Nanotechnology Cancer Center Wins $13.6 Million Grant

The National Cancer Institute has awarded a five-year, $13.6 million grant to UNC’s Carolina Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence for research to improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer through advances in nanotechnology.

The grant will support the continued work of the center launched in 2005 as part of NCI’s Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer. The center, based at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, is one of eight original centers in the national program and is one of nine that are funded in the new phase.

Joe DeSimone, who will co-lead center’s research team with Dr. Joel Tepper, said, “Our efforts in nanomedicine show tremendous promise for improving the ways we detect and treat lung, brain and breast cancer. We have refined our ability to make nanoparticles with unprecedented control and precision, and continued work in this area will reveal better approaches to targeting cancer cells with potent therapies while leaving healthy cells intact.”

DeSimone is Chancellor’s Eminent Professor of chemistry at UNC. Tepper is the Hector MacLean Distinguished Professor of cancer research and former chair of radiation oncology.

UNC Lineberger director, Dr. Shelley Earp ’70 (MD), said, “The renewal of the award is a tribute to the world-class combination of the physical, biological and medical science possible at UNC’s Cancer Center and the collaboration among the leaders and principal investigators including Otto Zhou, Leaf Huang, Russ Mumper and their colleagues.

“The synthesis of physics, chemistry, cell biology, animal models and clinical science is extraordinary,” he added.

DeSimone explained that “collaboration is fundamental to our success. Our multidisciplinary team of chemists, physicists, biologists, engineers and clinicians drive our innovations in science. Our partners in industry are crucial to ensuring that discoveries in the lab translate efficiently and effectively to bedside for improved patient outcomes. We have a strong infrastructure of support at [UNC] and investment from the University Cancer Research Fund. With new funding from NCI, we are well-positioned to move forward with the proposed work and maintain Carolina’s leadership status in nanomedicine.”

Tepper concurred that the new funding will allow UNC to make an impact on patient care. “Nanotechnology approaches present the opportunity to develop tools that will allow us to both diagnose patients with cancer earlier and to deliver therapy precisely to the tumor in a manner never possible with conventional approaches. The … grant will keep the research at UNC in the forefront of these efforts and produce improved outcomes for our patients.”

In addition to nanoparticles, carbon nanotube-based X-ray technology developed at UNC by Otto Zhou, David Godschalk Distinguished Professor of physics and materials science and a member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, is a significant part of the proposed research effort and holds immense promise in the fight against cancer.

“Otto Zhou and colleagues have made exceptional strides in carbon nanotube-based X-ray technology, which shows vast potential for detecting breast cancer earlier than we ever have before and will be evaluated in clinical trials right here at Carolina,” DeSimone said. “We will also continue to investigate the potential for technology developed in the Zhou lab to revolutionize treatment for brain cancer patients.”

In total, this funding will help support a team of 52 faculty, postdoctoral trainees, students and staff working to find new solutions to help cancer patients in their fight against the deadly disease.

DeSimone is founder of a nanobiotechnology firm, Liquidia Technologies, a collaborator in this grant effort.

Tepper is a member of the NCI Clinical and Translational Research Advisory Committee and the NCI Process to Accelerate Translational Science and is director of the UNC Specialized Program of Research Excellence in gastrointestinal cancers.

In addition to DeSimone, Tepper and Zhou, Leaf Huang, Fred N. Eshelman Distinguished Professor and chair of the division of molecular pharmaceutics, and Russ Mumper, John A. McNeill Distinguished Professor and director of the center for nanotechnology in drug delivery at UNC’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy, are project leaders in the research effort.

Other grant recipient institutions are Cal Tech, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Northeastern University, Northwestern University, Stanford and the University of Texas’ Health Science Center in Houston.

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