Georgia Institute of Technology's Integrated Cancer Research Center will bring together 48 biologists, bioengineers, chemists, and physicists from across the institute and partner organizations to carry out innovative collaborations that will advance the understanding and treatment of cancer.
Georgia Institute of Technology has launched an Integrated Cancer Research Center (ICRC) that will bring together 48 biologists, bioengineers, chemists, and physicists from across the institute and affiliated organizations to carry out innovative collaborations that will advance the understanding and treatment of cancer.
“Specialization is very important in cancer research, but when you try to piece together the entire story, it can be hindered if people are in silos that don't communicate,” notes John McDonald, PhD, head of the ICRC and professor of biology and associate dean for biology program development at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
Although many research groups are now boosting cross-disciplinary research, the ICRC seeks to take another step to ensure that the intellectual flow goes back and forth among all investigators—rather than simply having engineers provide biologists with tools for investigating questions or delivering therapies. “We want to actively bring engineers into a 2-way intellectual process in the discovery phase in cancer science,” McDonald says.
In one previous example of such research, McDonald collaborated with Todd Sulchek, PhD, a mechanical engineer, in a project that employed atomic force microscopy to directly measure relative cell stiffness and demonstrated that this technique may effectively indicate the metastatic potential of cancer cells. The researchers went on to develop a high-throughput microfluidic device that can continuously separate cancer cells from normal cells using variation in cell stiffness.
Putting such informal partnerships under the umbrella of the new center provides opportunities to accelerate creative interactions. It also helps attract funding for research projects and training both from Georgia Tech and outside sources, McDonald says. He hopes that much of the funding for such collaborative projects will go directly toward graduate students and post-docs, “because they will have a foot in both worlds, and their whole future will depend on making the projects work.”
Truly cross-disciplinary research projects may be difficult to pull off in traditional academic medical centers, McDonald says, if the centers lack deep expertise in computer science, bioengineering, physics, and chemistry. “I believe that technical institutes such as Georgia Tech and Massachusetts Institute of Technology will contribute more and more to cancer diagnosis and treatment because of their ability to collaborate and innovate,” he says.