UPCI Wins $10.9 Million Grant Renewal for Head and Neck Cancer Research

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Robert L. Ferris, MD, PhD

University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) researchers have received renewal of their head and neck cancer research through the National Cancer Institute’s competitive Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) program. The 5-year, $10.9 million grant includes a new project to study differentiated thyroid cancer.

The award is one of four grants awarded to the UPCI through the prestigious SPORE program, which requires a team of scientists and clinicians to collaborate to translate findings from the laboratory to the clinic and the community. The other UPCI SPORE grants are in melanoma, lung, and ovarian cancers. 

The head and neck SPORE consists of four study projects, headed by coprincipal investigator Robert L. ­Ferris, MD, PhD—Associate Director for Translational Research and Coleader of the UPCI’s Cancer Immunology Program—and a collaborator at the University of California at San Francisco. Three of the four projects focus on head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, a frequently lethal cancer with few U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs available for treatment. 

“Building on our past research, we are excited to continue our work into novel treatments to attack cancer-promoting proteins that have been resistant to drug intervention, and an exciting immunotherapy strategy to counteract inhibitory immune cells in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma,” said Dr. Ferris, who also is Vice Chair and Chief of the Division of Head and Neck Surgery for the Departments of Otolaryngology, Immunology, and Radiation Oncology. “We’ve also added a new project looking at chemoprevention to reverse oral cancer development, which is a promising area of study.”

The thyroid cancer project will focus on using next-generation sequencing to reduce unnecessary surgeries for those with less aggressive tumors, while identifying individuals with more aggressive disease who need additional therapy.  ■





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