Grant helps researchers investigate why cancer cells grow rapidly and spread

Anthony N. Imbalzano, PhD; Andre J. Vanwijnen, PhD; Gary S. Stein, PhD; Jane B. Lian, PhD; Jeffrey A. Nickerson, PhD; Janet L. Stein, PhD


A multidisciplinary team of researchers in the Department of Cell Biology and the UMass Memorial Cancer Center of Excellence has been awarded a $6 million, five-year grant by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to investigate the organization of genes and other genomic elements in cancer cells that control whether tumor cells grow rapidly and spread to other organs in the body, a process known as metastasis.

Led by Gary Stein, PhD, the Gerald L. Haidak, MD, and Zelda S. Haidak Professor of Cell Biology, co-director of the UMass Memorial Cancer Center of Excellence and chair and professor of cell biology,, the team will use cutting-edge genomic sequencing strategies and high-resolution imaging to build on their earlier discoveries related to changes in the architectural organization of genes and other factors that control tumor cell proliferation and metastasis. They are now focusing on translating these discoveries into strategies for early-stage diagnosis of breast cancer, prostate cancer and leukemia, as well as to the treatment of breast and prostate tumors that metastasize to bone.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to transition an important breakthrough about the functional design of cells that is altered during the early stages of cancer to an increased capability for treatment of the disease,” said Dr. Stein. “Working in a highly collaborative environment, this team of scientists and physician/investigators is providing a compelling challenge to a highly competitive disease.”

NCI program project grants are used to fund broader areas of cancer research and include at least three component projects with a common theme or objective. The grant provides the next five years of funding for the UMMS and UMass Memorial Cancer Center of Excellence program project, which was initiated in 2002 with a 15-year commitment by the NCI for the team to identify changes in the location of genes and factors within the nucleus of cells that are indicators of subtle changes in the initial stages of cancer and those that occur with tumor progression and spread. Stein and his team have already published several studies from this research and have demonstrated an important three-dimensional remodeling of the microenvironments where genes are localized in cancer cells—intriguing alterations that have been linked with compromised cell growth as well as loss of specialized cell function that occur during the onset and progression of cancer.

The UMass Memorial Cancer Center of Excellence, a partnership between UMass Memorial Medical Center and UMass Medical School, provides comprehensive care to patients and conducts extensive research and clinical trials, utilizing the latest discoveries from laboratories and research centers worldwide. The Cancer Center plays an integral academic role, training future physicians and expanding current physician knowledge in the basic nature of cancer and innovative therapies, and through participation in cancer research, educational training and residency programs.

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