OHSU researcher develops first animal model to treat devasting head and neck cancers

PORTLAND, Ore. - An Oregon Health & Science University Cancer Institute research laboratory has developed a novel mouse model designed specifically to study the often devastating head and neck squamous cell cancers. Xiao-Jing Wang, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues report their research breakthrough in the May 15 issue of Genes & Development.

"This is the first animal model that mimics human head and neck cancer at both the pathological and the molecular levels with 100 percent incidence," Wang said.

While scientists have identified some genes involved in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), overall, progress has been hampered by the lack of an animal model to study the development and progression of the disease.

"This model will provide a valuable tool to screen for novel therapeutic and preventive approaches for this often deadly cancer," said Wang, head of the Division of Molecular Biology of Head and Neck Cancer in the OHSU School of Medicine and a member of the OHSU Cancer Institute.

Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma is the sixth most common cancer in the United States. It has a low survival rate - fewer than 50 percent of head and neck patients survive beyond five years, and this rate has not changed in the past 20 years, despite progress in developing therapies for other cancers. Patients are usually resistant to routine chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In addition, the quality of life for survivors is usually miserable because the location of the cancer often destroys structures critical to speaking, breathing and swallowing.

In their research, Wang and her colleagues engineered a strain of mice to specifically lack expression of the transforming growth factor beta receptor II (TGFbRII) in epithelial cells of the oral cavity. By then introducing activating mutations in either the H-ras or K-ras (two different isoforms of the Ras GTPase), the researchers were able to induce invasive HNSCC

Contact: Rachel MacKnight
Oregon Health & Science University

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