From Bench to Bedside, and Back Again—Collaborative Cancer Research
by Stacey Shackford
The central mission of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center (MCC) at Weill Cornell Medicine (WCM) is to translate basic science discoveries into clinical applications for cancer patients and to partner with those patients to drive future research endeavors.
Founded in 2014 with a generous gift from Sandra and Edward Meyer ’48, the MCC has grown to include more than 280 members, four robust research programs and an extensive portfolio of clinical trials, conducted in conjunction with its nationally-recognized hospital affiliate, NewYork-Presbyterian.
MCC members include health professionals as well as laboratory, clinical, and population research scientists with full-time faculty appointments at WCM or Cornell Ithaca who have demonstrated involvement in cancer research and patient care. The center also works closely with the Englander Institute of Precision Medicine to create tailored treatments for patients, based on genomic evaluation of their individual tumors.
The MCC’s research programs encompass both basic and clinical sciences. The Solid Tumors Research Program incorporates the study of breast, brain, gastrointestinal, lung, and prostate cancers, and a newly added Immuno-oncology Working Group encompasses all tumors types. The Hematologic Malignancies Research Program investigates the full range of blood cancers as well as bone marrow and stem cell transplant. Researchers in the Cancer Biology Program investigate the complexities of aberrant cancer cell signaling and those in the Cancer Genetics, Epigenetics, and Systems Biology Program use next-generation sequencing, advanced computing, and experimentation to identify and understand the function of genetic and epigenetic alterations in tumors. Each of these four programs is encouraged to collaborate and enhance multidisciplinary research.
In 2016 the cancer center’s total research grant portfolio contained more than 85 cancer-focused research grants of which 38 were awarded from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The direct costs of the portfolio amounted to more than $25 million for basic, translational, and clinical research. Among them was a prestigious NCI Outstanding Investigator Award for Meyer Cancer Center director, Lewis C. Cantley, PhD ’75. The award supports accomplished leaders in cancer research who are providing significant contributions toward understanding cancer and developing applications that may lead to breakthroughs. It provides $600,000 for seven years, allowing substantial time for awardees to take greater research risks. Cantley, a world-renowned expert in cancer metabolism, will investigate new targets for pharmaceutical intervention and new biomarkers for predicting patients who are likely to respond.
MCC’s collaborations with Cornell University in Ithaca are becoming tighter with the establishment of the new Center on the Physics of Cancer Metabolism, led by Cantley and Claudia Fischbach-Teschl, Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering. Its goal is to combine the strengths of different interdisciplinary research groups to gain unprecedented understanding of the biological and physical mechanisms regulating how tumors function and metastasize, or spread, in the human body’s microenvironment.
“The Meyer Cancer Center champions a dramatic shift in the paradigm for translational biomedical research and clinical care by engaging basic scientists, pathologists, bioinformaticians, surgeons, radiation oncologists, and radiologists, who collaborate daily to move their discoveries from the bench to clinical trials and ultimately into therapies for patients,” said Meyer Director Lewis C. Cantley. “Interactions with patients also inform our research and drive further clinical innovation. This interdisciplinary model is the future of biomedicine and will transform the way medical research is conducted.”