The Tow Foundation has committed $5 million to Memorial Sloan Kettering to support the creation of the Center for Microbes, Inflammation, and Cancer, a multidisciplinary research initiative designed to shed new light on the role that microbes and the body's inflammatory and immunological responses play in the development of cancer.
The pledge marks the latest in a series of generous gifts from the Foundation and members of the Tow family, led by telecommunications entrepreneur and educator Leonard Tow, his wife Claire, and the Foundation's executive director, Emily Tow Jackson. The new Center will be named in honor of Mrs. Tow's late sister, Lucille Castori.
Scientists estimate that viruses and other microbes are linked to as many as 20 percent of all cancers, among the best-known being human papillomaviruses (HPV) as a cause of cervical cancer and Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C viruses as a cause of the most common form of liver cancer in adults. The recent development of a vaccine targeting the HPV strains responsible for most cases of cervical cancer highlights the potential benefits of research into the links between microbes and cancer.
As part of the effort to improve early detection rates, investigators are focusing special attention on the use of non-invasive biomarkers, which are biochemical indicators that can be used to signal the presence of disease or to measure its progress. A multi-institution initiative now underway seeks to identify biomarkers in serum and urine that can provide prognostic information and help predict the possibility of recurrence. By replacing some or all existing procedures, such new approaches to detection and long-term surveillance also promise to reduce the high cost of treating bladder cancer.
Microbes also contribute to inflammation, an important and normally self-limiting response to tissue damage that, when it becomes chronic, can create conditions that allow cancer to develop.
Funds from the Tow Foundation will underwrite a range of activities, including faculty recruitment, seed grants, an annual symposium, and work in the Molecular Microbiology Core Facility. A particular focus will be on studies aimed at uncovering the specific molecular processes by which cancer can arise as a result of chronic inflammation or disruptions in the balanced relationship between the immune system and the body's microbial populations.
Serving as director of the Center for Microbes, Inflammation, and Cancer is Eric Pamer, a physician-scientist who is chief of the Infectious Disease Service at Memorial Hospital and a member of the Immunology Program in SKI. Dr. Pamer, who also holds the Enid A. Haupt Chair in Clinical Investigation, is widely known for his research on innate and adaptive immune responses to infection by pathogenic organisms.
The Tow Foundation (http://www.towfoundation.org
), founded in 1988, supports innovative projects and collaborative ventures where there is a shortage of both public and private funding along with opportunities for breakthroughs, reforms, and significant benefits to society. The Foundation makes investments in areas of groundbreaking medical research, the performing arts, and higher education, in addition to providing support for vulnerable families and juvenile justice system reform.