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November 3, 2005


Award Funds Two Pilot Cancer Studies, Training Programs

NEW YORK, November 3, 2005 – The City College of New York (CCNY) Biomedical Engineering Department announced that it has received a $750,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute to conduct cancer research and training activities in partnership with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC).

The grant will fund two pilot projects: one to understand the role of permeability of blood vessels in the metastasis of cancers and develop possible strategies for preventing metastases; the other to determine whether electrical stimulation of tumors can help chemotherapy drugs target malignant cells.  John Tarbell, Distinguished Professor and Chair of Biomedical Engineering, is principal investigator for the grant, which runs for three years.

The permeability study will attempt to identify whether chemical growth factors increase the leakiness of microvessel walls and make it easier for cancer cells that enter the blood stream to escape and enter different organs.  “If we can understand this phenomenon, we may be able to develop strategies to block metastases,” said Professor Tarbell.

“A lot of people are studying how cancer cells enter the bloodstream from the original tumors.  We want to prevent them from getting out of the bloodstream to other organs,” added Associate Professor Bingmei Fu, the co-investigator on the project.  She plans to replicate the conditions of a leaky microvessel wall and measure the different impacts that benign and malignant cells have.  Her hypothesis is that integrins at the tumor cell surface can attach the cell more easily to a microvessel wall if the wall is leaky.

The electro-chemotherapy study holds the potential to increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy treatment and reduce unwanted side effects by guiding the drugs to the malignant cells that need to be destroyed without harming healthy cells.  Researchers plan to apply small electrical shocks to tumors to either increase the permeability of the small blood vessels supplying the tumor to allow drugs to reach it from the bloodstream or to break down cell membranes and make it easier for anti-cancer drugs to get in.

“The latter technique, called electro-poration, is the equivalent of drilling holes through cell membranes,” said Professor Tarbell.  “In the first technique, we’re using electrical fields to open tight junctions between endothelial cells.”

“Right now, chemotherapy doesn’t work well for many people,” explained Marom Bikson, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering and co-investigator.  “The challenge is to deliver the drugs locally so they will target only cancer cells and not destroy healthy cells.”  He added that CCNY would also develop electro-chemotherapy stimulation devices that could be used in a clinical setting.

Additional uses of the grant proceeds include training undergraduate and graduate biomedical engineering students in cancer research, academic forums, faculty interest groups and training programs to stimulate and support development of competitive research proposals in biomedical engineering and cancers.

The projects are the fourth and fifth collaborations, respectively, between the Biomedical Engineering Department and MSKCC under the umbrella of the CCNY-MSKCC partnership established in 2003.  CCNY’s biology, chemistry and psychology departments are also engaged in collaborative projects with Memorial Sloan-Kettering.  In addition, Memorial Sloan-Kettering is a member of the New York Center for Biomedical Engineering, a partnership among The City University of New York and six area teaching hospitals.

About The City College of New York

For over 158 years, The City College of New York has provided low-cost high-quality education for New Yorkers in a wide variety of disciplines.  Over 12,200 students pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in the College of Liberal Arts and Science, the School of Architecture, the School of Education, the School of Engineering, the Center for Worker Education and the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education.