The Emory Molecular and Translational Imaging Center has earned a five-year, $7.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for research on cancer imaging techniques. Emory's cancer imaging researchers will join the ranks of eight NCI-funded "in vivo cellular and molecular imaging centers" across the country.
Projects will range from clinical studies on the more accurate diagnosis of prostate cancer to basic research on cancer-seeking magnetic iron nanoparticles.
"Our unifying goal for this award is to develop, validate and apply unique molecular imaging biomarkers that clinicians may use to detect cancer earlier and more accurately," says Carolyn Cidis Meltzer, MD, William P. Timmie professor and chair of radiology and associate dean for research at Emory University School of Medicine.
"For patients with cancer, these important biomarkers will allow more precise monitoring of newer treatment approaches. Overall, this grant helps us build on our knowledge and expertise in an exciting new area of cancer imaging."
The center was created last year through an NCI planning grant of $1.5 million. It will receive additional support from the Emory Winship Cancer Institute, the Georgia Research Alliance and the Georgia Cancer Coalition.
The grant's principal investigators are Meltzer, Mark M. Goodman, PhD, professor of radiology and hematology and oncology and chair in imaging sciences, and Xiaoping Hu, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering and radiology and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar.
The multidisciplinary investigative team includes more than 20 scientists and physicians from the Winship Cancer Institute and the departments of biomedical engineering, radiology, biostatistics, pathology, urology and surgery.
Emory’s cancer imaging research makes up part of the larger Center for Systems Imaging, which supports scientists across Emory who use techniques such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography) in several fields including the neurosciences and cardiology.
The four projects covered by the grant are:
- Clinical studies of an amino acid PET probe being tested with prostate cancer patients. The probe could help doctors identify which tumors require aggressive treatment and which do not. Goodman, an expert in developing PET reagents, calls this project "an example of the bench-to-bedside capabilities of our investigative team."
- Laboratory studies of tiny iron particles linked to proteins that specifically bind breast cancer cells. The iron particles could be useful because they generate a strong MRI signal, but their small size means they have novel properties that require extensive evaluation before use in humans.
- Generation of PET probes that target squamous cell carcinomas, the most common cancer of the head and neck. The probes will be designed to bind molecules that allow the cancer cells to metastasize and invade lymph nodes, so they could detect cells with the most metastatic potential.
- Laboratory studies of a fluorescent dye that specifically accumulates in cancerous cells, which could lead to better diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer.