Georgetown University Medical Center and Oak Ridge National Labs announce unique research partnership

Washington D.C. 23 November 2008Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have signed an agreement between the institutions that formalizes their research relationship and will help facilitate additional biomedical research - particularly in the areas of structural biology, systems genetics, biomarkers, computational biology, and radiation biology.

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The Comprehensive Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) signed by the two organisations is designed to make collaboration easier among researchers at the two organisations and is valid for five years.

"We are extremely pleased to be strengthening our collaborative research relationship with Oak Ridge National Laboratories", stated Howard Federoff, MD, PhD, executive vice president for health sciences and executive dean of the school of medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center. "ORNL brings to the table supercomputing capabilities that will allow us to analyse, manage, and visualize complex molecular data that is collected at Georgetown. This collaboration brings us one step closer to being able to employ a systems-level approach to health and medicine and improve human health."

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the Department of Energy's largest science and energy laboratory. Managed since April 2000 by the Univerity of Tennessee at Battelle, ORNL has a staff of more than 4200, annually hosts about 3000 guest researchers, and has annual funding exceeding $1,2 billion. As an international leader in a range of scientific areas that support the Department of Energy's mission, ORNL has six major mission roles: neutron science, energy, high-performance computing, systems biology, materials science at the nanoscale, and national security.

"We are very pleased to establish this relationship with such an outstanding medical research institution and look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship with Georgetown University Medical Center", stated ORNL Director Thom Mason, PhD.

GUMC is a biomedical research and educational institution with an overall budget of $225 million; GUMC researchers brought in nearly $140 million in sponsored research funding last year. The academic medical centre is home to one of only 41 comprehensive cancer centres in the country and the only one in the Washington area: Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Several funded projects are already underway among GUMC and ORNL researchers in the areas of cancer and physiology. These include:

  • A project with Stephen Byers, PhD, professor of oncology at GUMC, and Gary Van Berkel, PhD, ORNL, designed to develop ways to enhance the measurement of bio-molecules that can be used to facilitate cancer diagnosis. Along with ORNL computing capabilities, the researchers are using atmospheric pressure surface sampling and ionization methods in conjunction with mass spectrometry detection to probe paraffin-embedded tissue to map biomarker metabolites in tumour tissue samples. Since many of these tissue samples are linked to clinical records, repositories of these samples contain a vast collection of pathological and potentially molecular data which can be retrospectively analysed and linked to patient outcome.
  • A project with Brynn Voy, PhD, ORNL, and Zofia Zukowska, MD, PhD, chair of the department of physiology and biophysics at GUMC, which is further defining the interface between genetic susceptibility to stress and obesity using a systems genetics framework. The overarching goal of the project is to determine genetic and mechanistic interactions between adverse responses to stress and risk for obesity. Genotype data are integrated with physiological, biochemical and molecular stress response phenotypes to identify components of the stress-obesity interface that are sensitive to genetic variation and thus represent potential personalized therapeutic targets for disease intervention.
  • A project with Ram Datar, PhD, ORNL, and Minetta Liu, MD, in the department of oncology at GUMC is utilizing a membrane developed by ORNL to help further Dr. Liu's work to detect the earliest metastatic spread of cancer tumours using circulating tumour cells (CTC) in patients' blood. The goal is to evaluate the micro-device for CTC capture in blood samples from patients with breast and other epithelial malignancies - such as ovarian cancer - at Georgetown. Being able to enhance the sensitivity of detection of these tumours in a minimally invasive and user-friendly manner could revolutionize the clinical management of cancer patients.

In addition, GUMC and ORNL are continuing to explore new opportunities to expand the collaboration and plan to work together to submit a series of new proposals to agencies such as the National Institutes of Health in the near future. "We have just begun this relationship", Howard Federoff stated. "We look forward to exploring a variety of scientific areas by combining our complementary research strengths."

Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical centre with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care - through its partnership with MedStar Health. Its mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis - or "care of the whole person". The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and Health Studies, both nationally ranked, the world-renowned Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization (BGRO), home to 60 percent of the university's sponsored research funding.


Leslie Versweyveld

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