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NIH Grant Awarded to Collaborative Research Group to Identify Oral Cancer Biomarkers

December 7, 2012

The Bluestone Center for Clinical Research at the NYU College of Dentistry is one of four institutions participating in a project to identify biomarkers of oral cancer metastasis. The $492,000 grant, from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is a competitive revision supplement to the University of California, San Francisco’s (UCSF) five-year Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA, S.C. Johnson, MD, PI). As a subcontract recipient, the Bluestone Center for Clinical Research will recruit patients and collect and analyze biological samples for the project, "A New CTSA Partnership to Translate an Oral Cancer Biomarker from Lab to Clinic." 

The study aims to develop and validate a non-invasive molecular assay to identify a biomarker of oral cancer metastasis. When caught early, oral cancer can have a five-year survival rate of up to 90%. However, the majority of patients are diagnosed at stage 3, at which point the cancer may have metastasized, or spread, to a cervical lymph node, and the five-year survival rate drops to 43%. Removal of the lymph node requires major surgery, which carries both a high risk and cost. A biomarker is therefore critical to identify patients who are unlikely to develop such a metastasis. 

This project will bring the power of cutting edge laboratory science to the clinic to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and care of individuals with oral cancer.  Bluestone Director and Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Dr. Brian L. Schmidt, DDS, MD, PhD is the NYU study site’s principal investigator and emphasizes the significant contribution of each center in the collaboration.  Dr. Schmidt says the project, “will bring together investigators from clinical and basic science environments, thereby providing access to critical patient populations, state-of-the-art molecular technology, and diverse and complementary resources.” 

Project director, Donna Albertson, PhD, Evelyn and Mattie Anderson Endowed Chair in Cancer Research and professor in residence at UCSF’s Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center acknowledges the challenges of participating in a research program that spans the country. “The multidisciplinary nature of clinical and translational research is its strength, but it also presents major challenges for communication amongst geographically dispersed collaborators with diverse expertise,” said Dr. Albertson. 

In order to communicate most effectively, the group will establish a web-based database to ensure the clinical data, sample tracking, and assay results are shared and managed efficiently between each site. Albertson went on to say, “We are fortunate to have this opportunity to utilize the strengths and resources of the participating institutions to help move this biomarker from the bench to the clinic.” 

Additional collaborators include Rob Schuff and Eric Orwoll, MD, associate dean for Clinical Science at Oregon Health and Science University and director of the Oregon Clinical & Translational Research Institute; R. Bryan Bell, MD, DDS, FACS, medical director of the Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Program at Providence Cancer Center, and Henrik Bengtsson, PhD, and Rob Wynden at UCSF.