NIH Grant Supports Collaborative Oral Cancer Research

The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded nearly half a million dollars to the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) for a collaborative research project that includes New York University (NYU), Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), and Providence Cancer Center.

The project is A New CTSA Partnership to Translate an Oral Cancer Biomarker from Lab to Clinic.

With the incidence of oral cancer on the rise, particularly among young people and women, this collaborative effort is focused on identifying oral cancer patients who are at low risk of cervical lymph node metastasis, and reducing the number of major surgeries to remove cervical lymph nodes, which are costly and inherently risky.

This is a perfect example of the kind of project the CTSA consortium has made possible.
Clay Johnston, MD, PhD, director of CTSI

The aims of this NCATS supplemental award are to enhance collaborations among investigators from the 60-member Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) program performing multidisciplinary projects in the area of bench-to-bedside translational research. UCSF, NYU, and OHSU are all part of the national CTSA consortium. The CTSA program is funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the National Institutes of Health.

“This is a perfect example of the kind of project the CTSA consortium has made possible,” said Clay Johnston, MD, PhD, associate vice chancellor of research and director of CTSI at UCSF. “It funds a very promising diagnostic approach through a typical gap in translation and it combines world-leading expertise from several institutions into a powerhouse team.”

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, is project director for this research. She will collaborate with subcontract principal investigators Brian Schmidt, DDS, MD, PhD, a professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at NYU and director of the university’s Bluestone Center for Clinical Research; Eric Orwoll, MD, associate dean for Clinical Science at OHSU and director of the Oregon Clinical & Translational Research Institute; and R. Bryan Bell, MD, DDS, FACS, medical director of the Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Program at Providence Cancer Center. Other collaborators include Henrik Bengtsson, PhD, and Rob Wynden at UCSF and Rob Schuff at OHSU.

The research project includes:

  • development and validation of a non-invasive molecular assay for a biomarker of oral cancer metastasis that was originally identified at UCSF; and
  • development of a prototype web-based clinical database to capture clinical information at the two clinical sites, and track samples and assay results.  

“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 Albertson. “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.”

Schmidt agrees and acknowledges the importance of the collaboration that he says “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.”

“This study is also an excellent example of how CTSAs can aid the translation of basic science into clinical practice,” added Orwoll.

The $492,000 award is a competitive revision supplement to UCSF’s five-year, $112-million CTSA grant (UL1 TR000004).