Creating Biomedical Technologies to Improve Health


June 30, 2009

NIBIB Quantum Grantee Mehmet Toner and Team Receive National Stand Up to Cancer Grant

A research team headed by Drs. Mehmet Toner, Ph.D. and Daniel Haber, M.D., Ph.D., of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, has been awarded a $15 million research grant from the proceeds raised by the Entertainment Industry Foundation during their landmark Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) telethon. The Foundation, established by media and entertainment industry leaders to raise cancer awareness and accelerate developments in cancer research, raised over $100 million during their first telethon, which was aired simultaneously by ABC, CBS, and NBC in September 2008.

Circulating tumor cell captured on microfluidic posts, as seen by a scanning electron microscope.

Circulating tumor cell captured on microfluidic posts, as seen by a scanning electron microscope.

The SU2C grant will help accelerate research and development of the Circulating Tumor Cell (CTC) microchip, which was initiated with National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) Quantum Grant (QG) funds in 2007. The size of a mere microscope slide, with great sensitivity that allows the detection of one at-large cancer cell out of a billion blood cells, the CTC chip sorts out and traps migrating tumor cells gently enough to also maintain their viability, which is key to further analysis that gives clues that can contribute to decisions on cancer treatment.

Toner explains how QG strategies set the research bar higher, but also promote the proper environment for success. "The Quantum Grants take a major medical problem where engineering could have great impact, and they put together a multidisciplinary team to tackle the problem. It requires people who are working closely together, and it requires us to take on a bigger challenge than we would ordinarily."

The "one-two punch" of CTC microchip research success has thus far been realized through the tandem impact of QG funds and the NIBIB-funded BioMEMS (Biomicroelectromechanical Systems) Resource Center, which, in Toner’s words, "…has been a unique environment nurturing the translation of this device from a ‘cool technology’ phase to ‘real technology’ phase with great potential for impact at the patient’s bedside."

Toner explains, "Getting technology to people’s bedside is not an easy thing to do. The [BioMEMS] experience has been educational for me, and very beneficial. It has impacted my own research group to become more translational, and we do it better than we could in the past. You have to step forward into full-scale collaboration to make strides forward translationally."

Dr. Mehmet Toner

Dr. Mehmet Toner

Toner also appreciates the wisdom behind NIBIB’s requirements for end-user collaboration with the Resource Center. "In order to get continued funding, we have to be able to disseminate the technology. This is extremely critical to development, because by working together with end users, we can really sharpen the functionalities and specifications of the technology."

Highlighting the mounting challenges of today’s multidisciplinary research, he continues, "The research problems we are working on are more and more complex. You need to integrate with collaborators on a day-to-day basis so that they can help you think about problems and issues in areas where you’re not an expert, and create an environment where you actually think together – morph together – sharing information, access, and also sharing credit."

The NIBIB fosters interdisciplinary research and the translation of research to clinical application. The CTC microchip research project is consistent with the NIBIB mission in technology development and the philosophy of accelerating technology application.

Read more about the CTC microchip Quantum Grant.

...and more about the SU2C grant at:

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