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$7.5 Million Grant to Support New Imaging Program

December 5, 2008

by Dagny Stuart

John Gore, Ph.D., is the principal investigator for the NCI grant to develop a new imaging programThe National Cancer Institute (NCI) has awarded a $7.5 million grant to the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science and the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center to establish a new imaging program.

The five-year grant will support the Vanderbilt In Vivo Cellular and Molecular Imaging Center (ICMIC), which will provide enhanced scientific and technical resources to develop innovative molecular imaging studies of cancer biology and to advance translational imaging research in cancer care. A special focus of the program will be to develop innovative imaging biomarkers that can be used to predict and measure whether patients respond to specific treatments.

“We are pleased to receive this award that will support our outstanding team of investigators from several disciplines, including leaders in imaging science, clinical oncology, molecular probe development and basic cancer sciences,” said John Gore, Ph.D., director of the Institute of Imaging Science and principal investigator for the new grant. “This grant recognizes the success of our multidisciplinary approach to medical research and the results of our institutional investments in imaging in recent years.”

The ICMIC will create several specialized resources, including an expanded small animal imaging core, a chemistry core, a radiochemistry core and a biostatistics core. The research will focus on the development of sensitive new imaging probes and allow researchers to assess how specific in vivo molecular signal transduction pathways, and physiologic changes caused by changes in these pathways, are modified by cancer and cancer therapy.

Gore said the ICMIC grant will initially fund four major projects:

  • Molecular imaging of EGFR-axis targeted treatment in colon cancer, directed by Robert Coffey Jr., M.D.;
  • Imaging tumor expression of cyclooxygenase-2, directed by Larry Marnett, Ph.D.;
  • Noninvasive assessment of cancer responsiveness to therapy by use of recombinant peptide ligands, directed by Dennis Hallahan, M.D.; and
  • Proteolytic beacons in the non-invasive assessment of response to cancer therapy, directed by Lynn Matrisian, Ph.D.

All four projects will assess the response mechanisms of novel, targeted anti-cancer treatments using imaging probes via optical, PET and SPECT imaging. The research will be complemented by measuring downstream effects using ultrasound, MRI and CT scans.

“Despite a tight federal funding environment, we are delighted that the NCI continues to recognize and support our strong translational research approach in which imaging plays an integral role,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., director of Vanderbilt-Ingram.

The ICMIC grant also will encourage new investigations through a series of Discovery Grants for Pilot Projects and will nurture scientists and physicians to become independent investigators in molecular imaging of cancer by supporting career development.

“The ICMIC grant will build upon existing programs and strong institutional support from Vanderbilt to create an exemplary environment for research and training in molecular imaging,” said Gore.