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Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah Selected to Join National Cancer Institute’s Systems Biology Consortium

Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) and the College of Pharmacy at University of Utah Health (U of U Health) have been awarded a $9.1 million, five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to serve as a Research Center in NCI's Cancer Systems Biology Consortium (CSBC). HCI is one of nine research institutions nationwide to be selected as a Research Center in the CSBC.

The CSBC Research Centers address questions in basic cancer research, including the emergence of drug resistance, the mechanisms underlying cancer metastasis, and the role of the immune system in cancer progression and treatment.

"Our research team will study resistant breast and ovarian cancer states using systems biology in order to identify treatment strategies for these refractory tumors," said Andrea Bild, PhD, principal investigator at HCI's CSBC and associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at U of U Health.

Research conducted at all nine participating institutions will focus on the analysis of cancer as a complex biological system. CSBC researchers will integrate experimental biology with mathematical and computational modeling to gain insight into processes relevant to cancer initiation, progression, and treatment options.

"This research has the goal and ability to positively impact patient care," said Adam Cohen, MD, HCI medical oncologist and co-investigator of HCI's CSBC, and assistant professor of medicine at U of U Health. "Our team's combined expertise in genomics, genetics, bioinformatics, pharmacology, mathematics, and oncology enables research that translates into the clinic."

The CSBC brings together clinical and basic cancer researchers with physical scientists, engineers, mathematicians and computer scientists to tackle key questions in cancer biology from a novel point of view. "Cancer is a complex disease and it challenges our traditional approaches, making it hard to predict tumor growth and drug response," said Daniel Gallahan, PhD, deputy director of NCI's Division of Cancer Biology. "Cancer systems biologists embrace that complexity and use many different types of data to build mathematical models that allow us to make predictions about whether a tumor will metastasize or what drug combinations will be effective."

In addition to applying systems biology approaches to gain important insight into cancer, each CSBC Research Center supports an outreach program to promote training in interdisciplinary science, disseminate important research findings to the community, and to engage the public in cancer systems biology research.

"The CSBC program encourages team science and promotes a multi-disciplinary approach to studying cancer," said Shannon Hughes, PhD, program director for the CSBC. "These approaches are critical to our ultimate goal of improving the lives of cancer patients."

In addition to Bild and Cohen, other recipients of the grant include Fred Adler, PhD, professor of mathematics and biology at the U of U; Philip Moos, PhD, HCI investigator and assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at U of U Health; Sunil Sharma, MD, HCI deputy director and professor of medicine at U of U Health; and Theresa Werner MD, medical director of clinical trials office at HCI and assistant professor of medicine at U of U Health.


Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah is one of the world's top academic research and cancer treatment centers. HCI manages the Utah Population Database - the largest genetic database in the world, with more than 16 million records linked to genealogies, health records, and vital statistics. Using this data, HCI researchers have identified cancer-causing genes, including the genes responsible for melanoma, colon, and breast cancer. HCI is a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (a 27-member alliance of the world's leading cancer centers) and is a National Cancer Institute-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. HCI treats patients with all forms of cancer and operates several high-risk clinics that focus on melanoma and breast, colon, and pancreas cancers. The HCI Cancer Learning Center for patient and public education contains one of the nation's largest collections of cancer-related publications. The institute is named after Jon M. Huntsman, a Utah philanthropist, industrialist, and cancer survivor.