Purdue News

July 19, 2005

New Purdue center will expand cancer research across disciplines

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University announced Tuesday (July 19) the formation of the Oncological Sciences Center, an interdisciplinary research facility that will increase the university's contribution to the battle against cancer.

Rafael Gomez
Download photo
caption below

"Purdue is proud to be stepping up cancer research at a time when the National Institutes of Health are recommitting themselves to the fight against this disease," said Purdue President Martin C. Jischke. "The NIH has called for a nationwide effort to end suffering caused by cancer by 2015, and Purdue is answering that call thanks to a generous gift from the Lilly Endowment. This new center will bring more of our resources to the task and will do so in highly creative ways inspired by our brightest researchers."

The Oncological Sciences Center is one of four new centers in Purdue's Discovery Park, some of which have yet to be announced. Together, the four centers will receive a combined $10 million over the next three years from Lilly Endowment to establish themselves as interdisciplinary research facilities.

"The creation of the Oncological Sciences Center offers a wonderful opportunity to bring together life scientists, engineers and experts in communication and human behavior to assault the cancer problem," said Marietta Harrison, interim director of the center and a professor of medicinal chemistry in the College of Pharmacy, Nursing and Health Sciences. "The center will dedicate itself to finding solutions to the problems we now face in prevention, treatment and the key issue of early detection. We will now have the means to exploit Purdue’s considerable strength in engineering to achieve our collective national goal of eliminating cancer as a cause of suffering and death by the year 2015."

Silicon wafer
Download photo
caption below

The center will integrate broad areas of the research communities in the life sciences, liberal arts, engineering and chemical sciences to focus on wider aspects of the cancer problem. The existing Purdue Cancer Center will function as a cornerstone of the new Oncological Sciences Center, allowing continued research in three areas:

  • Experimental therapeutics, the discovery of new cancer drugs and diagnostic tools;
  • Cell growth and differentiation, the discovery of new ways for these drugs to attack cancer cells; and
  • Structural biology, the close examination and visualization of cancer cell proteins to help these drugs target them more effectively.

The new center also will build on these existing research areas, permitting expansion into fields that include:

  • Nanotechnology;
  • Cancer prevention via naturally occurring substances, such as compounds extracted from plants and microorganisms;
  • Early detection of cancer through imaging and blood protein analysis; and
  • Drug delivery.

Richard Borch, director of Purdue's Cancer Center, said these areas could be particularly valuable for Indiana's economy, as the center is already taking an aggressive approach toward commercialization of new and important technologies.

"We have already elicited interest from more than 100 Purdue faculty members and established strategic research partnerships with the cancer centers at Indiana University, Walther Cancer Institute and the Mayo Clinic," he said. "These relationships should give us the clinical settings we need to investigate and refine early-stage detection of cancers, and we are also partnering with the Arnett Health Services right here in Lafayette to bring our advances to the local community as quickly as possible."

The scientists who support the center, including some who run medical products businesses, have suggested several examples of how the center could advance the fight against the disease.

"Imagine if we can detect cancer before it spreads much and treat it at the site of initiation. Imagine if we can reduce the cost of managing the disease while making the treatment more effective and painless," said Rashid Bashir, a professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering. "That's what doctors might be able to do if they can harness the expertise of engineers and scientists, whose interdisciplinary approaches to designing novel devices for therapeutics and management of disease and pain, might result in revolutionary new ways to solve and eradicate the problem of cancer.

"To accomplish this, we need a center where experts can gather from both engineering and medicine. It's easy to imagine that with experts from still other fields involved, the additional perspectives could generate leaps in cancer treatment."

Philip Low, a professor of chemistry in the College of Science, who founded the company Endocyte Inc. in Purdue's Research Park, echoed Bashir's comments.

"The center will provide a forum for cross-fertilization of ideas with faculty outside of my normal sphere of contacts," Low said. "Some of these faculty will have solutions to problems that currently hinder development of my lab's new therapeutic and imaging agents. With the interdisciplinary interactions that the oncology center will foster, translation of our discoveries into clinical practice should proceed much faster."  

