Offer Non-traditional Cancer Research Approaches

The University of Texas at Austin Department of Biomedical Engineering is among a consortium of leading research entities from across the United States selected to receive up to $11.6 million from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to establish a center to conduct innovative cancer research.

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The University of Texas at Austin Department of Biomedical Engineering is among a consortium of leading research entities from across the United States selected to receive up to $11.6 million from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to establish a center to conduct innovative cancer research.

The new center will be called the Center for Transport Oncophysics (CTO). The goal of the five-year initiative is to engage trans-disciplinary scientific teams from fields of engineering, physics, mathematics and chemistry to examine new, non-traditional approaches to cancer research. The Center will receive $2.4 million during the first year and could receive funds totaling $11.6 million over a five-year period.

“This is a tremendous honor for The University of Texas at Austin and the Cockrell School of Engineering to be part of this impressive group of engineers and scientists,” said Nicholas Peppas, Sc.D., a co-principal investigator for the project and Biomedical Engineering Department chair. “Our goal is to investigate and better understand the physical properties of cancer growth so that more effective treatments and cures can be developed.”

Other members of the consortium include The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, along with Rice University and Harvard University/Massachusetts General Hospital. Researchers will explore the physical laws and principles of cancer, evolution and evolutionary theory of cancer, information coding, decoding, transfer and translation in cancer and the de-convoluting of cancer’s complexity. These ongoing efforts will enable experts to explore new and innovative approaches to better understand, diagnose, treat and control cancer.

Among other outcomes, “our work will provide advanced forms of oral delivery of chemotherapeutic agents and will identify cellular mechanisms that will improve the administration of drugs for cancer treatment to specific sites,” said Peppas, the Fletcher Stuckey Pratt Chair in Engineering. “Our students will benefit greatly from the exposure offered through this important research.”

“The Center for Transport Oncophysics will focus on understanding how biological molecules and drugs are transported in cancer and healthy tissues. This will allow a new vision, a new prism through which to look at cancer and exploit its weaknesses to mount decisive attacks against its most damaging forms, such as metastatic and locally advanced disease,” said Mauro Ferrari, Ph.D., the CTO’s principal investigator who holds faculty appointments at The University of Texas at Austin Biomedical Engineering Department, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and M.D. Anderson Hospital.

“The CTO is a broadly interdisciplinary quest, which links world-famous clinicians and cancer biologists at M. D. Anderson with nanomedicine, biomathematics, imaging and drug-delivery experts at the UT Health Science Center at Houston, The University of Texas at Austin, Rice University and Harvard University. It is a great team that can achieve unprecedented results. It is a coronation of the concept of collaborations beyond institutional and disciplinary boundaries–another great success of the Alliance for NanoHealth.”

The CTO is one of the first 12 Physical Sciences-Oncology Centers (PS-OCs) being created by the NCI in an effort to bring a new cadre of theoretical physicists, mathematicians, chemists and engineers to the study of cancer. Ultimately, through coordinated development and testing of novel approaches to studying cancer processes, the network of PS-OCs is expected to generate new bodies of knowledge in order to identify and define critical aspects of physics, chemistry and engineering that operate at all levels in cancer processes.

In addition to research traditionally focused on the biology of tumors, CTO researchers aim to investigate the differences in transport phenomena that characterize neoplastic disease and to establish methods for the exploitation of these differentials for advances in the diagnosis and therapy of cancer.

CTO investigators will focus on research projects targeting liver cancers. The researchers believe primary liver cancer and cancer that spreads to the liver from tumors that originate in other parts of the body will help them learn more about the spread of tumors in general. Research projects include learning more about the biobarriers that keep cancer therapeutic agents from reaching tumors and investigating how to concentrate more agents at the site of a tumor.

The grant in which the three University of Texas institutions are participating will be administered from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. NCI has awarded grants for the establishment of 12 such centers across the country. The 12 institutions include:

  • Arizona State University, Tempe
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
  • H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, Tampa, Fla.
  • Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York
  • Northwestern University, Chicago
  • Princeton University, Princeton, N.J.
  • Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, Calif.
  • University of California-Berkeley
  • University of Southern California, Los Angeles
  • UT Health Science Center at Houston

More information about the Physical Science-Oncology Centers program can be found online.