May 2004, Issue 2

Expanding Cancer Research at Tufts-NEMC and Tufts University

The first year of the Molecular Oncology Research Institute (MORI) has been very successful. According to the institute's executive director, Philip Tsichlis, MD, "within a year and a half, we have an institute with twelve outstanding investigators." Located at 75 Kneeland Street, the institute was established by Tufts-NEMC to bring together a team of researchers who will explore the molecular underpinnings of cancer and translate this research into new clinical knowledge and treatments.

Before coming to Tufts-NEMC, Tsichlis worked at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, and the National Cancer Institute. He is now back where his initial interest in cancer research took root: Tsichlis was a hematology fellow at Tufts-NEMC and then a postdoctoral research fellow in the laboratory of John Coffin, PhD, at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Tsichlis has several goals in mind for the Molecular Oncology Research Institute. The first is to expand the number of research laboratories from the current 12 to between 16 and 20, which will be done when the institute's third floor becomes available. In addition to Tsichlis, MORI investigators include Nickolai Barlev, PhD; Rachel Buchsbaum, MD; Lidija Covic, PhD; Keyong Du, PhD; Fotini Gounari, PhD, DSc; Philip W. Hinds, PhD; Mircea Ivan, MD, PhD; Athan Kuliopulos, MD, PhD; Ioanna Maroulakou, PhD; K. Eric Paulson, PhD; and Richard Van Etten, MD, PhD. "We have a lot of strengths," Tsichlis says, "but there are certain areas in which we would like to become stronger."

The second goal is to enhance research core facilities on the Health Sciences Campus and provide unique core facilities within the institute. Expansion from twelve to twenty researchers will increase demand on existing core facilities at Tufts-NEMC and Tufts. The MORI decided that they needed a proteomics core first. To this end, a mass spectrometer and other necessary equipment were
purchased and an Mircea Ivan, MD, PhD, investigator with expertise in
proteomics, and Christine Andrews, PhD, a research associate who specializes
in mass spectrometry, were hired. The proteomics research facility is expected to contribute substantially to existing projects and to function more as a collaborative laboratory than a service provider by facilitating new lines of investigation. The facility will begin operations by assisting MORI investigators and their collaborators. As the facility becomes fully operational, it will probably expand it services to cover researchers on the Health Sciences Campus.

The third goal, and the most important in Tsichlis' opinion, is to establish an NCI-designated cancer center at Tufts, of which the MORI would be one component. For such an initiative to become a reality, cooperation and interaction among researchers interested in cancer at all Tufts institutions will be needed. This type of interchange, Tsichlis says, will insure that the center will be composed of an outstanding group of researchers who can take science from the laboratory to the patient. "I think if we get the National Cancer Institute designation, it would be a defining moment for Tufts-NEMC and Tufts University," Tsichlis says.

Tsichlis has started collaborations with several investigators within the group, and is planning to submit a program project grant in collaboration with three institute researchers within the next several months. Philip Hinds is also putting together a program project grant for breast cancer that will involve people from both the MORI and the Medical School. As regular MORI meetings get underway, and as new MORI investigators explore the wealth of expertise within the broader Boston research community, Tsichlis expects collaborations to multiply and become even stronger.

The Molecular Oncology Research Institute has begun hosting regular seminars. Alan D'Andrea from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute gave the first seminar, "Fanconi anemia and the BRCA pathway in DNA damage response." Future seminars will be announced on the MORI website.

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