Seed Grant Program

The Cancer Center at Illinois (CCIL) Seed Grant program solicits interdisciplinary team research proposals to initiate new collaborations and enhance existing collaborations among CCIL members and Illinois faculty. 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 CCIL Seed Grant program’s next application cycle will begin in 2023. 

Download the CCIL Grant FAQ

Important Dates and Deadlines

  • Proposal Due Date — March 24, 2023
  • Award Notification — June 5, 2023
  • Earliest Start Date — July 3, 2023

Research Team Eligibility

Projects should demonstrate substantive collaboration between CCIL members and must specifically address CCIL research program strategic themes (see program descriptions). 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 Groups: Cancer and Microbes; Environmental Effects on Cancer; Genomic Diagnostics; Immunological Systems; Pets to People; Photoacoustics; Robotics and Interoperative Assessments; and Tumor Microenvironment.

Principal Investigator Eligibility

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 & 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 agency, industry, or foundation. 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 the institute of record for the submission.

Project costs may include UIUC supplies, staff time, and research facility use fees. Funds to be sent to other institutions or organizations 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, milestones, 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 significant progress toward developing a project proposal to an NCI recognized funding agency. Submission of collaborative publications is highly encouraged.
    • Year 2 milestones should include 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?

Seed Grant Funding

2022 Seed Grant Projects


A Molecular Lego Kit for Kinase Inhibitors

Principal Investigator:

  • Martin Burke, Professor, Chemistry

Research Team:

  • Emad Tajkhorshid, Professor, Biochemistry

Targeting the bidirectional crosstalk between gut microbial metabolism and bile acids to alleviate intestinal and liver tumorigenesis

Principal Investigator:

  • Christopher Gaulke, Assistant Professor, Pathobiology

Research Team:

  • Sayeepriyadarshini Anakk, Associate Professor, Molecular & Integrative Physiology
  • Collin Kieffer, Assistant Professor, Microbiology
  • Bo Wang, Assistant Professor, Comparative Biosciences

Engineering Mechanical and Chemical Gradients to Control Cancer Cell Metastasis

 Principal Investigator:

  • Catherine Murphy, Professor, Chemistry

Research Team:

  • Taher Saif, Professor, Mechanical Sciences and Engineering

Versatile redox detection of a-glycosylated proteins in blood, a potential universal biomarker for robust cancer detection

Principal Investigator:

  • Joaquin Rodriguez Lopez, Associate Professor, Chemistry

Research Team:

  • Brian Cunningham, Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, Associate Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition

Molecular Dynamics Modeling of Target Recycling Amplification for Ultrasensitive Detection of RNA-based Cancer Biomarkers

Principal Investigator:

  • Emad Tajkhorshid, Professor, Biochemistry

Research Team:

  • Brian Cunningham, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Optogenetic modulation of the tumor microenvironment to improve cancer immunotherapy

Principal Investigator:

  • Kai Zhang, Associate Professor, Biochemistry

Research Team:

  • Erik Nelson, Molecular and Integrative Physiology


2021 Seed Grant Projects

Delineating the Role of Orc6 in Genome Surveillance and Cancer Progression

Principal Investigator:

  • Supriya Prasanth, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology

Research Team:

  • Satish K. Nair, Department of Biochemistry

FORce Control of Cancer Tumor μEnvironment (FORCE)

Principal Investigator:

  • M. Taher Saif, Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering

Research Team:

  • Kimberly Selting, Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine
  • Kannanganattu V. Prasanth, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology
  • Hyunjoon Kong, Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

High-Resolution Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopic Imaging for Adaptive Glioblastoma Multiforme Patient Treatment

Principal Investigator:

  • Hua Li, Department of Bioengineering

Research Team:

  • Fan Lam, Department of Bioengineering
  • Zhi-Pei Liang, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Mark Anastasio, Department of Bioengineering
  • Paul Arnold, Department of Neurosurgery (Carle Foundation Hospital)
  • Daniel Barnett, Carle Cancer Institute

Lipid Droplet Packing: A New Target to Interfere with the Progress of Human Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Principal Investigator:

  • Cecilia Leal, Department of Materials Science & Engineering

Research Team:

  • Sayee Anakk, Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology

Multi-shape 3D Hanging Drop Array for Cancer Drug-screening

Principal Investigator:

  • Rashid Bashir, Department of Bioengineering

Research Team:

  • Panagiotis Z. Anastasiadis, Department of Cancer Biology (Mayo Clinic – Jacksonville, FL)
  • George Vasmatzis, Department of Molecular Medicine (Mayo Clinic – Rochester, MN)
  • Andrew Smith, Department of Bioengineering
  • Joon Kong, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
  • Jie Chen, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology

Quantitative Ultrasound for Detection of Lymph Node Metastasis from Oral Melanoma & to Document Tumor Response to Stereotactic Radiosurgery in Dogs as a Large Animal Model of Metastatic Cancer

Principal Investigator:

  • Kimberly Selting, Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine

Research Team:

  • Audrey Billhymer, Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine
  • Michael Oelze, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Rita Miller, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Stable Therapeutic Antibody Expression for Cancer Immunotherapy by Liver-directed Gene Editing

Principal Investigator:

  • Shannon Sirk, Department of Bioengineering

Research Team:

  • Thomas Gaj, Department of Bioengineering
  • Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
  • Pablo Perez-Pinera, Department of Bioengineering

Workflows and Tools for Visualizing Tumor Phylogenies in Metastatic Breast Cancer

Principal Investigator:

  • Mohammed El-Kebir, Department of Computer Science

Research Team:

  • Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition
  • Charles Blatti, National Center for Supercomputing Applications
  • Colleen Bushell, National Center for Supercomputing Applications
  • Lisa Gatzke, National Center for Supercomputing Applications
  • Matthew Berry, National Center for Supercomputing Applications

The Role of the Urinary Sterolbiome in Prostate Cancer Risk

Principal Investigator:

  • Jason Ridlon, Department of Animal Sciences

Research Team:

  • H. Rex Gaskins, Department of Animal Sciences
  • Joseph Irudayaraj, Department of Bioengineering
  • John Erdman, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

2020 Seed Grant Projects

Using Anticancer Drug-Induced Immune Cell Activation to Target Ovarian Cancer for Eradication

Principal Investigator:

  • David Shapiro, Professor, Biochemistry

Research Team:

  • Erik Nelson, Assistant Professor, Molecular and Integrative Physiology
  • Georgina Cheng, Clinical Assistant Professor, Carle Illinois College of Medicine


Elucidating the Role of Minor Cannabinoids on Immune Cell Activation Involved in Lung Cancer Metastatic Progression

Principal Investigator:

  • David Sarlah, Assistant Professor, Chemistry

Research Team:

  • Aditi Das, Associate Professor, Comparative Biosciences
  • Timothy Fan, Professor, Veterinary Clinical Medicine


Establishment of a Spatially Resolved Noncoding RNA-mRNA Interactome Map for Breast Cancer Progression

Principal Investigator:

  • Hee-Sun Han, Assistant Professor, Chemistry

Research Team:

  • Saurabh Sinha, Professor, Computer Science
  • Prasanth Kumar V. Kannanganattu, Associate Professor, Cell and Developmental Biology