Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
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Cancer & Physical Sciences

The Cancer and Physical Sciences (CAPS) Program leverages the unprecedented strength of Northwestern University in the fields of nanotechnology, chemistry, material sciences and biomedical engineering. The program brings together fundamental chemistry, nano-technology, imaging, and bioengineering groups to develop cancer-relevant therapeutic and diagnostic agents using nanoscale materials and physical sciences approaches. The research conducted by the members of the CAPS Program spans from the basic science that underlies emerging technologies to technology development to clinical translation. To facilitate further discoveries and accelerate their translation to the clinic, the following three aims are being pursued by CAPS investigators:

Scientific Aims

  1. Study fundamental mechanisms and molecular pathways that control oncogenesis by physical science methods
  2. Develop novel technologies that facilitate early detection and prognostication of cancer and that can be coupled with therapy
  3. Develop new classes of anti-cancer therapeutic agents that exhibit low systemic toxicity while leveraging physical sciences and nanotechnology for the discovery and delivery of these therapies

Future Plans

  • Integration of physical scientists within the arena of cancer research
  • Strengthening intra-programmatic collaborations
  • Foster translational efforts

Program Leaders

  • Vadim Backman, PhD, an internationally-recognized bioengineer in the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute
  • Shana Kelley, PhD, Neena B. Schwartz Professor of Chemistry and Biomedical Engineering and president of the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Chicago
  • Gayle Woloschak, PhD, an internationally-known biochemist and molecular biologist in Radiation Oncology and Radiology

Research Initiatives & Grants

  • Center for Chromatin NanoImaging in Cancer
    One of four Cellular Cancer Biology Imaging Research Centers funded by the NCI to develop, optimize, test and deploy new nanoimaging technologies, used in combination with molecular and computational methods, to study the origin of cancer stem cells and their ability to adapt to chemotherapies.


This unique interdisciplinary program comprises members who collaborate both intra- and inter-programmatically on a broad spectrum of translational projects. In addition to the strong individual support of CAPs investigators, the strength of these teams is reflected by two large grants from NCI that support the Northwestern University Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence and Physical Sciences Oncology Center.