State Funds Cancer Research Project At Western New England University

Apr 4, 2014

The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center has awarded a major grant to Western New England University in Springfield for a cancer research project.

Western New England University's Sleith Hall which houses the engineering department
Credit WAMC

Western New England University will use the $500,000 grant to purchase equipment for the development of new tests for cancer drugs using live cells from cancer patients.  Dr. Anthony English, a professor of biomedical engineering said it will be cutting edge research that could lead to the production of more cost-effective personalized cancer treatments.

" One of the things about cancer is that every patient reacts differently to different drugs, so hopefully we can screen drugs to determine which is best for a particular type of patient."

The university will partner in the research project with Baystate Hospital, the Nanotechnology Center at UMass Amherst and two Springfield-area companies – Cellular Engineering Technologies and FloDesign Sonics—that have contracts with pharmaceutical companies.

English said the research project will be built into the curriculum.

" One of the things that gives us continuity in finding cancer treatments is we have to educate our young scientists and engineers, so there is a very important educational component to this," said English.

The state funding comes at a time when federal research dollars are being slashed.

" It is tough times, so this grant has been a tremendous help. We would not be able to do the research without it," confirmed English.

This is the first grant Western New England University has received from the state’s life sciences center. University president Anthony Caprio said the school is expanding its offerings in the life science field.

The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center was created in 2008 to implement a ten-year, $1 billion state-funded initiative to boost the biotech industry. Susan Windham-Bannister, the president and CEO of the center, said $400 million has been invested so far with $110 million in western Massachusetts.

" Tremendous resources here in western Massachusetts and we are very committed to investing aggressively to strengthen those and make sure this is a really strong hub for life sciences in the state."

The life sciences is the fastest job creating sector of the state’s economy.  Massachusetts is producing life science jobs faster than any other state, according to Windham-Bannister.  To develop a future workforce in life sciences, the center also puts money into programs to encourage high school students to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

The center awarded a $25,000 grant to Girls Inc of Holyoke.  Education director Sarah Dunton said it will go toward the second year of  a summer camp program to introduce 8th and 9th grade girls to the STEM fields.

"So far we are seeing the girls connecting completely with STEM. We feel we are seeing the outcomes we were aiming for."

Four western Massachusetts high schools received grants from the life sciences center last year for programs to put students in the STEM pipeline.