Seed Grant Program 2022

The Cancer Center at Illinois (CCIL) is soliciting interdisciplinary team research proposals to initiate new collaborations and enhance existing collaborations among Illinois faculty. The CCIL anticipates funding up to ten interdisciplinary research proposals during this cycle, based on the merit of the proposed projects, and their applicability to the goals of the CCIL. At least two of the research team members must be current CCIL members.

The aims of this seed grant program are to enable faculty teams to:

  • Develop novel cancer-focused research ideas that require the involvement of multiple cancer investigators from different disciplines.
  • Formulate either a hypothesis-driven or technology-focused research project that relates to one or ideally both of the CCIL programs and their accompanying themes.
  • Collect preliminary data or other relevant information to support a feasible approach for grant proposals to an NCI-recognized funding agency.
  • Garner external funding for multi-investigator, program project-level research projects using CCIL support as a catalyst.

The program will not provide interim or incremental support for existing research programs or projects that do not represent a significant opportunity for future externally funded research. Projects should not anticipate additional internal funding after the seed funds are exhausted. We also encourage the use of CCIL Shared Resources as part of the project. This type of funding opportunity may be offered across multiple and/or targeted RFP’s per year.

Proposals that seek to span experimental/computation efforts or that span programs are of particular interest. Other areas associated with cancer research will be considered.

Important Dates and Deadlines

  • Open Date — May 5, 2022
  • Proposal Due Date — June 2, 2022
  • Award Notification — June 28, 2022
  • Earliest Start Date — July 1, 2022

Research Team Eligibility

Projects should demonstrate substantive collaboration between CCIL members and must specifically address the CCIL program’s strategic themes. Proposals should include a description of the innovative nature of the research and the team’s capabilities, where the contribution of each collaborator’s expertise is evident. At least two of the team members must be current CCIL members.  

Although not limited to these topics, the CCIL is particularly interested in proposals that:

  • Seek to identify novel biological targets for anticancer therapy.
  • Seek to identify and/or develop new anticancer compounds.
  • Develop and use improved artificial intelligence and machine/deep learning algorithms for identifying patterns in image-based or numerical-based data for diagnostics.
  • Develop multi-modal, multi-scale imaging approaches (including hardware, algorithms, modeling, and simulations) that connect molecular- and cellular-scale processes in carcinogenesis with clinical tumor-, tissue-, and body-scale imaging to be used for cancer screening, diagnosis, and monitoring.
  • Develop robust and reliable collection, isolation, purification, and characterization processes for extracellular vesicles (including bioassays and analysis methods to determine vesicle content).
  • Utilize large genomic or proteomic data sets to derive novel biomarker targets for cancer diagnostics.
  • Involve the conception and development of novel biochemistry approaches for ultra-selective recognition of biomarker molecules, especially approaches that do not require enzymatic amplification.
  • Develop novel engineered models of cancer.
  • Advance the work of one of CCIL’s current Working Group: (1) Cancer and Microbes, (2) Environmental Effects on Cancer, (3) Genomic Diagnostics, (4) Pets to People, (5) Photoacoustics, (6) Robotics and Interoperative Assessments, and (7)Tumor Microenvironment for example.

Principal Investigator Eligibility

Proposals must reflect substantive involvement of multiple investigators from different scientific disciplines and/or academic departments.
Each project will identify a lead principal investigator (PI) who assumes organizational leadership for the project. A faculty member may only be PI on one submitted project. However, there is no limit to being a co-investigator on other projects. Applicants are strongly encouraged to include faculty at the Assistant Professor rank on their teams. Priority will be given to projects for which PIs are existing CCIL members. Preference will be given to investigators who have not previously received substantial CCIL research support funding.

Funding Expectations and Restrictions

Each research team may submit proposals for up to $200,000 for up to a 2-year period. Funds will be disbursed as follows: up to $75,000 in funding for Year 1 and up to $125,000 in support for Year 2.

Funding provided by the CCIL to launch research projects is expected to be catalytic. Projects will be expected to achieve milestones and to actively seek significant external support in the form of a multi-PI research proposal to NIH, NSF, DOD, or other federal agencies, industries, or foundations. Progress reports will be required at key time points, which may affect continual funding.

Year 2 funds will be released only upon the successful completion of the stated goals and metrics outlined in Year 1 which must include a collaborative proposal submission that is at least at the R01 level. A National Cancer Institute (NCI) submission is HIGHLY preferred. The Cancer Center at Illinois must be listed as an Institute of record for the submission.

