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M. D. Anderson, UT Health Science Center at Houston Break Ground on New Imaging Research Facility

Academia, Government and Industry Collaborate to Develop New Technologies that Visualize Body's Processes at Molecular, Cellular Levels

M. D. Anderson News Release 04/10/07

Ground was broken today (April 10) at The University of Texas Research Park for a joint research facility dedicated to developing novel agents and imaging technologies that detect heart disease, cancer and other illnesses at their earliest - and most treatable or preventable - stages.

A collaboration between The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and in cooperation with GE Healthcare and the Texas Enterprise Fund, the Center for Advanced Biomedical Imaging Research brings together the resources and expertise of academia, government and industry to take imaging beyond its current capacity of visualizing the body's anatomy.

Scheduled for completion in late 2009, the six-story Center for Advanced Biomedical Imaging Research is the fourth building to be constructed and one of six centers that will comprise M. D. Anderson's Red and Charline McCombs Institute for the Early Detection and Treatment of Cancer. The McCombs Institute is located on the UT Research Park.

The 315,000-square-foot building will accommodate state-of-the-art research laboratories for synthetic and analytical chemistry, biochemistry, molecular and cellular biology and facilities for production of clinical-grade imaging agents such as radiopharmaceuticals, nanoparticle-based agents, gene-reporter and cellular tracers.

The building also will house UT-Houston's new Department of Biomedical Engineering.

The first floor of the facility will accommodate a translational imaging core that will include technologies supplied by GE Healthcare. M. D. Anderson and UT-Houston will utilize the core that includes a cyclotron, radiochemistry modules for production and labeling with radionuclides, a combination positron emission tomography (PET)/computed tomography (CT) unit, a volume CT unit and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) unit. Other technologies and applications developed by GE Healthcare and M. D. Anderson will be tested on-site as well.

According to Juri Gelovani, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of M. D. Anderson's Department of Experimental Diagnostic Imaging and director of the center, M. D. Anderson will conduct a wide range of clinical and technical research to complement new instrumentation. Projects include development of molecular probes and imaging approaches to detect early cancers through visualization of cellular, biochemical, signal transduction and genetic processes involved in the genesis and growth of cancer as well as optical instrumentation, digital imaging, genetic and cellular tracers and new contrast agents.

With the close proximity of the Center for Advanced Biomedical Imaging Research to the McCombs Institute's centers for targeted therapies, immunology, proton therapy, metastasis and molecular markers, the opportunity for interaction and information exchange is ideal, said Gelovani. The new UT Dental Branch and two additional UT-Houston facilities to be located in the Research Park will broaden applications beyond cancer and cardiovascular disease, he added.

"Advanced molecular and cellular imaging is vital not only to treating patients with novel targeted therapies but also to understanding the biological processes of cancer and diseases of the heart and central nervous system," said Gelovani. "Advances made at this center are particularly exciting because new technologies will enable physicians to individualize the selection of therapies and determine within days or possibly hours, rather than months, whether a particular treatment is effective. We expect to make quantum leaps in development and clinical translation of nanoparticle-based, immune and stem cell therapies."

"The unique arrangement that this facility offers with its diversity of clinicians, basic scientists, chemists, physics experts and industry representatives is reflective of the innovation that will emerge from this center in the coming years," said John Mendelsohn, M.D., president of M. D. Anderson. "It also is indicative of the high-quality collaborations the UT Research Park can attract to accelerate progress."

UT - Houston will occupy the top two floors of the six-story building with the top floor dedicated to the nanoparticle program of Mauro Ferrari, Ph.D., professor at UT-Houston and M. D. Anderson, director of nanotechnology at UT's Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Disease (IMM) and president of the Alliance for NanoHealth. Other UT Health Science Center researchers, under the direction of Vice President for Biotechnology S. Ward Casscells III M.D., will explore new ways to detect dangerous plaques in the cardiovascular system.

"Noninvasive imaging of the heart, brain, blood vessels and cancer in the earliest stages of disease are key to prevention and treatment of some of the catastrophic diseases of our time," said James T. Willerson, M.D., president of the UT - Houston and president-elect of the Texas Heart Institute. "This facility will allow us to be at the very forefront of prevention and treatment of heart and vascular disease and cancer."

According to Peter Davies, M.D., Ph.D., UT-Houston's executive vice president for research, the dedicated facility will enable scientists and engineers to work together and accelerate the development of new technologies.

"Our goal is to bring together some of our most talented scientists and biomedical engineers in an environment that will foster their collaboration with colleagues at M. D. Anderson and GE Healthcare," Davies said.

For GE Healthcare, which is installing major pieces of imaging equipment and providing physics support, the center will provide a dynamic laboratory setting anchored by a strong motivation to move findings quickly into patient care settings.

"This collaboration embodies our vision of Early Health by leading the way in allowing physicians to better pinpoint and diagnose diseases in the future," said Gene Saragnese, vice president and general manager of GE Healthcare's CT and Molecular Imaging business. "The ability to examine and understand disease processes in their fundamental stages has the potential to lead to a number of advancements in medicine, including earlier detection of disease, the development of more targeted therapies and the ability to monitor treatment more closely."

The McCombs Institute, which will be home to nearly 25% of M. D. Anderson's research activities when completed in 2011, is located on the UT Research Park about 1.5 miles south of M. D. Anderson's main campus. Already open on the site are three research buildings, a conference center and M. D. Anderson's Proton Therapy Center. Yet to be built, in addition to the Center for Advanced Biomedical Imaging Research Center, is the Center for Targeted Therapy. The institute is funded through philanthropy, the Texas Enterprise Fund, the city of Houston, corporate partners and public/private partnerships.

UT-Houston soon will break ground on three additional buildings in the UT Research Park, close to the Center for Advanced Biomedical Imaging Research. These facilities will include a new Neuroscience Center, a $42 million Biomedical Research and Education Center for stem cell discoveries and a new home for the UT Dental Branch (completion estimated for 2010).  The new dental school likely will cost at least $90 million - but $78 million already is in hand, including $60 million in state Tuition Revenue Bonds and $18 million in UT System Permanent University Funds. The remainder will be solicited from foundations and private individuals, explained Willerson.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center