February 17, 2009 – The National Institutes of Health have given UCSD’s Rebecca and John Moores Cancer Center a $7.5 million grant to develop new methods for detecting cancer and monitoring its treatment at the newly established In Vivo Cellular and Molecular Imaging Center.
“We want to develop diagnostic tools that define the cancer at its earliest stage, not just whether it is there, but its characteristics,” said Robert Mattrey, M.D., co-principal investigator of the project and radiology professor at the UCSD School of Medicine.
Along with pharmacology, chemistry and biochemistry professor — and recent Nobel laureate — Roger Tsien, Mattrey will lead a project to improve strategies for detecting enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases, which aggressively break down tissue and enable cancers to spread. The research team is developing imaging tools for conducting ultrasounds that will help detect enzymes in prostate and breast cancers.
Mattrey said that clearly determining the aggressiveness of a cancer will likely influence the treatment decisions of both doctors and patients.
In another project, co-principal investigator and professor of radiology David Vera, Ph.D., will collaborate with medicine professor Stephen Howell, M.D., to use nuclear imaging and ultrasounds in virtually tracking cancer cells and monitoring the effectiveness of an experimental, platinum-based chemotherapy drug.
“It’s difficult to know if a drug is reaching its molecular target,” Mattrey said. “It’s not just a matter of knowing that the drug reaches the tumor, but also if it was able to inhibit or stop the chemical reaction that it was designed to do.”
A portion of the grant will also fund a study led by assistant professor of pathology Dwayne Stupack, Ph.D., involving the use of nanoparticles to detect changes in the blood vessels associated with tumors. Stupack hopes to develop an imaging system that will expose tumors in their earliest stages.

Source: The Guardian, University of California, San Diego

For more information: www.ucsdguardian.org

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