Stony Brook Medicine Dedicates New Center for Pioneering Cancer Research

Two of the world’s leading experts in cancer lipidomics, Drs. Hannun and Obeid examine the effect of fatty molecules, or lipids, on cancer behavior and the body’s responses to different cancer therapies.

The Stony Brook Cancer Center researchers are pushing the frontier of cancer research, pursuing novel pathways toward eradicating a disease that currently leads to more than 8 million deaths worldwide every year.

Now, thanks to a $13.75 million investment by local philanthropists Kavita and Lalit Bahl, Hannun and Obeid will have the facilities, technology, and resources to accelerate their promising work.

On December 1, Stony Brook officials and friends of the Bahls gathered to dedicate the opening of the Kavita and Lalit Center for Metabolomics and Imaging in its temporary home on the 15th floor of the Health Sciences Center. The Center will be relocated to the Medical and Research Translation Building (MART) when it opens in 2018.

“Demonstrating anew their deeply felt commitment to illuminating knowledge, eradicating suffering, and partnering with Stony Brook to help achieve these goals, Kavita and Lalit Bahl provide a shining example of the power of philanthropy,” said President Samuel L. Stanley, Jr. MD. “While we can only imagine today all of the advances that will take place in the new center, we know that the Bahls’ remarkable generosity will make it possible for our faculty and students to make their finest contributions to a future without cancer.

At the new center, Stony Brook will bring together three established areas of excellence — Metabolomics, Cancer Research, and Medical Imaging — to create a unique cancer-fighting enterprise, one that will attract a new group of world-class researchers, provide investigators with the resources and equipment they need, and champion some of the most innovative cancer research happening anywhere in the world.

Stony Brook School of Medicine Dean Kenneth Kaushansky in his remarks pointed out that the Bahl Center capitalizes on Stony Brook’s expertise in research, treatment and imaging to address one of the final frontiers in cancer research: metabolomics and lipidomics. “In the process,” said Dean Kaushansky, “ the Center will transform precision-based cancer care by enabling scientists and physicians at our Cancer Center to learn more about the characteristics and behavior of each patient’s specific cancer. Our research will ultimately allow for greater personalization and efficacy of care.”

“Rather than treating one type of cancer as many centers do,” said Obeid, Dean for Research and Professor of Medicine at Stony Brook School of Medicine, “the Bahl Center will work to understand all cancer at the molecular level. It will then use that understanding to detect, treat, and perhaps one day eliminate the disease all together. At the same time, the Bahl Center will seek to inform other researchers at the national and global level how cancer research should be conducted.”

“Indeed, what is so transformational about this gift is that it is not only about having a cutting-edge cancer center at Stony Brook,” added Dr. Hannun, Director of Stony Brook Cancer Center, the Joel Strum Kenny Endowed Professor in Cancer Research, and winner of the Kuwait Prize in Basic Sciences, awarded each year by the Kuwaiti government. “This is about leading the cutting edge of where cancer research is headed.”

The Bahls have said that this sense of urgency and forward-looking approach to studying cancer captured their imagination and inspired them to partner with Stony Brook. At the same time, they were also deeply impressed with the University’s history of research excellence and its longtime leadership in medical imaging, exemplified by Stony Brook chemistry professor Paul Lauterbur, who developed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology and for which he subsequently received a Nobel Prize in 2003.

“Stony Brook has been a notable leader in both discovering and using breakthrough imaging technology to advance understanding and treatment of diseases,” Mr. Bahl said. “We admire the people of Stony Brook and the passion they have for pushing boundaries in their research. Kavita and I are certain that as they work together in the new center they will make important discoveries that will improve the lives of people living with cancer.”

As part of their $13.5 million investment, $3.2 million made it possible for the university to purchase a cyclotron, cutting-edge technology that makes it possible to accelerate atoms almost to the speed of light.

The cyclotron is used in medicine to create radiotracer molecules to amplify diagnostic capabilities or treat specific diseases, such as cancer. One of the few in the tristate area, Stony Brook’s cyclotron has proved a tremendous resource in attracting top research faculty and it will feature prominently in the new home of the Bahl Center for Metabolomics and Imaging at Stony Brook’s Medical and Research Translation building (MART) when it opens in 2018.

“The cyclotron is empowering technology,” said Hannun, who has been recognized for his discovery of sphingolipids, molecules that are involved in a range of roles, including cell division, differentiation, and cell death. “It allows our biomedical investigators to create their own carbon-11 molecules as well as other isotopes. This is a big deal because carbon-11 has a 20-minute half-life. You can insert carbon-11 into whatever you want to study. It’s so versatile and unlimited. So in the Bahl Center, carbon-11 can be taken out of the cyclotron and delivered next door to the chemist who will put that carbon in the molecule of interest. With metabolomics, cancer research, and medical imaging all working under one roof, we’ll be able to make the best use of the cyclotron technology and effectively image many different types of cancer.”

Investigators in the new Bahl Center will be working toward developing wholesale understanding and treatment of cancer at its origins, the molecular level. Potential outcomes include the discovery of diagnostic cancer biomarkers and the ability to monitor them during treatment; the identification of new cellular targets for cancer treatments; the ability to individualize treatment by giving clinicians the tools to track patient response to various therapies; and the development of preventative techniques by determining how lifestyle factors such as obesity, tobacco and alcohol use, and diabetes are linked to susceptibility to cancer.

“This ability to study the metabolism of a tumor that is still living and growing is very different from examining the metabolism of a dead tumor,” added Obeid, whose laboratory is exploring the role of enzymes that control molecules involved in cell growth. “You will be able to tell through this imaging whether or not you have residual disease, this is, whether a tumor is living or dead and why.”

Additional initiatives supported by the Bahls’ gift include an Innovation Award for pilot projects that study the role of nutrition in preventing and treating disease, and an Experimental Therapeutics Program that will focus on ways to accelerate the trajectory of research from the bench to the bedside.

For more about the Bahl Center for Metabolomics and Imaging click here.