Upstate News

June 14, 2010

Upstate opens Cancer Research Institute

Ziwei Huang, Ph.D in front of the Cancer Center
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — In a move designed to escalate the war on cancer, SUNY Upstate Medical University has opened the Upstate Cancer Research Institute (CRI) in Weiskotten Hall to serve as the hub of tens millions of dollars of research activity, most of it aimed at finding new cancer treatments.

The opening marks the first major public academic cancer institute in Central New York and a significant step toward realizing the vision and strategic plan of Upstate in becoming a premier center in cancer research.

“Cancer is a disease that affects tens of millions of people around the world, so it makes sense that Upstate elevates its research stature in this area,” said Steven Goodman, Ph.D. “The center will be the nexus of all our cancer research activity.”

Leading the CRI is Ziwei Huang, Ph.D., professor and chair of the pharmacology department, who joined the Upstate faculty last August. An internationally acclaimed cancer researcher, Huang says the center’s existence will greatly influence Upstate’s cancer research.

“The center will yield immediate benefits as it brings together our basic science and clinical departments to make our cancer research efforts more organized, more effective and more competitive in landing external grants,” Huang said.

“More importantly, it will enable us to find new ways to better detect, prevent and cure cancer, the nation’s second-leading cause of death.”

Huang expects the amount of Upstate’s research expenditures for cancer-related studies to grow significantly, along with the number of both basic science and clinical faculty who are conducting cancer research.

The CRI researchers will focus on five key areas: cancer biology, structural and chemical biology and bioinformatics, viral oncology, stem cell research and drug discovery and translational research.

Work in the area of drug discovery will be housed in the CRI’s drug development center that aims to accelerate research and testing into new cancer therapies with the hope of bringing them to the bedside in the near future.

“The emphasis for all of our efforts in the research lab is to bring better outcomes for the patients who are on the frontlines of the cancer battle, by making a fast, efficient translation from laboratory to the bedside,” Huang said.

Huang’s own work on creating new cancer drugs is close to advancing to a clinical trial in hopes of creating a new class of anti-cancer drugs using synthetic molecules that have been shown to destroy the resisting shield of cancer cells against conventional chemotherapies and radiation therapies.

Located in Weiskotten Hall, the CRI features research labs, including the drug development center on the sixth floor. Significant laboratory and facility space has been allocated to the CRI for future growth.

The CRI will collaborate closely with Upstate’s planned Cancer Center, expected to open in the fall of 2012. This 90,000-square foot patient care facility is set to become the region’s most comprehensive resource for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and related disorders.

Already patients at Upstate are involved in nearly 140 clinical trials related to treatments for a variety of cancers, including prostate, lung, breast, lymphoma and leukemia.

The CRI already has attracted scientific leaders from around the world to join its mission. Andrew Hamilton, vice chancellor of the University of Oxford and former provost of Yale University, has been named the institute’s scientific advisor.

Other members of the advisory board are Joseph Bertino, M.D., associate director and chief science officer of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey; Dennis Carson, M.D., director of University of California, San Diego’s Moore’s Cancer Center; Curt Civin, M.D., director of the Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Maryland; Wayne Hendrickson, Ph.D., of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Columbia University; Said Sebti, Ph.D., of the Drug Discovery Program at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Paul Wender, Ph.D., Bergstrom Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University.

The CRI will also seek university partnerships in cancer research, especially drug development, with Cornell and Syracuse universities, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, University of Buffalo, SUNY Downstate and others and others.

“We want the map of prominent cancer research institutions to feature Syracuse and Central New York, and the momentum to achieve that is building rapidly,” Huang said.

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