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Alliance Frequently Asked Questions

August 2011

  1. What is the NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer?
  2. How much is NCI investing in this effort?
  3. What is NCI's experience in cancer-related nanotechnology research and development?
  4. What is the structure of the NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer?
  5. What are the goals of the Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence?
  6. What are the nine hubs that have been recognized and funded by the NCI as Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence?
  7. What are the Cancer Nanotechnology Platform Partnerships and what are their contributions to the Alliance?
  8. What are the Cancer Nanotechnology Training Centers and what is their objective?
  9. What communities are involved in the cancer nanotechnology initiative? Who did NCI consult with in the development of this plan?
  10. Have nanotechnology efforts in cancer advanced since the NCI announced the launch of the Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer in 2004?


1. What is the NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer?

To capitalize on the promise of nanotechnology in cancer, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) launched the Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer in September 2004. The Alliance, built on a strong foundation of science and scientific accomplishment, is a comprehensive, systematized initiative encompassing the public and private sectors. The Alliance is designed to speed the use of nanotechnology to address the major challenges in clinical oncology and basic cancer research.

2. How much is NCI investing in this effort?

In 2004, NCI committed $144.3 million over five years toward the Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer. Based on the success of the program, NCI committed an additional $150 million to support the program from 2010-2015. This initiative is one of several which NCI is funding to further the knowledge and understanding of ways to detect, diagnose, and treat cancer at earlier stages of development.

3. What is NCI's experience in cancer-related nanotechnology research and development?

For nearly two decades, the NCI has taken the lead in integrating nanotechnology into biomedical research through a variety of programs, culminating in the launch of the Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer in 2004. The results of these efforts have demonstrated clearly that melding nanotechnology and cancer research and development efforts will have a profound, transformative effect on how we prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer.

4. What is the structure of the NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer?

The Alliance has five major components:

  • Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNEs) are multidisciplinary centers currently funded by the NCI that are the primary components for discovery and tool development of nanotechnology and their application to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
  • Cancer Nanotechnology Platform Partnerships (CNPPs) are designed to support individual, multidisciplinary research projects that will address major barriers and fundamental questions in cancer using innovative nanotechnology solutions.
  • Cancer Nanotechnology Training Centers (CNTCs) are designed to establish innovative research education programs supporting the development of a multidisciplinary nanotechnology workforce capable of pursuing cancer research.
  • Pathway to Independence Awards in Cancer Nanotechnology Research assist in the transition of post-doctoral scientists working on cancer nanotechnology from mentored environments to independence.
  • The Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory (NCL), established at the NCI's Frederick, Md., facility in 2004, performs and standardizes the preclinical characterization of nanomaterials intended for cancer therapeutics and diagnostics developed by researchers from academia, government and industry.

5. What are the goals of the Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence?

As hubs of the Alliance, the goals of the CCNEs are to design and test nanomaterials and nanodevices and to translate their use into clinical research, resulting ultimately in the introduction of new diagnostic tools and techniques to combat the spread of cancer in the human body. The CCNEs bridge gaps in the development pipeline from materials discovery to testing in clinical trials.

By balancing structured directives with investigator-initiated research, these centers bring together the interdisciplinary teams from existing NCI resources and provide the infrastructure necessary to develop and translate nanotechnology advances to clinics and ultimately to cancer patients.

6. What are the nine hubs that have been recognized and funded by the NCI as Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence?

The nine centers are listed below in alphabetical order. For more information on each center, visit http://nano.cancer.gov/action/programs/ccne.asp.

