Emory Report
September 10, 2007
Volume 60, Number 3


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September 10, 2007

Emory Winship Cancer Institute earns $12.5 million SPORE grant

By Vincent Dollard

The National Cancer Institute has awarded a five-year, $12.5 million Specialized Program of Research Excellence grant in head and neck cancer to the Winship Cancer Institute. This is the first SPORE grant ever received in the state of Georgia.

SPORE grants are large, multidisciplinary federal grants that fund scientific research aimed at bringing new laboratory findings quickly to the clinic.

With an expected 40,000 new cases and 11,500 deaths in 2007, squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck accounts for 4 percent to 5 percent of all newly diagnosed cancers in the U.S. According to recent National Cancer Institute statistics, Southeastern states rank among the highest in the nation in head and neck cancer incidence.

“Head and neck cancer can be a devastating disease,” said Dong Moon Shin, professor of hematology and oncology at Emory Winship and principal investigator of the grant. “Our focus on this grant is to facilitate, critically review and rapidly move new discoveries to patients. Our goal is to decrease the morbidity, suffering, disability and death caused by this disease.

“Because of the large number of aging smokers and ex-smokers in the U.S. population, the incidence of aerodigestive cancers, including lung cancer and head and neck cancers, will remain high for the next two to three decades despite the overall decline in smoking,” said Shin, a Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Cancer Scholar.

“This is an extremely important grant for Emory University and for Georgia,” said Brian Leyland-Jones, director of Emory Winship and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar. “This SPORE grant is a testament to Emory Winship’s position as a national leader in research and patient care, particularly in aerodigestive tract cancers.”

There are only four other head and neck cancer SPORE grants in the U.S.: University of Texas MD Anderson, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins.

“The SPORE grant earned by Dr. Shin and his colleagues is an important milestone for scientific research at Emory University,” said Michael Johns, executive vice president of health affairs at Emory and a head and neck cancer surgeon. “The National Cancer Institute continues to recognize the important work conducted at Emory Winship through awards such as this grant.”

The Emory Winship SPORE program will consist of four major translational research projects:

• Chemoprevention with Green Tea Polyphenon: Investigators will use a combination of green tea Polyphenon E, a chemical substance found in plants, and Erlotinib (Tarceva), a growth factor inhibitor, to prevent advanced premalignant lesions of the head and neck. Preliminary studies show that the combination of the polyphenol and Erlotinib inhibits growth of SCCHN in the laboratory and in animal models.

• Targeting Death Receptors-Mediated Apoptosis for Head and Neck Cancers: Researchers will work to develop therapies aimed at blocking cellular pathways that allow metastatic cancer cells to proliferate.

• Development of Novel Curcumin Analogs for the Treatment of Head and Neck Cancer: Curcumin is a principal ingredient in the Indian curry spice tumeric. Curcumin has shown anti-cancer activity in earlier studies. In this project, a group of Emory researchers has modified the chemical structure of curcumin and tested its anti-cancer activity in the laboratory. “The analog we developed appears to be more potent than the original curcumin compound,” said Shin. “This is very exciting because it was developed here at Emory by our own researchers.” This project will test the anti-cancer effectiveness of the new analog. Eventually, researchers will develop a clinical trial to test its effectiveness.

• Biodegradable Nanoparticle Formulated Taxol for Targeted Therapy of Head and Neck Cancer: Emory Winship and Georgia Tech investigators will work to develop a new class of biodegradable nanoparticles, which will be designed to carry the chemotherapy drug Taxol for targeted therapy of head and neck cancers.

Fadlo Khuri, deputy director for clinical and translational research at Emory Winship and co-principal investigator of the grant, said, “We earned this grant thanks to the exceptional science that will be conducted here; however, it’s important to note that the NCI places great value on the strong commitment of support including space, recruitment, shared resources and matching funds from the Emory University School of Medicine, Emory’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center, the Georgia Cancer Coalition and the Georgia Research Alliance. This grant truly represents a team effort.” Khuri is a Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Cancer Scholar.