A striking convergence occurred in 2006/07: the UNM Cancer Center (UNMCC) was recognized as one of 60 NCI-designated Cancer Centers in the nation;UNM's application to NSF for an Integrated Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program in Nanoscience and Microsystems (NSMS) was selected by NCI for joint NSF/NCI funding;and the New Mexico legislature approved a new interdisciplinary NSMS PhD degree program at UNM. The resulting integration of nanoscale engineering and physical sciences training into cancer research at UNM generated a series of entirely new interdisciplinary research teams focused on harnessing nanoscale phenomena for understanding, detecting and treating cancer. These include a team that combines novel nanoprobes with in vitro fluorescence and electron microscopy to address altered membrane organization and vesicular trafficking in cancer cells;a team that develops and applies nano- and microdevices for DNA sequencing and analysis of chromatin remodeling in cancer;a team that generates novel probes and instruments for in vivo cancer detection;and a team that focuses on cancer drug discovery and the synthesis of multifunctional nanoprobes for targeted drug delivery. The teams are supported by cutting-edge NCI-supported core facilities in the UNM Cancer Center for in vitro and in vivo imaging, flow cytometry and genomics, and by outstanding NSF- and DoE-supported core facilities in the UNM School of Engineering and in the Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories for nanomaterials synthesis, characterization, nano-micro integration and for microfabrication. Fourteen NSMS IGERT graduate students are members of these teams. This application to develop an Integrative Cancer Nanoscience and Microsystems (IC-NSMS) Training Program through the CNTC mechanism builds on the achievements of the NSMS IGERT, including its established research teams and its strong infrastructure for minority recruitment, interdisciplinary mentoring and coursework, ethics training, seminars, symposia and outreach. In the new funding period, we propose to accelerate the recruitment of interdisciplinary graduate students to the NSMS'current cancer-focused teams and to add a postdoc training program;to develop new interdisciplinary teams that will bring even more engineering and physical sciences faculty, graduate students and postdocs into the cancer community;and to specifically enhance the environment for cancer-focused IC-NSMS training via a boot camp to immerse new students in the integration of cancer biology and nanotechnology, an oncologist-led seminar on real-world problems in cancer prevention, detection and treatment and an expanded curriculum on the development of an interdisciplinary cancer-focused career. UNM's nanoscience research originated in the early 80's with the establishment of two strategic research centers, the Center for High Technology Materials and the Center for Microengineered Materials. UNM's materials science research has been recognized by the ISI through the ranking of top 5 universities in impact of materials science papers (1996-2000) and top 10 papers in materials science in citation impact (1991-1995). As a founding member (1972) of the NCI SEER program, UNM's reputation in cancer research was first established though population-based surveillance and epidemiology research, followed since around 1990 by the steady growth of excellent programs in cancer cell and molecular biology research and, since the mid-90s, by increasingly strong contributions of biotechnology to our cancer research programs. The integration of outstanding research communities in cancer and in nanotechnology within a Minority-Serving Institution provides a unique environment for a CNTC focused on applications of nanoscience and microsystems to understand, detect and treat cancer.
While nanoscience research was growing steadily at UNM in the 90s, there were relatively few applications of nanoscience to cancer biology in New Mexico until our NSF IGERT in Nanoscience and Microsystems (2006- 2010) was selected for co-funding by NCI. The award jump-started a process of integration between physical scientists, cancer scientists and engineers in which talented graduate students provided the glue that nucleated new research teams and drove their development. Members of the interdisciplinary NSMS graduate program have established a strong track record for the cross training of talented students in nanoscience, microsystems and cancer biology and are well placed to continue and enhance this cross training through the NCI CNTC mechanism. Through immersion in highly multidisciplinary research teams the program will help to build the nation's cancer nanoscience workforce and will advance the understanding, detection and treatment of cancer.
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