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Translational Oncology Program

    "While we know we cannot cure cancer in a day, each day of research moves us one day closer to a cure."
      ~Ashley Harris, Manager for the laboratory of Dr. Elizabeth Lawlor (TOP Research Investigator).

Cancer remains the number two cause of disease-related mortality in the United States and worldwide. Recent articles have reinforced what cancer clinicians know very well; progress in the treatment of the most common forms of cancer has been frustratingly slow yielding modest improvement in survival rates.

In contrast, spectacular advancements have been made in basic research to characterize and understand the fundamental molecular underpinnings that drive cancer. These laboratory discoveries have the potential to completely transform our approach to cancer, but only when the basic molecular knowledge can be translated into practical treatments. The molecular analysis of tumors has revealed significant variation in the pathways that drive tumor growth and metastasis. The discovery of these genes influence has allowed scientists to draw a more accurate road map of the nuances of cancer and its progression. Today's drug development efforts use this map to focus on targeted therapies that tackle cancer specific events with greater precision.

Watch the video and learn how the Translational Oncology Program is moving "one day closer to a cure" for cancer.

Traditional Research

Targeted therapy is now the dominant approach in cancer therapeutics, driving the majority of new cancer drugs being developed in both academic and commercial biotechnology. The development of targeted therapies requires the collaboration of a team of specialized investigators to:

    1.Identify and characterize new molecular targets

    2.Validate these targets in cell cultures and in animal models

    3.Develop new drugs to hit these targets

    4.Test these new drugs in clinical trials

Beth Lawlor, M.D. and Erika Newman, M.D.
Beth Lawlor, M.D., PhD. and Erika Newman, M.D.

The University of Michigan is already one of the leading institutions in the world in a number of areas of basic cancer research and drug discovery. Developing a Translational Oncology Research Engine at the NCRC represents a unique opportunity to translate these important discoveries into clinical advancements that will significantly improve the way cancer is diagnosed and treated.


The Translational Oncology Program (TOP) at the NCRC will provide a platform for highly accomplished investigators to make transformational advances in oncology. The program will include approximately forty accomplished investigators representing 10 schools and institutes across the University, eight of these 10 are ranked in the top ten nationally. For each investigator their research is characterized by:

  • A track record of high impact discoveries
  • Significant levels of NIH peer-reviewed funding
  • A demonstrated commitment to team science
  • An entrepreneurial spirit
  • Potential for interaction with biotechnology hubs at the NCRC
  • A demonstrated dedication to translating basic research findings into clinical applications

Mark Day and members of his lab
Mark Day, PhD. and members of his research team.

A Track Record of Success

Founded by Dr. Max Wicha, the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMCCC) was established in 1988 and facilitates collaborative cancer research throughout the University. The Cancer Center is a matrix organization with 311 members representing 10 schools and institutes across the University. The UMCCC is currently ranked third nationally in peer-reviewed grants support from the National Cancer Institute.

Benefits of Co-location: More Collaboration, Better Ideas

The whole is more forceful than the sum of its parts. In addition to collaborating together, Translational Oncology also works in close proximity with partners who enhance their work such as the researchers at:

  • Center for Computational Medicine and Biology
  • Center for Molecular Imaging
  • Center for Organogenesis
  • MICHR (Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research)
  • Michigan Center for Translational Pathology

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