Researchers at ASU (Arizona State University) plan to study cancer using a different perspective as they begin work in a new research center on the Tempe campus.
Rather than studying cancer’s biological characteristics, researchers in ASU’s Center for Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology will look into the physical science aspects of the disease, said Paul Davies, the center’s principal investigator.
The center will be funded by a grant from the National Cancer Institute worth $1.7 million annually for five years, Davies said.
The center’s main focus is a cancer forum made up of three workshops — the first of which will be held in December, he said.
“The primary purpose of the cancer forum is to bring together scientists from all over the world,” he said. “Not people necessarily working on cancer but just clever physical scientists, mathematicians, people like that who are used to thinking about complex problems and getting them to work by trying out various ideas.”
Davies said he hopes big breakthroughs will be made through the cancer forum.
“I’m not interested in finding out what people know about cancer,” he said. “I’m interested in finding out what people don’t know. That’s the important part.”
“Cancer, until recently, has been approached from the genetic-research perspective, so this is one of the early steps for deviating from that type of research and looking at cancer from a physics perspective,” he said.
ASU is one of 12 Physical Sciences-Oncology Centers receiving a total of $22.7 million in funding this year from the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute.
Larry Nagahara, program director for the Physical Sciences-Oncology Program of the National Cancer Institute, said the program was started because the National Cancer Institute believes cancer could be better understood if it were approached through different perspectives.
“One community that wasn’t really engaged in the cancer community were the physical scientists and the engineers,” he said, “so this call is basically trying to invite them to come and have their unique perspectives together with the cancer biologists and oncologists to see how they can answer some major questions in cancer.”
Davies said the creation of Physical Sciences-Oncology Program is an extraordinary and courageous step by the National Cancer Institute. “It’s just what we need to see dramatic progress in a subject that has really resisted any major breakthrough in the decades it’s been researched,” Davies said.
The center’s research is important because cancer is a disease that affects everyone, he said.
“I think every family has somebody with cancer or who has died of cancer, so in terms of the human dimension, it does touch everybody,” he said. “At the end of the day … I would like to feel that we’re going to contribute in some way to improving the quality of life of cancer sufferers and removing it as one of the major killer diseases that’s out there.”