The National Cancer Institute has awarded a five-year, $12.5 million Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant in head and neck cancer to Emory University's Winship Cancer Institute. This is the first SPORE grant ever received in the state of Georgia.
SPORE grants are large, multidisciplinary federal grants that fund scientific research aimed at bringing new laboratory findings quickly to the clinic. They are highly competitive grants and are sought after by the most prestigious research and medical facilities across the country.
With an expected 40,000 new cases and 11,500 deaths in 2007, squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck accounts for four percent to five percent of all newly diagnosed cancers in the U.S. When the more than two-thirds of head and neck cancer patients first receive a diagnosis it is considered a locally advanced disease, which has a poor five-year survival rate after treatment with surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. According to recent National Cancer Institute statistics, southeastern states rank among the highest in the nation in head and neck cancer incidence.
"Head and neck cancer can be a devastating disease," says Dong Moon Shin, MD, professor of hematology and oncology at Emory Winship and principal investigator of the grant. "Our focus on this grant is to facilitate, critically review and rapidly move new discoveries to patients. Our goal is to decrease the morbidity, suffering, disability and death caused by this disease.
"Because of the large number of aging smokers and ex-smokers in the U.S. population, the incidence of aerodigestive cancers, including lung cancer and head and neck cancers, will remain high for the next two-to-three decades despite the overall decline in smoking," says Dr. Shin, a Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Cancer Scholar.
"This is an extremely important grant for Emory University and for Georgia," says Brian Leyland-Jones, MD, PhD, director of the Emory Winship and a GRA Eminent Scholar. "This SPORE grant is a testament to Emory Winship's position as a national leader in research and patient care, particularly in aerodigestive tract cancers. It is also important to note that Dr. Shin's grant received the highest score out of seven applicants."
There are only four other head and neck cancer SPORE grants in the U.S.: University of Texas MD Anderson, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins.
"The SPORE grant earned by Dr. Shin and his colleagues is an important milestone for scientific research at Emory University," says Michael Johns, MD, executive vice president of health affairs at Emory University and a head and neck cancer surgeon. "The National Cancer Institute continues to recognize the important work conducted at Emory Winship through awards such as this grant. Last year, Emory Winship earned a $7.9 million federal grant in lung cancer research."
The Emory Winship SPORE program will consist of four major translational research projects, which will test hypotheses about biology, prevention and novel therapies driven by molecular science and nanotechnology. The four main projects are:
- Chemoprevention with Green Tea Polyphenon: Investigators will use a combination of green tea Polyphenon E, a chemical substance found i n plants, and Erlotinib (Tarceva), a growth factor inh ib it o r, to prevent advanced premalignant lesions of the head and neck. Preliminary studies show that the combination of the polyphenol, extracted from green tea, and Erlotinib together inhibits growth of SCCHN both in the laboratory and in animal models.
- Targeting Death Receptors-Mediated Apoptosis for Head and Neck Cancers: Researchers will work to develop therapies aimed at blocking cellular pathways that allow metastatic cancer cells to proliferate.
- Development of Novel Curcumin Analogs for the Treatment of Head and Neck Cancer: Curcumin is a principal ingredient in the Indian curry spice Tumeric. Curcumin has shown anti-cancer activitiy in earlier studies. While its anticancer effects are limited, curcumin does exhibit an ability to induce apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells without affecting healthy cells. In this project, a group of Emory researchers has modified the chemical structure of curcumin and tested its anti-cancer activity in the laboratory. "The analog we developed appears to be more potent than the original curcumin compound," says Shin. "This is very exciting because it was developed here at Emory by our own researchers." The project will test the anti-cancer effectiveness of the new analog in head and neck cancer cell lines. Eventually, researchers will develop a clinical trial to test its effectiveness.
- Biodegradable Nanoparticle Formulated Taxol for Targeted Therapy of Head and Neck Cancer: Emory Winship and Georgia Tech investigators will work to develop a new class of biodegradable nanoparticles, which will be designed to carry the chemotherapy drug Taxol for targeted therapy of head and neck cancers. "One of the most important areas of nanotechnology research is development of new cancer drug delivery systems," says Shin. "Nanotechnology drug delivery techniques can potentially overcome current, non-specific drug delivery, in which the anti-cancer agents are delivered not only to cancer cells but to normal cells as well, causing unwanted side-effects."
Fadlo Khuri, MD, deputy director for translational research at Emory Winship and co-prinicpal investigator of the grant, says, "Emory investigators will work as a team and will collaborate with investigators from Head and Neck Cancer SPORES at other institutions. We earned this grant thanks to the exceptional science that will be conducted here; however, it's important to note that the NCI places great value on the strong commitment of support including space, recruitment, shared resources and matching funds from the Emory University School of Medicine, Emory's Woodruff Health Sciences Center, the Georgia Cancer Coalition and the Georgia Research Alliance. This grant truly represents a team effort." Khuri is a Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Cancer Scholar.
About Specialized Programs of Research Excellence: SPORE grants were established in 1992 to support translational research, which are studies that apply the lessons of the laboratory to patients and, conversely, use what is learned from patients to advance study of a disease. For more information, log onto the National Cancer Institute website at www.spores.nih.nci.gov
About the Emory Winship Cancer Institute: As a leader in cancer patient care and research, Emory University's Winship Cancer Institute (EWCI) offers new therapies not usually available outside university-affiliated medical centers, including nearly 150 clinical trials for all types and stages of cancer. The EWCI serves as the coordinating center for a vast array of resources in medical, surgical, and radiation oncology, diagnostic imaging, and the subspecialties of cancer care throughout Emory University--from blood and bone marrow stem cell transplants to internationally recognized b