Bashir brought up the example of nanotechnology as an interdisciplinary area of research that has already generated excitement across many industries.

"Nanotechnology is already one of the most promising area of research and development of the 21st century," he said. "Its integration with biotechnology and focusing of our collective energies on the problem of cancer is almost sure to bring about new ways to diagnose and treat the disease. Nanodevices for the early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer are very promising candidates to help eliminate cancer by the year 2015."

Harrison said that nanotechnology developed at the center could improve drug design.

"Approaches to cancer therapeutics are changing rapidly with the dawn of the age of nanomedicine," said Harrison. "Cancer drug development traditionally has been driven by collaborative efforts among biologists and chemists to generate agents that stop cancer cells from growing. Now, the ability to integrate engineering concepts into early cancer detection, as well as the drug design and development process, opens possibilities that could only be imagined a decade ago."

With the center's assistance, Harrison said, nanoparticles could be designed for radically improved imaging for early detection of tumors, and chip-based biosensors could be generated for ultra sensitive detection of cancer markers from serum and blood. Additionally, the development of molecules, particles and devices that can deliver lethal chemicals and drugs to cancer cells could become a reality.

The Oncological Sciences Center also will provide an important learning environment for students, Borch said, and will bring them into the interdisciplinary research as well.

"One project that will help students is the integration of the center into the Discovery Park Undergraduate Research Internship Program," he said. "The program provides opportunities for 100 students each year to work with faculty affiliated with the Discovery Learning Center on research projects that involve combining two or more disciplinary strengths. Working closely with faculty, students will learn how to work across disciplines in a fast-paced, entrepreneurial environment."

Borch said he was optimistic that the new approaches the center will take will allow Purdue to respond more flexibly to medicine's changing conception of cancer's nature.

"Cancer is now understood as an ongoing process that can be interrupted at many stages from risk to occurrence to metastasis," he said. "The shifting focus on such 'translational research' imparts an increasing demand for more interdisciplinary, team-oriented research efforts to impact the cancer patient, and Purdue students will be able to take part in it. The Oncological Sciences Center is poised to redefine such interdisciplinary research and will help solve the cancer problem in our society."

Discovery Park, under construction on State Street on the west edge of campus, has attracted more than $109 million in sponsored research, $100 million in donations for buildings and now involves about 850 faculty as members. The park has been a critical factor in forming eight startup companies and at least 40 patent filings.

The park currently includes five buildings encompassing several other centers: Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship, the Birck Nanotechnology Center, the Bindley Bioscience Center, the e-Enterprise Center, the Center for Advanced Manufacturing and the Discovery Learning Center. Also part of e-Enterprise is the Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering and the Purdue Homeland Security Institute. The new centers will be based administratively at the park.

Lilly Endowment's total support of Discovery Park is more than $50 million.

Writer: Chad Boutin, (765) 494-2081, cboutin@purdue.edu

Sources: Richard Borch, (765) 494-1403, rickb@pharmacy.purdue.edu

Rashid Bashir, (765) 496-6229, bashir@ecn.purdue.edu

Marietta Harrison, (765) 494-1442, harrison@pharmacy.purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


Rafael Gomez, former doctoral student in the lab of Rashid Bashir and now at Stanford, experiments with technology that could be used to fight cancer. Bashir, a Purdue University professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering, and his research group are associated with the Center for Oncological Sciences, the newest center to be announced at Purdue's Discovery Park, the university's interdisciplinary research and enterprise hub. (Purdue photo/Vincent Walter)

This silicon wafer from the lab of Rashid Bashir, a Purdue University professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering, could be used in cancer-fighting technology. Bashir's research group is associated with the Center for Oncological Sciences, the newest center to be announced at Purdue's Discovery Park, the university's interdisciplinary research and enterprise hub. (Purdue photo/Vincent Walter)

To the News Service home page

Newsroom Search Newsroom home Newsroom Archive