UCLA to Use Nanotechnology to Study Cancer With $1.5 Million Grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation

UCLA researchers have received a $1.5 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation for a new interdisciplinary program that will use nanotechnology to understand the origins of the majority of solid tumor cancers.

"The W.M. Keck Epithelial Cell Cancer Biology Program will help UCLA scientists better understand the complex nature of tumors that share an epithelial cell origin such as breast, prostate, lung, bladder and pancreatic cancer, and facilitate the development of new ways to treat them," said Leonard Rome, principal investigator for the program, director of UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center's Cancer Cell Biology Program Area and senior associate dean for research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Epithelial cells are cells that form the body's coverings and linings, including cells on the surface of the skin and mucous membranes. Epithelial cells play a central role in the function of tissues such as lung, kidney, pancreas, liver, breast, cervix and prostate. These cells give rise to epithelial cancers, the major category of solid tumor cancers that includes breast, prostate, lung, bladder and pancreatic cancer.

Nanotechnology helps scientists study the building blocks of cancer at atomic, molecular or macromolecular levels. The project brings together three new technologies, — shape-encoded particles, quantum dot molecular imaging and chemical genomics — that will help identify novel genes and proteins, visualize individual molecules, and help to develop new drugs.

"Each of these approaches is a very important technology. However, used together, they bring a whole new dimension to the arsenal of weapons we have to understand how cancer begins," Rome said.

The new project will build upon the strengths of the W.M. Keck Proteomics Center and will enhance scientific collaborations among researchers from the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, the California NanoSystems Institute, the UCLA College, and the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Together, UCLA scientists will study cancer cell function at the molecular level, focusing on the development of novel targeted therapies.

Today, only half of all patients diagnosed with cancer can be cured. UCLA leads the nation in developing targeted therapies against tumors that do not respond to conventional treatment.

Joining program director Rome as co-directors will be Owen Witte, John Colicelli and Stanley Nelson of the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center; Enrique Rozengurt of the Geffen School of Medicine; and Shimon Weiss of the UCLA College.

The Los Angeles-based W.M. Keck Foundation is one of the nation's largest philanthropic organizations. It was established in 1954 by the late William Myron Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company. The foundation's grant-making focuses primarily on the areas of medical research, science and engineering.

UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center is composed of more than 240 cancer researchers and clinicians engaged in cancer research, prevention, detection, control and education. The center, one of the nation's largest comprehensive cancer centers, is dedicated to promoting cancer research and applying the results to clinical situations. In 2003 the center was named the best cancer center in the Western United States by U.S. News & World Report, a ranking it has held for four consecutive years.

For more information about UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center, visit the center's Web site at www.cancer.mednet.ucla.edu.

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