Grants provide new support for oral, head and neck cancer research at Providence

February 12, 2013
PORTLAND, Ore. — Providence Cancer Center has ramped up its fight against oral, head and neck cancer with two new research grants totaling more than half a million dollars. This type of cancer attacks 40,000 Americans every year, killing 8,000 annually. The aggressive cancer affects a number of major senses, including taste and speech. It often results in disfiguring surgeries to contain the disease and repeated major reconstructive procedures.

Oral cancer also is one of the few cancers on the rise nationally, attributed in part to the human papilloma virus. Experts are concerned that oral cancer and other HPV-related cancers will increase dramatically among the baby boomer generation due to early lifestyle choices.

Those statistics fuel the desire of Providence Cancer Center researchers to delve into this disease — and the new grants will allow that.

"Oral, head and neck cancers are devastating diseases," said R. Bryan Bell, M.D., D.D.S., Providence Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Program medical director. "Our team is intent on finding more effective ways to care for, and treat, those battling these ferocious cancers. These grants will help with that as we partner with other researchers around the country."

The first is a $492,000 grant from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the National Institutes of Health. In this project, Providence researchers will work with others nationally to help study biomarkers of oral cancer metastasis, with the hope of better predicting the disease.

If proven effective, the biomarker can be used to tailor therapy so the patients who will benefit from more aggressive treatment will receive it, and those who won't will not undergo unnecessary surgery.

"This exciting project is potentially another step in personalizing oral cancer care," said Dr. Bell, site principal investigator of the study.

Additionally, Providence Cancer Center has been awarded a $75,000 grant by the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Foundation to help develop a therapeutic vaccine for oral cancer.

The median overall survival rate for recurrent or metastatic oral squamous cell carcinoma remains less than one year, and has not changed over the last decade.

This has renewed interest in novel therapies — such as the use of specialized tumor vaccines to boost the immune system's response to fight cancer.

The grant is a result of an ongoing collaboration between Hong-Ming Hu, Ph.D., translational immunologist and Chief of the Laboratory of Cancer Immunobiology at the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute at the Providence Cancer Center, and Dr. Bell.