Scientific Initiatives / Cancer

Forget everything you know about cancer.

We have a plan to fundamentally change cancer research. Using powerful new experimental methods and technologies, Salk scientists will unlock cancer’s mysteries and translate discoveries into better therapies. Much work remains, but we see a future where every cancer and every patient has a cure.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, surpassed only by heart disease. More than 1.6 million new cases will be diagnosed in 2013, and about 577,190 Americans will die of it— more than 1,500 people a day. Although the five-year relative survival rate for all cancers diagnosed is 67 percent, up from 49 percent in 1975-77, survival statistics vary greatly by cancer type and stage at diagnosis, and the need for more research remains great. Identifying the cellular pathways of growth and metabolism in tumors, developing intelligent nanomachines that diagnose and destroy cancers, and unraveling how cancers override the shortening of telomeres, the protective caps on the end of chromosomes, are just some of the promising areas that Salk scientists have identified for further research. Using new technological tools they will model cancer’s many variations in mice leading to an ability to design therapies that target the pathways and mutations that produce a cancer.

Cancer Initiative

Founded in 1970 to generate new therapies for patients, Salk Cancer Center is a designated basic research center of the National Institutes of Health's National Cancer Institute.

Now, thanks to major advancements in genome sequencing, imaging technology, computing and animal study methods, the potential for impacting patients' lives is greater than ever before. Yet government funding—the traditional mainstay of biomedical research—is steadily diminishing, threatening to derail promising research towards new therapies.

For this reason, as part of the first-ever Campaign for Salk, the Institute is seeking greatly expanded private support. The Cancer Initiative will provide Salk’s scientists with the additional equipment, facilities and expertise they need to tackle the most challenging problems in cancer research. Using the latest scientific methods and technologies, from stem cells to computational approaches, they will explore the cellular mechanisms that allow cancers to arise and spread and they will develop better ways to fight tumors at the molecular level.

This focused effort will enable them to continue their progress toward vital discoveries and press ahead at an accelerated pace. With your help, Salk scientists will redefine the frontiers of cancer research and lead the way to revolutionary new treatments.

To deliver the next major breakthroughs in cancer research, the Salk Cancer Center needs philanthropic support in three critical areas:

It will be essential to add experts to the Salk faculty in two critical areas: 1) cancer metastasis, the study of how cancer spreads in the body, and 2) cancer epigenetics, research into the layer of genetic control beyond the DNA sequence that is altered in cancer cells.

Salk plans to launch two innovative postdoctoral fellowship programs: 1) the Translational Postdoctoral Fellows Program will bring in clinically trained scientists to bridge the gap between research laboratories and the clinic; 2) the Bioinformatics Postdoctoral Fellows Program will support Salk scientists’ use of advanced computational methods in their research.

The Salk Cancer Center will launch a first-of-its-kind Cancer Frontiers Forum to tackle the intractable problems of cancer biology. This forum will bring together international leaders in cancer research and will support implementation of innovative research projects that emerge from the meetings.

Salk cancer scientists know what they need to do next to generate new therapies for patients. With investments in new equipment, facilities and expertise, they are eager to use cutting-edge technologies to:

  • Develop a guide to the runaway molecular machinery of cancer cells
  • Create new cellular and animal models to rapidly translate discoveries into new therapies
  • Explain how cancer cells metabolize nutrients and how this can be leveraged to destroy tumors
  • Explore the nature and significance of cancer stem cells and how different types of cancer cells originate
  • Use telomeres—protective caps on the ends of chromosomes—to kill cancer cells
  • Engineer tumor-busting viruses that seek out, invade and destroy cancer cells

Leslie Orgel and Bob Sanchez discovered a simplified and economical way to make Ara-C, a drug that prevents cancer cells from copying their genomes and dividing.

Tony Hunter identified a chemical on-off switch that causes cells to become cancerous. His discovery led to development of the leukemia drug Gleevec.

Clodagh O'Shea determined how cold viruses attack cells with proteins, a finding that may lead to better ways to kill cancer cells.

Ronald Evans discovered a family of molecules that are primary targets for treating breast cancer, prostate cancer and leukemia.

Inder Verma pioneered stripped-down viruses to destroy cancerous cells and enhance healthy cells' ability to fight cancer.

Vicki Lundblad discovered genes that help produce telomerase, an enzyme involved in cellular processes that go awry in cancer.