The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has awarded Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University two grants totaling $ 8 million to study the microenvironments that drive the spread of cancer from the primary tumor to other parts of the body in the process known as metastasis.

Although metastasis is responsible for the vast majority of cancer-related deaths, our understanding of this complex process is extremely limited and so are the opportunities for preventing metastatic disease,” – John Condeelis Ph.D. professor

The first grant, for $ 4 million over five years, will establish a tumor microenvironment research center (TMEN Center) at Einstein, one of 11 new national centers created by NCI’s Tumor Microenvironment Network. The Einstein center will be led by principal investigator Dr. Condeelis and co-principal investigator Vladislav Verkhusha, Ph.D., professor of anatomy and structural biology.

The scientists will study two types of primary-tumor microenvironments. The first type programs cancer cells to disseminate from the primary tumor as dormant tumor cells. These cells eventually awaken after many years and give rise to recurrent cancers at distant sites – a condition currently not possible to detect and treat.

Also under investigation is the type of microenvironment that controls whether disseminating tumor cells will grow immediately upon arrival at distant sites and are therefore sensitive to treatment.

The research will focus on breast and head and neck tumors, but the results should be applicable to a wide variety of solid tumors. Other investigators on this grant are from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York; College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering, University at Albany, State University of New York; and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In a second $ 4 million NCI grant, titled “In vivo multiphoton based imaging of complex cancer cell behavior,” Einstein investigators will study the spread of breast tumor cells from the primary tumor using cutting-edge research methods including: high-resolution multiphoton microscopy (capable of imaging breast tumors at the single-cell level), advanced fluorescent proteins (which allow multicolor deep-tissue imaging and studies of dynamics of metastasis), and a novel methodology that uses computer modeling to analyze cancer (which may be able to identify the genes that propel cell migration, dissemination and other tumor-cell behaviors involved in metastasis).

One important factor in securing the grants is the advanced imaging capacity of the Gruss Lipper Biophotonics Center, which was established through the generous support of Evelyn Gruss Lipper, M.D., an Einstein alumna, former faculty member and former member of the Board of Overseers.