Thyroid cancer researchers at the University of Colorado Cancer Center have received a $900,000, two-year Challenge Grant from the National Institutes of Health to create new validated thyroid cancer cell lines and validate that currently used cell lines are thyroid cancer.

The National Institutes of Health received approximately 21,000 Challenge Grant applications and will fund less than 3 percent of them with American Recovery and Rehabilitation Act stimulus money. ARRA Challenge Grants were developed to move innovative, high-impact science from the laboratory to the clinic quicker.

Bryan Haugen, MD, head of the Division of Endocrinology and professor of medicine and pathology at the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Medicine, is the grant’s principal investigator. He will collaborate with Rebecca Schweppe, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at the CU Denver School of Medicine, and two thyroid cancer researchers from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York: Jim Fagin, MD, and Jeff Knauf, PhD.

Haugen and Schweppe in December published a paper that described a rampant problem with contamination in thyroid cancer cell lines used in research labs around the world. This grant comes as a solution to that problem: make new validated thyroid cancer cell lines and validate existing cell lines.

“We’ll be using parallel techniques to make the new cell lines, putting some cells from human tumors into mouse models to grow and others into Petri dishes,” Haugen said. “Some people have shown that the cells grown right from the beginning in animals look closer to the original tumor than those grown on plastic.”

The researchers will do extensive analysis of the current and newly grown cell lines, looking at gene copy numbers, RNA expressions, single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and other genetic and genomic data to develop a “thyroid cancer signature.”

“We’re hoping to get cell lines that represent primary tumor, metastatic tumor, very poorly differentiated cancer and well differentiated cancer,” Haugen said. “We’re hoping to better understand differences between those groups, and uncover new broad pathways that are applicable to all types of cancer and thyroid-unique pathways that we can exploit.”

All of the new cell lines will be stored in a central repository to end issues of contamination caused by individual labs sharing cell lines with other researchers. What’s more, the group will build a website that will allow researchers to search for cell characteristics they are interested in and request the correct cells to work with.

Haugen said the grant will create one new job and help retain another on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, Colo.

About the University of Colorado Cancer Center
The University of Colorado Cancer Center is the Rocky Mountain region’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center. NCI has given only 40 cancer centers this designation, deeming membership as “the best of the best.” Headquartered on the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus, UCCC is a consortium of three state universities (Colorado State University, University of Colorado at Boulder and University of Colorado Denver) and five institutions (The Children’s Hospital, Denver Health, Denver VA Medical Center, National Jewish Health and University of Colorado Hospital). Together, our 400+ members are working to ease the cancer burden through cancer care, research, education and prevention and control. Learn more at

Contact: Lynn Gorham, [email protected], 303.724.3160

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