  • Carolina Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This center focuses on developing innovative and significant core technologies, PRINT (Particle Replication on Non-Wetting Templates) nanoparticles, and carbon-nanotube-based x-ray sources for cancer therapy and early detection of lung, brain and breast cancer. Principle Investigators: Joseph DeSimone, Ph.D. and Joel Tepper, M.D.
  • Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence and Translation, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California. This center focuses on designing and implementing novel in vitro diagnostic devices and verifying their performance using in vivo imaging to monitor lung cancer therapy and for earlier detection of ovarian cancer. Principal Investigators: Sanjiv Sam Gambhir, M.D., Ph.D. and Shan Wang, Ph.D.
  • Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence at Johns Hopkins, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland. This center focuses on developing and integrating nanotechnology-based in vitro assays, targeted chemotherapy and immunotherapy for diagnosis, therapy and post-therapy monitoring of lung and pancreatic cancer. Principal Investigators: Peter Searson, Ph.D. and Martin Pomper, M.D., Ph.D.
  • Center for Translational Cancer Nanomedicine, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts. This center focuses on developing and characterizing nanopreparations that will be tested in vitro and in vivo for their ability to kill tumor cells, with a particular focus on lung, ovarian and pancreatic cancer. Principal Investigators: Vladimir Torchilin, Ph.D., D.Sc. and Nahum Goldberg, M.D.
  • Dartmouth Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire. This center focuses on developing and using novel antibody-targeted magnetic iron/iron oxide nanoparticles, which can be excited by alternate magnetic fields to induce localized hyperthermia in breast and ovarian cancer cells. Principal Investigators: Ian Baker, Ph.D., and Keith Paulsen, Ph.D.
  • MIT-Harvard Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence, MIT and Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, Cambridge, Massachusetts. This center focuses on developing and translating to the clinic a diversified portfolio of nanoscale devices for targeted drug and siRNA delivery, diagnostics, non-invasive imaging and molecular sensing for better diagnosis and treatment of melanoma, prostate and colon cancer. Principal Investigators: Robert Langer, Sc.D., and Ralph Weissleder, M.D., Ph.D.
  • Nanomaterials for Cancer Diagnostics and Therapeutics, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. This center focuses on developing novel nanoscale technologies including highly innovative “nanoflares” for the detection of circulating cancer stem cells and the development of model matrices to clarify cancer biology processes. These technologies have potential clinical use for brain, pancreatic and breast cancer detection, diagnosis and treatment. Principal Investigators: Chad Mirkin, Ph.D. and Steven Rosen, M.D.
  • Nanosystems Biology Cancer Center 2 (NSBCC), California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California. This center focuses on developing and validating tools for early detection, diagnosis and therapy of melanoma, glioblastoma and ovarian cancers through in vitro diagnostics, in vivo molecular imaging and targeted therapies, including adoptive T cell immunotherapies and siRNA delivery. Principal Investigators: Jim Heath, Ph.D., Leroy Hood, M.D., Ph.D. and Michael Phelps, Ph.D.
  • Texas Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, The University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, Texas. This center focuses on developing and applying a diverse array of nanoplatforms for new therapeutics, methodologies for reliable monitoring of therapeutic efficacy, early detection approaches from biological fluids and advances in imaging, and cancer-prevention protocols for ovarian and pancreatic cancers. Principal Investigators: Mauro Ferrari, Ph.D., Anil Sood, M.D. and G. Lopez-Berestein, M.D.

7. What are the Cancer Nanotechnology Platform Partnerships and what are their contributions to the Alliance?

The Cancer Nanotechnology Platform Partnerships (CNPPs) engage in directed, product-focused research that aims to translate cutting-edge science and technology into the next generation of diagnostic and therapeutic tools. These platforms serve as the core technologies for a wide array of specific applications that will ultimately benefit cancer patients.

CNPPs are designed to enable multidisciplinary team research and transformative discoveries in basic and preclinical cancer research. The proposed individual, circumscribed research projects are expected to address major barriers and fundamental questions in cancer biology, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of the disease using innovative nanotechnology solutions. To advance such new nanotechnology discoveries, the platform projects take advantage of the collaborative environment of the Alliance network.

The 12 currently awarded programs are listed below in alphabetical order. For more information on each partnership, visit http://nano.cancer.gov/action/programs/nanotech_platforms.asp.

