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NCI to Fund Efforts Joining Imaging With Biomarkers for Cancer Screening, Diagnosis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Cancer Institute announced that it intends to fund a series of research projects focused on merging imaging strategies and multiplexed biomarker methodologies into a single approach for cancer screening, early diagnosis, and risk assessment.

Groups participating in the initiative, the NCI said, will become part of a newly established Consortium for Imaging and Biomarkers (CIB) that will perform collaborative studies, exchange information, and leverage common resources.

Despite advances made in cancer treatment, overdiagnosis and false positives remain a challenge to combating the disease, according to the NCI. "Therefore, there is an unmet clinical need to more accurately identify early-stage aggressive cancers and distinguish lesions that are life threatening from those that are not."

To address this need, the agency is seeking applications for research projects around novel methods to detect aggressive cancers at early stages, reduce overdiagnosis and false positives, and identify lethal cancers from non-lethal disease using a combination of imaging and biomarker technologies.

While biomarkers and imaging tools are typically used separately and serially, the NCI aims to fund efforts in which structural and/or functional information from biomarkers and imaging is obtained simultaneously, "resulting in a visual representation of cancer cells, cellular features, molecular analytes, or image-derived features … that may or may not be directly mapped for visualization, but are nonetheless associated with and derived from image-based acquisitions," the agency said.

Projects suitable for this latest funding opportunity includes ones combining validated biomarkers with an investigational imaging method, an established imaging technique paired with investigational biomarkers, or investigational imaging and biomarkers used in conjunction with standard-of-care diagnostic tests and an established reference standard for clinical validation.

Appropriate areas of research include, but are not limited to, the use of molecular diagnostics to evaluate lesions observed by imaging and biomarkers to distinguish aggressive from indolent cancer or benign lesion from cancer; the correlation of imaging with genomic results such as those in The Cancer Genome Atlas database; and the development and combination of multiplexed panels of multimodality molecular imaging and multiplexed biomarker panels to improve standard-of-care screening or cancer risk assessment.

Strategies to optimize the performance of imaging and biomarker approaches for clinical validation may include the use of novel imaging methods that can perform across wide resolution scales from the molecular, cellular, and organ level either by external tomography, localized detectors, or implanted devices; and the application of new multi-parametric biomarker detection technologies and genomic, proteomic, and epigenomic approaches.

As part of the CIB, funded research groups will be required to work closely with each other and will develop standard operating procedures and common data elements for future preclinical and clinical validation of the approaches they develop, the NCI noted.

Total award money available under this funding opportunity will depend on National Institutes of Health appropriations and the number of meritorious applications. Additional details are available here.