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Bridging the Charles River to Find Novel Approaches to Cancer Research
Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research (Koch) recently announced the Bridge Project, a comprehensive joint collaboration. The goal is to bring together clinical translational scientists from DF/HCC and biologists and bioengineers from Koch to address the "most intractable challenges in cancer." Initial awards totaling $1.3 million for several interdisciplinary research projects will address pancreatic cancer and glioblastoma.
The Bridge Project evolved from discussions between DF/HCC Deputy Director Dr. David Livingston and Koch Director Dr. Tyler Jacks. The idea attracted private donor interest from MIT alumni Arthur Gelb and Thomas Peterson, as well as financial support from the Lustgarten Foundation for pancreatic cancer and the National Brain Tumor Society. The Commonwealth Foundation for Cancer Research joined in 2012 to contribute to the upcoming grant cycle.
"Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center and Koch investigators [already] had a number of collaborations going on," commented DF/HCC Deputy Associate Director Dr. Sarah Weiler. "This initiative has formalized and expanded that." As W. David Lee, integrative program officer at Koch, explained, "The idea is to bring together novel technologies with unmet needs on the clinical side." Scientists from the two centers are talking to each other about their work and identifying "riskier" projects they might not have otherwise pursued, he explained.
The initial grant recipients were selected by an external advisory team that provided rigorous, expert review. The four project teams, which will each receive $325,000 over 2 years, will work on
- Single-cell functional, genomic, and RNA analysis in glioblastoma;
- A novel approach to improve drug delivery in the treatment of pancreatic cancer;
- A pancreatobiliary eluting stent for delivering chemotherapy to pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas; and
- Novel immunotherapies against pancreatic cancer.
These collaborative projects were forged during two workshops conducted last summer; one on each side of the Charles River, which separates the DF/HCC and MIT campuses. In the first session, DF/HCC clinician-scientists made presentations to Koch and MIT faculty on specific challenges related to pancreatic cancer and glioblastoma, two of the most lethal and least treatable cancers.
—W. David Lee
The second workshop brought the Koch and MIT biologists and engineers to DF/HCC. "We highlighted a number of MIT cutting-edge technologies that we thought the clinicians and researchers over there might not know about, including transgenic mouse models and nanotechnologies capable of analyzing single cells," Lee recalled. "It was a little bit like a very elegant trade show."
Both workshops drew hundreds of faculty from each institution for several hours of intense discussions and networking. The initial solicitation for the Bridge Project brought in 15 proposals from cross-institutional teams that ranged from DF/HCC and Koch investigators who'd never met before last year to scientists with established working relationships who were collaborating on the two target cancers for the first time.
DF/HCC and Koch plan a second round of workshops and awards this year to expand the Bridge Project to include lung, melanoma, and ovarian cancers and hope to grant $50 million over the next 3 to 5 years. "DF/HCC brings the translational scientists, the hospitals, and the patients," Dr. Weiler said. "Koch has strong [expertise in] basic science and engineering. What's neat about this is bringing these strengths together to address some fundamental problems in cancer therapy that really need attention, to try to put some engineering thought behind what we're doing in the clinic."
"Many [NCI-supported cancer] centers have collaborations," noted Dr. Linda Weiss, director of the NCI Office of Cancer Centers. "But I'm not aware of any that are like this in terms of participants, scale, and focus. It's exciting."