Head and neck cancer (HNC) is the 6th most common cancer worldwide. Compared with many other cancer types which show reduced incidence and increased survival rate, HNC is continuously increasing and its survival rate has not been improved for the past 30 years (http://www.oralcancerfoundation.org). Therefore, improving HNC treatment will rely heavily on a significant increase in basic and translational research directly related to HNC, and on clinical trials using innovative treatment approaches.
Facing these challenges, with the help of several generous donations, UCD established the Head and Neck Cancer Research Program in 2008, to integrate basic science, clinical research and education devoted to HNC. Our immediate goals are 1) To develop a strong research team focusing on basic and translational research for HNC. 2) To encourage interactions among basic scientists and physicians to develop and conduct innovative and effective clinical trials for HNC. 3). To establish a HNC-focused training program to train basic scientists and physician scientists for HNC research and care. Our long term goal is to build a state-of-the-art center for HNC research, care and education.
My own laboratory has developed several genetically engineered mouse models mimicking human HNC at both genetic and clinical levels. Dr. Antonio Jimeno has developed a patient-directed tumor transplant model allowing expansion of cancer lesions from individual patients in mice. This model system will significantly accelerate personalized medicine, as the expanded tumors in live mice are readily tested simultaneously with various novel therapeutic agents while the patients are recovering from surgery and waiting for a treatment plan. Thus, we have two of the best model systems for HNC currently in existence. The cross-species comparisons between the model systems will allow us to quickly assess new genetic alterations of HNC, efficiently identifying biomarkers for prognosis, prevention and treatment.
Collectively, faculty members in our program are funded by extramural grants with total annual direct costs of more than $4 million. With the strengths of our Cancer Center, support from the Schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine, the expertise and enthusiastic efforts of our scientists and physicians, as well as the broad base of public support, we believe we can build one of the top HNC research and treatment programs in the world.