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University of Pittsburgh receives $10 million grant for head and neck cancer

patient issues and act as a liaison between patients and scientists.

In the first major project in the grant, Marjorie Romkes, Ph.D., associate professor, center for clinical pharmacology, department of medicine, and Joel Weissfeld, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor, department of epidemiology, will examine the correlation between promising genetic markers for head and neck cancer and tobacco and alcohol use.

"Eighty percent of head and neck cancer patients are smokers, chew tobacco and consume large amounts of alcohol," said Dr. Romkes. "If we can determine who among this population will most likely develop cancer, we can screen and treat them earlier, potentially improving their prognoses and quality of life."

To better identify these individuals, Drs. Romkes and Weissfeld will examine alterations in a DNA repair gene, XPD, and a cell cycle regulatory gene, cyclin D1, that previous research at UPCI has determined are significant predictors of head and neck cancer risk, as well as increased risk for lung cancer in smokers. The researchers will examine the interaction of these genes with the goal of identifying individuals who have an increased likelihood of developing head and neck cancer.

In another project, Dr. Grandis and Daniel Johnson, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine, will examine intracellular signaling proteins called Signal Transducer and Activators of Transcription (STATs) that have been linked to tumor progression in several cancers, including head and neck cancer. These proteins represent a critical survival pathway in head and neck cancer because they activate a protein, BCL-X, that interferes with apoptosis, or cell death. By targeting STAT signaling, the researchers hope to inhibit the progression of head and neck cancer.

Albert DeLeo, Ph.D., professor of pathology, and Robert Ferris, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of otolaryngology, will head up an additional project to develop a therapeutic vacc
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