$12 Million SPORE Grant Spurs Head and Neck Cancer Research
M. D. Anderson News Release 10/10/02
The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center has been awarded its fifth SPORE grant from the National Cancer Institute, a $12 million grant for head and neck cancer research.
With the five-year grant recognizing a Specialized Programs Of Research Excellence (SPOREs), M. D. Anderson is the first academic medical center to receive such a research grant for this cancer type.
Dr. Waun Ki Hong, head of the Division of Cancer Medicine and chairman of thoracic/head and neck medical oncology, is the principal investigator on M. D. Anderson's latest SPORE grant, which gives a boost to the institution’s integrated head and neck cancer research program. Drs. Reuben Lotan, professor of thoracic/head and neck medical oncology, and Gary Clayman, professor of head and neck surgery, serve as the grant’s co-principal investigators.
“The SPORE grant pushes M. D. Anderson’s already-strong translational research efforts in head and neck cancer to a new level, enhancing our multidisciplinary approach to the disease," Dr. Hong says. "With this grant, we want to rapidly increase our progress in the basic understanding of the disease, so we can develop new approaches to prevention, treatment and early diagnosis of head and neck cancer.
“M. D. Anderson has made great strides in treating head and neck cancer patients while maintaining quality of life for our patients,” Dr. Hong continues. “We are already hard at work, and
with this addition, we hope to make more progress in reducing head and neck cancer and ensure that patients with these diseases receive state-of-the-art medical care with cutting-edge therapeutic approaches.”
The head and neck SPORE grant funds will support research in five areas: identifying genetic susceptibility markers and high-risk populations for head and neck cancers; angiogenic therapy; EGF receptors for chemoprevention; p53 therapy for reversal of pre-malignancies of the oral cavity; and apoptosis or cell death.
Since 1992, the National Cancer Institute has awarded SPORE grants into certain cancer sites for concentrated research that focuses on projects with a translational emphasis. M. D. Anderson has received five SPORE grants over the past six years totaling more than $53 million. One $4.5 million grant for lung cancer research was awarded jointly to M. D. Anderson and the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas in 1996. A second, $10 million, SPORE grant for ovarian cancer research was awarded in 1999. In 2001, M. D. Anderson received both prostate and bladder SPORE grants, making it the first institution to hold two such genitourinary cancer grants.
Types of head and neck cancer include cancers of the jaw, mouth, throat, nose, nasal cavity, salivary gland, sinuses, thyroid and larynx. According to the American Cancer Society, 37,800 new cases of head and neck cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year, and it is the sixth most common cancer worldwide. More than 90 percent of the cases are associated with tobacco and alcohol use,
Dr. Hong says.
The SPORE research team includes researchers and specialists in head and neck surgery and medical oncology, pathology, basic science, genetics, and biostatistics. Funds from the SPORE grant will also establish a Career Development Program to train physicians and scientists with a focus on translational research in head and neck cancer.
The head and neck SPORE grant will support research in five key areas:
• Genetic Susceptibility Markers: Although head and neck cancer is known to be associated with tobacco and alcohol use, only a small subset of users will ever develop the disease. To find better methods to identify high-risk subgroups for screening, early detection, behavioral modification and chemoprevention, researchers will evaluate a group of patients with newly diagnosed oral cancers and/or precancerous lesions. Through this study, researchers will try to determine if there is a correlation between key biomarkers and ongoing genetic activity in tissue. Projects leaders are Dr. Margaret Spitz, professor and chairman of the Department of Epidemiology, Dr. Qingyi Wei, associate professor of epidemiology, and Dr. Erich Sturgis, assistant professor of head and neck surgery.
• Angiogenic Therapy: The major cause of death from squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck is the metastasis, or spread, to other organs. Researchers at M. D. Anderson hypothesize that the aggressive nature of head and neck cancer is associated with an imbalance between pro- and anti-angiogenic molecules that feed or starve tumors. A Phase II clinical trial studying the anti-angiogenic agent PEG-IFN will be conducted in patients with surgically resectable squamous cell cancers of the head and neck. Project leaders are Dr. Isaiah Fidler, professor and chairman of the Department of Cancer Biology, Dr. Roy Herbst, associate professor of thoracic/head and neck medical oncology, and Dr. Jeffrey Myers, assistant professor of head and neck surgery.
• Targeting EGF receptors for chemoprevention in head and neck cancer: Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF) receptors are known to be expressed in cancerous tumors of the head and neck, with the level of expression correlating directly with the tumor grade, stage and patient survival. Furthermore, precancerous oral lesions are ideal models for chemoprevention research because they are easily accessible for biopsy and have a well-defined risk of malignant transformation. Researchers will enroll 102 patients with precancerous oral lesions in a clinical trial to study the EGF receptor inhibitor Iressa to determine its effectiveness in preventing oral cancers. Project leaders are Dr. Rakesh Kumar, professor of molecular and cellular oncology, and Dr. Vassiliki Papadimitrakopoulou, assistant professor of thoracic/head and neck medical oncology.
• P53 therapy for reversal of pre-malignancies of the oral cavity: Pre-malignancies of the oral cavity and oropharynx have a high risk of progression to invasive squamous carcinomas. Biochemoprevention studies conducted at M. D. Anderson suggest that the sites are resistant to even the most active agents, with response rates to cis-retinoic acid and interferon at just 15 percent. Researchers hypothesize that overexpression of the p53 tumor-suppressor gene in pre-malignant cells will induce apoptosis (cell death) allowing for growth of normal, healthy epithelial cells. A Phase I/II study will be conducted to test p53 gene therapy as a chemopreventive agent in patients with pre-malignant oral lesions. Project leaders are Dr. Gary Clayman, professor of head and neck surgery, and Dr. Guillermina Lozano, professor of cancer genetics.
• Apoptosis or cell death: Studies have shown that a resistance to the normal and anticipated death of cells over time, rather than the increased multiplication of cancer cells, is how malignant cells accumulate in patients. Researchers at M. D. Anderson will examine numerous retinoids –– alone and in combination –– to assess their potential as head and neck cancer therapies. Project leaders are Dr. Reuben Lotan, professor of thoracic/head and neck medical oncology, and Dr. Fadlo Khuri.