Jan. 27, 2005 -- Cleveland tipped its hand last year in October when its medical institutions scheduled a cancer nanotechnology symposium that coincided with a nanomedicine summit and a weeklong event to showcase nanotechnology in the area. The symposium provided a platform for the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to discuss a $144.3 million, five-year initiative to develop nano-based approaches for diagnosing and treating cancer.
The initiative includes almost $91 million to establish five research centers that bring together a region's academic, medical and business resources. And Cleveland, an industrial city with a rust-belt reputation, holds a few aces that make it a contender for an award.
"It's a very attractive RFA," said Derek Raghavan, director of the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Center. RFA stands for "request for application," the formal document agencies provide for soliciting grant submissions. "We're exploring whether we can do it."
The Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, which includes the Taussig center and the Ireland Cancer Center at University Hospitals of Cleveland, sponsored the NCI's symposium. The symposium followed a nanomedicine summit hosted by the Cleveland Clinic, which in turn dovetailed with NanoWeek. The events also overlapped with a traveling nanobiotech exhibit at the HealthSpace Cleveland museum.
Cleveland offers technical and clinical foundations that are converging to make it a hub for nanomedicine, said Mark Brandt, managing partner of the Maple Fund in Cleveland. The fund specializes in early-stage nanotechnology ventures. Brandt pointed to well-established microsystems programs at Case University (also known as CaseWestern Reserve) and the NASA Glenn Research Center as proof of the region's strength.
Case houses a micro and nano processing center, a microfabrication facility and an engineering faculty renown for work in silicon carbide microsystems. More robust than silicon, silicon carbide withstands harsh conditions such as heat or salt. Microsystems exposed to extreme temperatures such as the heat of an engine or the cold of outer space or to the saline-rich environment of biomedical implants often fare better when they are made of silicon carbide. NASA Glenn, which collaborates with Case, also recently partnered with the Cleveland Clinic to launch a space medicine center.
The Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Center includes a bioMEMS and nanotechnology program that focuses on innovative devices. The Case Comprehensive Cancer Center is developing nanotechnologies for detecting cancer and delivering drugs to tumors. But the various research institutions' willingness to partner and share resources may prove their strongest attribute if the city positions itself for the NCI award, Raghavan said. NCI wants its centers to bring together academic and clinical institutions for multidisciplinary research.
"Rather than competing, we're collaborating," he said. "The clinic has clinical dominance in this area, but Case has wonderful science. If we pool our resources, we can be more competitive."
Cleveland's demographics and local support play into its chances. A survey conducted as part of northeast Ohio's biomedical economic development initiative reported a 31 percent growth rate in the number of biomedical professionals in the region between the 1980s and the 1990s. It cited the region's mix of research, educational institutions and health care industry as competitive strengths.
"This is not a wealthy town right now," Raghavan said. "But it's supportive.
"The community is keen to make this place an academic center."