For Immediate Release
May 20, 2010
Contacts: Lee Tune, 301 405 4679 or firstname.lastname@example.org
UM Partners with National Cancer Institute to Fight Cancer
By Tom Ventsias
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- How do cancer cells migrate from one organ to another? Why do certain cells become malignant? And how can drug treatments identify new cancer growths?
These questions demand science that extends beyond traditional cell biology. And University of Maryland researchers with sought-after expertise in physics, math, computer science and engineering hope to provide answers through a new partnership with the National Cancer Institute, or NCI, part of the National Institutes of Health.
An agreement, signed at the university on May 19, establishes the Collaborative Research and Graduate Partnership Program in Cancer Technology between the University of Maryland and the Center for Cancer Research at the NCI. The program, only the second of its kind affiliated with the NCI, will send Maryland graduate students to the NCI laboratories in Bethesda, Md., for training and will provide for professional and academic exchanges between university faculty and NCI researchers.
"The opportunity for University of Maryland faculty and graduate students to work with the world's top cell biologists and cancer scientists at the National Cancer Institute is tremendous," says University President C. D. Mote, Jr. "Such expertise undoubtedly will lead to new diagnostic tools and treatments. The University is thrilled by this collaboration with the NCI and its far-reaching implications for future research."
Several Maryland researchers expect to help the NCI do a quantitative analysis of the large amounts of raw data now available due to rapid-fire advances in genomics and cell imaging. These researchers -- who include UM experts in statistical mechanics, chaos theory and nonlinear dynamics -- will be developing models that assist federal scientists as they look at healthy and cancerous cells.
Other Maryland faculty will use the university's sophisticated nanofabrication laboratories to expand knowledge in areas like targeted drug delivery and micro-photonics that can be used in cell imaging.
Andrew Baden, professor and chair of physics at Maryland, and his team will continue their research in the relatively new field of biophysics, which uses concepts like complexity theory, chaos theory and single cell physics to identify how certain cells interact. One example, he says, might be investigating the elasticity of cells -- how they "push" against other cells or bond together -- to better understand how cancerous cells migrate from one part of the body to another. Another is studying how the twisting, or torque, of DNA in a cell can affect DNA-enzyme interactions, one possible avenue to turning a cancerous gene "off" within a cell.
"We can now see much more of what's going on, but we need the models in physics and math to understand what it is we are looking at," said Wolfgang Losert, an associate professor of physics at Maryland who is director of the new collaborative cancer technology program.
Losert, an expert in cell elasticity and cell migration, laid the groundwork for the formal partnership, organizing a series of annual workshops starting in 2006 that encouraged Maryland researchers in physics, math and biology to meet with NCI scientists and discuss the latest in cancer research.
One of Losert's doctoral students, Colin McCann, started working in the NCI laboratory of Carole Parente, a senior investigator in cellular and molecular biology, in the summer of 2006. He now splits his time between the NCI and Losert's laboratory at Maryland, looking at how populations of cells behave.
"Learning how cells talk to one another and coordinate how they are moving together will help us understand how cancer cells might do something similar during metastasis, or when a tumor is growing," McCann said.
Other collaborative efforts between Maryland faculty and the NCI researchers will involve genomics and gene sequencing; Maryland computational biologists will help federal scientists pinpoint genetic markers that might predict why certain cells become malignant. And university bioengineers hope to advance research in building nanoscale drug delivery systems that can also be used for diagnostics.
Bentley echoes other Maryland researchers in saying that he welcomes the opportunity not only to interact with a world-class research facility like the NCI, but also to have an impact on cancer.
"Our bread and butter is research," he said. "But if you can get to a point where you can translate that research into a new treatment, then that is tremendous."
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