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Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center receives $6.5 million grant to study tumor environment

Jan. 29, 2007, 10:38 AM

Like a seed needs soil to grow and flourish, a tumor relies on its environment to grow and spread in the body – something the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center will be exploring more closely with the help of a new $6.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

This is a new type of grant from the NCI, sparked in part by a new wave of interest and attention to the microenvironment of a tumor, making it the latest hot-button word in cancer research.

“We have been looking specifically at what was inside the cancer cell. We were really focused on the seed and we forgot about the soil,” said Lynn Matrisian, Ph.D., chair of Cancer Biology at Vanderbilt-Ingram.

But Matrisian said the tide has turned and experts are focusing attention on the “soil,” or tumor environment, something that could alter cancer outcomes if the soil is tended well. “The microenvironment can tell the cancer cells to behave normally. We think there‘s incredible opportunity for targeting the microenvironment and potentially finding new treatment options.”

Matrisian said some drugs on the market already focus on the tumor environment. “The angiogenesis drugs target the microenvironment and the body‘s response to the tumor and don‘t target the tumor itself,” explained Matrisian. Avastin, recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat advanced, non-squamous, non-small cell lung cancer, and studied at Vanderbilt-Ingram, is one of those drugs.

The NCI grant will allow Vanderbilt-Ingram to become a key player in a new network of investigators looking at the microenvironment and researching different areas related to the soil where the tumor sets up camp. Members of the network will meet twice a year to share discoveries.

Other groups in the network include Harvard-MIT, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Columbia University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Albert Einstein Cancer Center, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Vanderbilt-Ingram will also work closely with a group from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute as part of the project.

Vanderbilt‘s participation will involve three research projects zeroing in on a molecule called TGF-? that Matrisian said could prove to be the key to host-tumor interactions. “We went with a molecular focus because we think this molecule is really important. If we can find out how the microenvironment reacts to TGF-? in these three settings, it could apply to many cancers.”

Vanderbilt-Ingram‘s proposal was funded, in part, because of the supporting technology available here. “A lot of people are looking at genes or genomics. We‘re looking at proteins or proteomics.” Matrisian said the researchers will work closely with John Gore, Ph.D., professor and director of the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science, to merge proteomics, oxygen and blood flow images into one picture of the tumor and its environment.

Matrisian said this is discovery research, not translational, meaning, don‘t expect to see the findings in these projects applied to treatments and patients next month. “We can make this translational before too long. The real challenge is to sort through all that information first, to know which way to go.”

The Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center is dedicated to a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach to cancer care, research, prevention, and patient and community education. With nearly 300 investigators, Vanderbilt-Ingram is ranked among the top 10 centers in total research funding from the National Cancer Institute and generates more than $150 million each year in research support from public and private sources. Vanderbilt-Ingram is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Tennessee and one of only 39 to achieve this distinction nationwide. The center is consistently recognized among the best places for cancer care by U.S. News & World Report. For more information, visit us online at <> .

Media contact: Heather Newman, (615) 936-7245

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