Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has launched a collaborative translational research center that will unite researchers specializing in two rapidly growing fields: molecular imaging and nanotechnology.
The new Center for Molecular Imaging and Nanotechnology (CMINT) will speed research into the biology of cancers and augment the development of innovative treatments — including molecularly based, image-guided therapies — as well as diagnostic and prognostic tools, by creating strong teams of researchers working in diverse areas such as cancer biology, medicine, chemistry, developmental biology, physics, radiochemistry, immunology, genomics, pharmacology, and engineering.
“One of our goals is to start conversations between scientists who image cells under the microscope and those who look at cancer in patients,” says radiochemist Jason S. Lewis, PhD, who will serve as the inaugural Director of the CMINT. “Traditionally the two areas haven’t had much overlap, but the way of the future is to bridge them.”
Hedvig Hricak, MD, PhD, Chair of the Department of Radiology, elaborates: “Every time you create an infrastructure that fosters collaboration and cross-fertilization of ideas, everyone learns faster, so research accelerates. By tying together multiple basic and clinical science disciplines, we maximize our chances of finding effective solutions to clinical problems and translating them into medical applications that ultimately will help patients.”
Traditionally considered separate disciplines, molecular imaging and nanotechnology are inherently linked at Memorial Sloan Kettering. The unique and exciting properties of nanomaterials offer new, ‘smart’ therapies consisting of tiny particles to target drugs to cancer sites, as well as sensors for improved cancer detection. Molecular imaging makes it possible to observe and measure biological processes in living cells or tissues over time — without disrupting them — by lighting them up with specific imaging agents. The development of molecular imaging technologies has transformed the way cancers are diagnosed, monitored, and treated.
“One of the most powerful ways to learn about cancer is to visualize it,” Dr. Lewis notes. “Molecular imaging is a very powerful way to interrogate pure biology, both at the cellular level and in humans. For example, it allows us to track the distribution of a drug or measure its activity in a patient’s body, and it can also help clinicians learn as much as possible about a new therapy when testing it in a clinical trial.”
“Molecular imaging can itself play an important role in the development and translation of new nanotechnology innovations,” adds Dr. Hricak, “and nanotechnology will allow the development of many new molecular imaging tracers.”
In collaboration with Hunter College, the CMINT will also support a graduate training program in molecular imaging and nanotechnology. “There is a lack of PhD scientists who are well-trained in these disciplines, and it’s really becoming an issue,” Dr. Lewis says. “Yet the goal of the program is not necessarily to have all our students become ‘molecular imagers’ but rather to help them learn and appreciate what imaging can do to augment whatever research area they choose to pursue. I see it as a way to train the very best biomedical scientists.”