by Jason Kornwitz

North­eastern Uni­ver­sity has received a five-​​year, $1.15 mil­lion grant from the National Insti­tutes of Health’s National Cancer Insti­tute to train the next gen­er­a­tion of cancer nanomed­i­cine sci­en­tists and clin­i­cians through a unique expe­ri­en­tial learning program.

The grant aligns with Northeastern’s focus on dis­cov­ering solu­tions to global chal­lenges in health, one of the university’s three pro­gram­matic pillars.

“Nan­otech­nology is leading to break­throughs in diag­nosis and therapy of many dis­eases, par­tic­u­larly cancer, leading to the new dis­ci­pline of cancer nanomed­i­cine,” said prin­cipal inves­ti­gator Srinivas Sridhar, Northeastern’s Arts and Sci­ence Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Physics, Bio­engi­neering, and Chem­ical Engi­neering, and the director of the university’s IGERT Nanomed­i­cine Sci­ence and Tech­nology pro­gram. “Advances in the field are begin­ning to have rev­o­lu­tionary impact on healthcare.”

The cen­ter­piece of the new pro­gram, which is called “CaN­CURE: Cancer Nanomed­i­cine Co-​​ops for Under­grad­uate Research Expe­ri­ences,” is a unique part­ner­ship between North­eastern and the Ini­tia­tive to Elim­i­nate Cancer Dis­par­i­ties at the Dana-​​Farber/​Harvard Cancer Center. The DF/ ​HCC is the world’s largest com­pre­hen­sive cancer center, bringing together the research efforts of its seven member insti­tu­tions, com­prising Beth Israel Dea­coness Med­ical Center, Boston Children’s Hos­pital, Brigham and Women’s Hos­pital, Mass­a­chu­setts Gen­eral Hos­pital, Dana-​​Farber Cancer Insti­tute, Har­vard Med­ical School, and the Har­vard School of Public Health. For more than a decade, the IECD—among the nation’s first inte­grated, inter-​​institutional pro­grams focused on elim­i­nating cancer dis­par­ities—has offered pro­gram­ming to address the com­plex­i­ties of cancer dis­par­i­ties, including training stu­dents, enhancing research, and facil­i­tating access to under­served populations.

Over the next five years, a total of 75 under­grad­uate stu­dents will receive training to study and con­duct cancer nanomed­i­cine research in the lab­o­ra­to­ries of 35 leading sci­en­tists at North­eastern and DF/​HCC. These six-​​month co-​​op expe­ri­ences, facil­i­tated through Northeastern’s co-​​op office, will pro­vide stu­dents in majors ranging from bio­med­ical physics to chem­ical engi­neering with hands-​​on research expe­ri­ence and one-​​on-​​one men­toring from the leading researchers in cancer nanomed­i­cine at these partner institutions.

“These men­tors rep­re­sent some of the world’s best sci­en­tists in cancer nanomed­i­cine research,” Sridhar explained, noting that the under­grad­uate researchers will also have the oppor­tu­nity to col­lab­o­rate with their post­docs and grad­uate stu­dents. “We are tap­ping into an unprece­dented resource of talent and exper­tise for teaching and the stu­dents’ learning envi­ron­ment is going to be absolutely outstanding.”

Sridhar, who expects to enroll the program’s ini­tial cohort of stu­dents this fall, has placed an emphasis on attracting young sci­en­tists from under­rep­re­sented minority groups. “Our goals are well aligned with that of NCI, which wants to ensure that seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion that are under­rep­re­sented in the sci­en­tific and health­care pro­fes­sions have access to oppor­tu­ni­ties in research and pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment,” he said.

All enrollees will par­tic­i­pate in spe­cial­ized work­shops, con­fer­ences, and bi-​​monthly sem­i­nars fea­turing cancer nanomed­i­cine experts. At the con­clu­sion of the year­long pro­gram, each stu­dent will give a pre­sen­ta­tion of his or her work.

“We really want to moti­vate stu­dents to pursue careers in cancer research and clin­ical prac­tice,” Sridhar said.

Originally published in news@Northeastern on August 19, 2014.