Research Overview

Image of test tubes

The NCI at Frederick has about 3,000 government and contractor employees with a wide range of expertise in basic, translational, and preclinical research and development in cancer and AIDS.

We conduct basic research into the underlying cause of cancers, and we develop and deploy advanced technologies in such areas as genomics, proteomics, high-performance biomedical computing, nanotechnology, mouse models of human cancer, information systems technology, cGMP biopharmaceutical development, and clinical trials management.


Recent research advances:

T-cell discovery might be used against kidney cancer

Scientists recently discovered a set of T-cells in the immune system that is particularly effective in killing kidney cancer cells. The discovery of this activity in CD4(+) T-cells suggest a new therapeutic strategy against kidney cancer. The researchers are now exploring clinical applications.

Biopharmaceutical Program Supplies Antibody for Childhood Cancer Treatment

A monoclonal antibody shown to be effective against high-risk neuroblastoma, a cancer of nerve tissue, is being manufactured temporarily by the National Cancer Institute at Frederick (NCI at Frederick) as a bridge to commercialization. Neuroblastoma is a relatively rare cancer, but one of the most common in children. NCI at Frederick, a U.S. national laboratory, is meeting an immediate need for the monoclonal antibody, known as chimeric 14.18 (ch14.18) through the NCI’s Biopharmaceutical Development Program (BDP), which is operated by the NCI contractor Leidos. Meanwhile, the process for making ch14.18 is being transitioned to a commercial pharmaceutical manufacturer, United Therapeutics Corp., under an NCI Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA).

Gene implicated in acute myeloid leukemia

Researchers studying the origins of acute myeloid leukemia, a common cancer in adults, have demonstrated a link between a tumor suppressor gene (p15INK4b) and an over-proliferation of white blood cells (myeloid cells). The research suggests that the gene does play a role in development of the disease, but cannot cause the disease by itself. Researchers are also looking at other genes that might also be involved in causing acute myeloid leukemia and evaluating each of the genes as a possible target for therapy.

Nanotechnology in Reformulated Cancer Drugs

NCI at Frederick’s nanotechnology researchers have worked with Nanospectra Biosciences Inc.’s AuroShell and CytImmune Sciences AurImune. AuroShell is a gold-coated nanoshell that absorbs near-infrared laser light to thermally destroy tumors. AurImune is nano-sized gold bound to tumor necrosis factor (TNF). TNF is an exceptionally potent chemotherapeutic that was tested in clinical trials in the 1990s, but had to be discontinued due to severe adverse side effects. In a recent Phase I clinical trial of AurImune, three times what had previously been a lethal dose of TNF was given to patients with almost no ill effects – illustrating how nanotech formulations can greatly reduce the toxicity of chemotherapeutics.

Stem cells in prostate cancer

Studies suggest that not all tumor cells can act as the seeds of new tumors. One of cancer’s biggest threats is the ability to metastasize, to spread from its original location to other locations in the body. Researchers studying prostate cancer have isolated a set of cells that appear to be the seeds, or stem cells, of the tumor. One treatment strategy might be to target these particular cell types with the hope of containing the disease to the original location, making it less of a threat and easier to treat.

Phase 0 Approach Seeks to Cut Costs in New Drug Development

NCI at Frederick scientists participated in the first phase 0 clinical trial of a drug in cancer treatment. The approach is intended to help cut the cost of developing new cancer drugs by doing a very early test run before beginning conventional clinical trials. The goal is to give a low dose of a new drug to a small number of patients to determine if the drug affects its target and is well-tolerated. The first phase 0 trial was a success. It involved 13 patients with advanced cancers who received a low dose of the drug, ABT-888. The drug performed well and subsequently entered Phase I clinical trials for Food and Drug Administration approval.