  • Combinatorial-designed Nano-platforms to Overcome Tumor Resistance, Northeastern University
  • High Capacity Nanocarriers for Cancer Therapeutics, University of Nebraska Medical Center
  • Magnetoresistive Sensor Platform for Parallel Cancer Marker Detection, University of Utah
  • Nanoconjugate Based on Polymalic Acid for Brain Tumor Treatment, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
  • Nanoscale Metal-Organic Frameworks for Imaging and Therapy of Pancreatic Cancer, University of North Carolina
  • Peptide Directed Protocells and Virus-like Particles New Nanoparticle Platforms for Targeted Cellular Delivery of Multicomponent Cargo, University of New Mexico
  • Preclinical Platform for Theranostic Nanoparticles in Pancreatic Cancer, Rice University
  • RNA Nanotechnology in Cancer Therapy, University of Cincinnati
  • Targeting SKY Kinase in B-Lineage ALL with CD-19 Specific C-61 Nanoparticles, Children's Hospital Los Angeles
  • Theranostic Nanoparticles for Targeting Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer, Emory University
  • Toxicity and Efficacy of Gold Nanoparticle Photothermal Therapy in Cancer, Emory University
  • Tumor Targeted Nanobins for the Treatment of Metastatic Breast and Ovarian Cancer, Northwestern University

8. What are the Cancer Nanotechnology Training Centers and what is their objective?

Cancer Nanotechnology Training Centers (CNTCs) are designed to establish innovative research education programs supporting the development of a multi-disciplinary nanotechnology workforce capable of pursuing cancer research. CNTCs target graduate student and post-doctoral researchers with backgrounds in medicine, biology and other health sciences, as well as in the physical sciences, chemistry and engineering. The program of multi-disciplinary research education in cancer nanotechnology is primarily focused on mentored laboratory-based training through participation in dedicated training research projects.

The six currently awarded centers are listed below in alphabetical order. For more information on each center, visit http://nano.cancer.gov/action/programs/cntc.asp.

  • Boston University Cross-Disciplinary Training in Nanotechnology for Cancer, Boston University
  • Integrative Cancer Nanoscience and Microsystems Training Center, University of New Mexico
  • Midwest Cancer Nanotechnology Training Center (M-CNTC), University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  • The Johns Hopkins Cancer Nanotechnology Training Center, Johns Hopkins University
  • The University of Kentucky Cancer Nanotechnology Training Center, University of Kentucky
  • UCSD Cancer Nanotechnology Training Center, University of California San Diego

9. What communities are involved in the cancer nanotechnology initiative? Who did NCI consult with in the development of this plan?

All the key communities involved in cancer research and clinical progress are involved in this cancer nanotechnology initiative, including academic and government scientists, private industry, patient advocacy groups, and other government agencies.

In planning this initiative, the NCI included input from a wide range of sources. To help facilitate the institute's planning processes, discussions were led by a prominent nanotechnologist. Our discussions included expert consultations with cancer biologists, biomedical engineers, physicists, clinical trialists, and patients. Moreover, a series of regional symposia were held that brought together cancer biologists and engineers to help identify key opportunities and strategies for future research. Solicitations were sought from the research community through a request for information and several symposia at cancer research meetings were sponsored by NCI. Also, detailed discussions were held with officials from other Federal agencies associated with the National Nanotechnology Initiative, including the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, Department of Commerce, and Department of Defense.

10. Have nanotechnology efforts in cancer advanced since the NCI announced the launch of the Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer in 2004?

Yes, there has been a significant flow of publications in the scientific literature reporting on discoveries and advances, many of which have been highlighted and summarized at the Alliance website. In addition, numerous nanotechnology-based companies have made announcements about their products in development, some of which are in or approaching human clinical testing. An overview of current clinical trials is also available on the Alliance website. For an update on the latest Alliance accomplishments, visit http://nano.cancer.gov/action/recent/.