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Northwestern Receives $12 Million to Improve Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment

Northwestern University, a leader in cancer nanotechnology research, has received a five-year, $12 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to leverage the advantages of nanotechnology to improve the way cancer is diagnosed and treated. Results will be disseminated to the wider research community for ultimate translation to the clinic.

The Northwestern University Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (NU-CCNE) will focus on developing nanomaterials and nanodevices primarily for application in brain, breast and pancreatic cancer diagnostics and therapeutics, with potential for use in other forms of cancer.

Northwestern is one of only nine institutions across the country, and the only one in the Midwest, to receive a CCNE award in this second funding phase of the NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer program. (Northwestern’s first CCNE received NCI support from 2005 to 2010.)

Augmenting the NCI CCNE grant, a $2.1 million award from the Chicago Biomedical Consortium (CBC) will establish a new facility enabling NU-CCNE discoveries to be shared with CBC-affiliated biology laboratories at no cost, broadening the impact of the center’s research.

“The support from the National Cancer Institute and the CBC will enable researchers to continue to make significant cancer-relevant discoveries that ultimately can be transferred to the clinic,” said Steven T. Rosen, co-director of the NU-CCNE, Genevieve Teuton Professor of Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine and director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

The NU-CCNE combines the strengths and resources of the Lurie Cancer Center and Northwestern’s International Institute for Nanotechnology (IIN). Nanoscientists, cancer biologists, engineers and clinicians from Northwestern will work together on five research projects making up the center. Many will collaborate with researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“Nanotechnology is a key driver of advances in cancer detection and treatment, and Northwestern has played a major role in developing this field,” said Chad A. Mirkin, co-director of the NU-CCNE, George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, member of the Lurie Cancer Center and IIN director.

In making the CCNE award, NCI cited Northwestern for the leadership and complementary expertise of Mirkin and Rosen, the impressive record of accomplishments developing nanotechnology-based therapeutics (including several novel technologies undergoing commercialization and clinical trials) and the highly significant basic science and clinical problems being pursued.

Each of the CCNE’s five research projects has the meaningful participation of an industry partner that is committed to facilitating rapid commercialization of clinical trial-ready technologies developed as part of the center.

A Nanoconstructs Core will provide a shared facility where new nanoplatforms can be developed and evaluated using a common set of cell and animal models, and researchers can definitively determine which new nanoplatforms should be pursued. The core also will allow for comparison of nanoplatforms developed by other researchers who are part of the NCI’s Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer.

Another core facility, the one funded by the CBC, will disseminate NU-CCNE approaches and technologies to researchers at all three CBC partner institutions: Northwestern, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Chicago. Only an acknowledgement, not authorship, on manuscripts resulting from use of the NU-CCNE tools will be required, essentially erasing barriers to adopting the new methods. (The CBC, funded by The Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, is an initiative that fosters collaborative research and new partnerships in the biomedical sciences.)

In addition to research, the NU-CCNE is committed to educating and training scientists who can work at the interface of nanotechnology and cancer research; encouraging and supporting trans-alliance training opportunities and collaborations; and providing effective mechanisms to disseminate knowledge to the larger community.

Some of the strategies to achieve these goals include support for trans-alliance research and pilot projects, integrative training in nanotechnology and cancer, an intramural seminar series, Medical Student Summer Fellowships in Nanotechnology and summer research programs for undergraduates.

For more information about the Northwestern University Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence, visit

Another NCI grant

As part of the NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer program, Northwestern also has received a Cancer Nanotechnology Partnership Platform (CNPP) grant of $1.9 million over five years for a project focused on the treatment of metastatic breast and ovarian cancer. This work was initiated in the University’s first CCNE program.

The CNPP grant will support a project titled “Tumor Targeted Nanobins for the Treatment of Metastatic Breast and Ovarian Cancer” led by Thomas O’Halloran and Vincent Cryns, M.D. This work involves researchers from the Lurie Cancer Center and the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute (CLP). O’Halloran is the Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Chemistry and director of the CLP, and Cryns is associate professor of medicine at Feinberg.