NIH News Release
National Cancer Institute

Friday, October 8, 1999

Contact: NCI Press Office
(301) 496-6641

NCI Awards First Contracts for Unconventional Innovations Program

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) announced today that it has awarded the first five contracts of an innovative new program to develop novel, "one-stop" technologies capable of both detecting and destroying tumor cells. If successful, the research would lay the technological framework for a future in which people at risk for cancer might receive body scans or other non-invasive tests that sense the telltale early chemical features that are unique to developing tumors and eliminate them.

The five contracts, totaling nearly $11.3 million over three years, were awarded to: University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (James Baker, M.D., principle investigator - $4,427,711), to develop nano-scale devices for detecting and treating cancer; University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia (Britton Chance, Ph.D., principle investigator - $2,005,552 ), to study a novel optical technique using Near Infrared to identify precancerous and cancerous tumors; University of Alabama at Birmingham, (David Curiel, M.D., principle investigator - $1,780,510), to study a novel system to define tumor cell signatures; University of California at Davis (N.C. Luhmann, Jr., principle investigator - $1,611,670), to investigate a prototype compact device to produce high-contrast X-rays; and, NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., (Meyya Meyyapan, Ph.D., principle investigator - $1,468,957), to study a novel carbon nanotube-based biosensor and a prototype biosensor catheter.

Today's announcement marks the first in a series of contracts that will be awarded over the next three years as a part of the NCI's Unconventional Innovations Program (UIP). The new program supports peer-reviewed, high-risk, high-impact ideas that have the potential to revolutionize cancer care. According to Carol Dahl, Ph.D., who heads the new program, an important function of UIP is that it engages multidisciplinary teams with expertise in diverse scientific fields that traditionally have not worked together in studying cancer. These teams include investigators with backgrounds in engineering, physics, chemistry, and the computational sciences.

"For cancer research to capitalize on the emerging opportunities in technology and translate them into improved patient care, there needs to be cross-talk among researchers throughout the sciences, and in industry and academia," said Dahl. "The UIP aims to stimulate this dialogue and capture the fruits of these collaborations."

The UIP builds on progress in defining cancer based on the unique molecular and physical characteristics of individual tumors. As an example of this progress, the NCI's Tumor Gene Index program reported last summer that it already has catalogued over 66,400 genes in its first two years that are active, directly or indirectly, in cancer. Such discoveries are now providing the raw data for scientists to begin assembling the first molecular profiles of various tumor cells.

"With the infrastructure now in place to begin defining cancers according to the very molecules that are fueling their growth, it is crucial to begin envisioning and creating the technology platforms that can be used to access this molecular information and revolutionize cancer detection, diagnosis, and treatment," said Richard Klausner, M.D., NCI director.

For more information about UIP, go to

For more information about cancer visit NCI's Web site for patients, public, and the mass media at