Project costs may include UIUC supplies, staff time, and research facility use fees. Funds sent externally from the university to other institutions must receive prior approval from the CCIL. Funds cannot be used for any part of tenure track faculty salaries.

Reporting Requirements

Funded projects should be prepared to provide monthly progress update meetings to the CCIL leadership/administration. Two written reports are required: (1) Year 1 Progress Report and (2) Final Project Report. Each should highlight the collaborative nature of the research, as well as address progress made toward the specific goals and metrics. Each project PI is required to present at the CCIL Annual Retreat (on the progress of Phase 1 and Final Project).

Proposal Preparation

Format: Proposals should not exceed seven (7) pages (single space, 0.5-inch margins, Arial 11-point font, including figures and tables). Guidelines and the maximum number of pages for each section are described below. Supplemental attachments are not permitted.

Coversheet/Title Page: This page must include the project title, the names of the research team members and their primary affiliations (indicate the lead PI), their contact information, and the funding amount requested. (1 page)

Proposal Content

Section 1. Project Abstract (1 page)

  • Limit length to 30 lines or less of text.
  • Include the project’s broad, long-term objectives and specific aims.
  • Include a description of the research design and methods for achieving the stated goals.
  • Write in plain language, so even a non-scientist can understand the importance of the project.

Section 2. Project Narrative (3 pages)

  • Describe the research project and its cancer relevance, including its potential for broad impact. Please note the review criteria listed below.
  • Discuss how the proposed activities will leverage existing strengths across CCIL programs and themes.
  • Include a statement of the potential translational application of the research being proposed.
  • Describe the role and qualifications of the PI, co-investigators, and other members of the team for whom funding is requested.

Section 3. Project Milestones (1 page)

  • Provide a list of scientific and organizational milestones over the 2-year period.
  • Identify the specific goals and metrics for Phase 1 and for the completed project.
  • Year 1 milestones must include a fully assembled project proposal to an NCI-recognized funding agency. Submission of collaborative publications is highly encouraged.
  • Year 2 milestones should include the submission of collaborative publications. Submission of additional collaborative proposals is highly encouraged. The CCIL may assist the team, when feasible, in assembling the proposal and obtaining external reviews prior to submission.
  • Evidence of substantive collaboration (including periodic joint meetings, workshops, and publications) must be prominent in the proposal and details presented in the Year 1 progress report.

Section 4. References cited (1 page; include titles of papers)

Section 5. Budget and Budget Justification (1 page)

  • Provide a budget estimate, with narrative justification, that does not exceed $75,000 in funding for Year 1 and up to $125,000 in support for Year 2. Estimates should be divided into major expense categories (e.g., personnel, equipment/use fees, supplies, support). Anticipated utilization and costs of CCIL Shared Resources should be specified. Expenses for use of external shared resources in lieu of campus facilities must be specifically identified, justified, and approved.
  • Indirect costs and salaries for the PIs are not permissible. 

Review Criteria

Reviewers will evaluate each criterion on a scale of 1-9, consistent with the common practice for NIH applications.

  • Significance: Does the project address an important problem or a critical barrier to progress in the field? Is there a strong scientific premise for the project? If the aims of the project are achieved, how will scientific knowledge or technical capabilities be improved? How will successful completion of the aims change the concepts, methods, technologies, treatments, services, or preventative interventions that drive the field of cancer research? How will this project contribute to the CCIL scientific program(s), and support and advance the goals of the CCIL?
  • Investigator(s)/Research Team: Are the PIs, collaborators, and other researchers well suited to the project? If the PI is an Early Stage Investigator and/or in the early stages of their independent career, do they have appropriate experience and training? For this collaborative project, do the investigators have complementary and integrated expertise that spans the themes of the CCIL programs?
  • Innovation: Does the proposal seek to shift current cancer research paradigms by utilizing novel theoretical concepts, approaches or methodologies, instrumentation, or interventions?
  • Approach: Are the overall strategies, methodologies, and analyses well-reasoned and appropriate to accomplish the specific aims of the project? Have the investigators presented strategies to ensure a rigorous and unbiased approach, as appropriate for the work proposed? Are potential problems, alternative strategies, and benchmarks for success presented?
  • Milestones: Are milestones provided that ensure a high likelihood of progress? How likely is the formulation and submission of a multi-PI project application to a funding agency?

Download the CCIL Grant FAQ.