April 28, 2010

UNM Cancer Center Recognized for Cancer Research, Diagnosis and Treatment


The American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) has proclaimed the month of May as National Cancer Research Month as declared by the United States Congress. The University of New Mexico Cancer Center, the State of New Mexico’s Official Cancer Center based on the UNM campus in Albuquerque, has been recognized by the National Institute of Health (NIH), the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences as a national leader in cancer research, diagnosis, and treatment.

“The UNM Cancer Center is honored to be considered one of the leading cancer research centers in the country and has made significant strides in finding new diagnoses and cures for people affected by cancer,” said Dr. Cheryl Willman, director and chief executive officer of the UNM Cancer Center. The UNM Cancer Center’s nationally recognized research projects include:

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
The UNM Cancer Center, in collaboration with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Children’s Oncology Group/CureSearch, identified a genetic mutation underlying one of the most common childhood cancers, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). The discovery, headed by Dr. Willman and her team, could lead to more effective treatments for a subset of ALL patients who experience minimal benefit with current therapies by using drugs that are already in clinical trials for similar blood diseases in adults.

ALL occurs when white blood cells, which normally help fight off viruses and bacteria, do not mature properly. As more of these underdeveloped cells build up, healthy, infection-fighting cells are crowded out. The disease accounts for about three out of four childhood leukemia cases, and affects about 1 in 29,000 children nationwide every year; New Mexico has an average of 37 ALL cases diagnosed annually. The research findings were published in the May 2009 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

New Mexico Spatiotemporal Modeling Center
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) selected a research team at the UNM Cancer Center to lead the tenth National Center for Systems Biology in the U.S. with a five-year,

$14.5 million grant. Lead by Janet Oliver, PhD and principal investigator from the UNM Cancer Center, the New Mexico Spatiotemporal Modeling Center (STMC) is designed to bring together researchers from many different disciplines and backgrounds, including biologists, engineers, mathematicians and physicists at UNM, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories.

Systems biology is an emerging field that integrates quantitative measurements, new technologies and computational modeling to answer questions about fundamental biological processes that take place in cells, tissues and organisms. For more than 20 years, Dr. Oliver’s team of cell biologists has been studying the locations, interactions and biochemical modifications of the molecules that transmit signals across cell membranes, resulting in better understanding about cell function and new approaches to discover and develop disease-fighting drugs. With advances in cell-imaging technology, Oliver’s research was producing more complex information than biologists alone could analyze. Her team turned to statisticians, mathematicians, engineers and physical scientists and found not only improved understanding from current work but also entirely new approaches for future work.

UNM Center for Molecular Discovery
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) selected the UNM Cancer Center as one of only

nine national molecular discovery centers in the U.S. with a six-year, $15.5 million grant. Part of the NIH Roadmap Molecular Libraries Initiative, the UNM Center for Molecular Discovery operates as a biological screening center effecting and monitoring the interactions of small molecules and proteins that can regulate biological processes. The center functions as a discovery center aimed at identifying small molecules that can be used as chemical probes and as leads for drug discoveries.

Larry Sklar, Ph.D., and Bruce Edwards, Ph.D., from the UNM Cancer Center, developed a new apparatus and process that perform cell analyses nearly 30 times faster than previously conducted. This new technology should significantly speed drug discovery, while lowering the costs of drug development and clinical diagnoses. While these capabilities have tremendous potential for economic development in New Mexico, discoveries at the molecular level can have pharmaceutical, clinical and research applications.
The UNM Cancer Center is the Official Cancer Center of the State of New Mexico, and one of only 64 National Cancer Institute designated cancer centers in the nation. It is home to 85 board-certified oncology physicians representing every cancer specialty and more than 120 research scientists hailing from such prestigious institutions as M.D. Anderson, Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic.
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Contact information:
Dorothy Hornbeck, JKPR, (505) 797-6673, dhornbeck@jameskorenchen.com
Rae Ann Paden, UNM Cancer Center, (505) 925-0480 RPaden@salud.unm.edu

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