Not surprisingly, systems biology has made its way over to the National Cancer Institute. Last fall NCI announced that it would divvy up $14.9 million over five years among nine Integrative Cancer Biology Program centers to fund systems-wide approaches to cancer research. The focus, according to NCI, is on building predictive models of cancer.
One of the recipients of the NCI funding is Todd Golub, of Harvard’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, who says it’s welcome news that NCI has moved beyond the old model of cancer being caused by certain oncogenes. Instead, he says, NCI is acting on the notion that researchers should study how an oncogene transforms into a tumor-causing agent, particularly from a computational perspective. Golub says this is the first time NCI has funded multidisciplinary cancer reseach centers at this level. “It’s more than just getting together for coffee,” he says.
Golub’s particular project is applying the $12.6 million he and a group of collaborators were awarded over five years toward investigating the roles of particular kinases in tumor survival. “We’d love to have a way to predict which kinases might be therapeutic targets, and to do that we’re combining experimental work with gene expression and proteomics to build a computational model for the tumor,” he says.
In addition to paying for research, some of the grant money from NCI is earmarked for establishing mechanisms for distributing research tools and know-how to other cancer biologists, and for training the next generation of cancer scientists, Golub says. To provide researchers with the skills necessary to carry on the work in integrative cancer biology, he adds, new scientists will have to learn mathematics, computer science, and physics, in addition to acquiring a strong foundation in biology. The ICBP centers will also participate in NCI’s Cancer Biomedical Information Grid as a means of sharing and integrating data across many cancer research efforts.
— John S. MacNeil