UNC Lineberger grant application earns NCI’s highest recognition

September 20, 2015

The UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center has earned an “exceptional” rating from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for a major grant application associated with the center’s multidisciplinary research.

The rating was given to UNC Lineberger’s application to the NCI for renewal of a five-year grant that supports multidisciplinary research and shared scientific core resources for hundreds of scientists and clinicians in addition to other key center functions. The rating is the highest that a cancer center can earn for the application.

“This recognition speaks to the excellence of our researchers’ work in a wide range of disciplines, from clinical research to cancer genetics to breast cancer and molecular therapeutics,” said Norman E. Sharpless, MD, director of UNC Lineberger and  Wellcome Distinguished Professor in Cancer Research. “We are striving to leverage this high-impact research to ultimately reduce cancer incidence and mortality across North Carolina.”

The rating followed a rigorous institutional review with a site visit by a panel of 22 peer reviewers. UNC Lineberger researchers made presentations to demonstrate the depth and breadth of their work spanning the basic sciences, population sciences, clinical sciences and translational research.

Researchers presented in each of nine program areas — cancer cell biology, immunology research, molecular therapeutics, virology, cancer genetics, clinical and translational research, breast cancer, cancer prevention and control, and cancer epidemiology.

They highlighted initiatives such as the planned launch of a new immunotherapy program, in which researchers plan to fight cancer using immune system T-cells engineered to recognize and directly target a patient’s own cancer. In cancer genetics, they highlighted work on an ongoing clinical trial to analyze the genetic profiles of patients’ tumors in order to find clinically actionable genetic alterations.

A number of faculty members from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health — including biostatisticians, epidemiologists, health behaviorists and others — are members and leaders at the cancer center. UNC Lineberger’s population sciences programs – Cancer Prevention and Control and Cancer Epidemiology – made a good showing in NCI’s review. They were rated “exceptional” and “outstanding,” respectively.

Dr. Kurt Ribisl

Dr. Kurt Ribisl

Dr. Andy Olshan

Dr. Andy Olshan

Kurt Ribisl, PhD, professor of health behavior in the Gillings School, and Ethan Basch, MD, associate professor of health policy and management in the Gillings School and of hematology and oncology in the UNC School of Medicine, lead the Cancer Prevention and Control program. Andrew Olshan, PhD, professor and chair, and Melissa Troester, PhD, associate professor, both in the Gillings School’s Department of Epidemiology, lead the Cancer Epidemiology program.

“The UNC Lineberger site visit presentations began with the two presentations from the Gillings School,” said Olshan, who also is associate director for population sciences at the cancer center. “We demonstrated the success of these programs and their importance to the cancer center’s mission, a perspective reinforced by the very positive reviews from the NCI site visit team.”

“We have a clear convergence of excellence at UNC Lineberger, with disciplines from across campus coming together,” Sharpless said. “We continue to show excellence across our programs – from the Cancer Prevention and Control Program, which has made major progress in tobacco research and other work, to our clinical research program, which has made great strides under new leadership.”

UNC Lineberger is one of 45 NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. The center receives that designation by meeting rigorous criteria for world-class, state-of-the-art programs in multidisciplinary research.

The core grant, from NCI, supports resources shared by UNC Lineberger researchers, including management and oversight of cutting-edge clinical trials research, biostatistical and bioinformatics analysis, tumor genomic sequencing and high-resolution imaging.

“Great scientists come to places like this, where we have resources that allow us to bring together experts from multiple disciplines – ranging from genetics to biostatistics – to all be a part of the solution,” said Chad Ellis, PhD, UNC Lineberger associate director. “With this core grant application rating, we are recognized as one of the elite cancer centers in NCI’s cancer centers program.”

Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu

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