Etiology and Pathogenesis of Oral Cancer (EPOC)




Maria Kukuruzinsa, PhD
Associate Dean of Research, Goldman School of Dental Medicine
Professor, Department of Molecular & Cell Biology

Avrum Spira, MD
Chief, Division of Computational Biomedicine, Boston University School of Medicine
Director, Translational Bioinformatics Program, Clinical and Translational Science Institute
Professor of Medicine, Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, and Bioinformatics

Maria Trojanowska, PhD
Director, Arthritis Center
Professor of Medicine

Discovery highlight, March 2017:

The combined efforts of members of the Etiology & Pathogenesis of Oral Cancer ARC have resulted in significantly increased understanding of the molecular underpinnings of head & neck cancer. The major highlights of this ARC include:

• Greater Boston Head & Neck Cancer Program: A Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) proposal in head and neck cancer was submitted to the National Cancer Institute in May 2016. This proposal was the result of several years of infrastructure development and scientific and clinical collaborations in the Greater Boston area with partners including Boston University, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Massachusetts General Hospital, Brown University and the Forsyth Institute. We have also partnered with the BU-BMC Cancer Center to develop further infrastructure for translational cancer research. This resulted in a joint proposal to the Massachusetts Life Science Center Capital Program for a Precision Medicine Center in Head & Neck and Lung Cancers. While these specific proposals were not funded at the first submission, significant groundwork has been laid for ongoing basic and translational research and for future competitive grant proposals. The Greater Boston Head & Neck Cancer Program was invited to participate in a monthly teleconference with the National Cancer Institute and other hand & neck cancer research groups as well as in an upcoming workshop. It is anticipated that the relationships developed through this mechanism will result in new and lasting collaborations.

• In an effort to diversify our funding portfolio and to expedite translation of basic research to human endpoints, significant efforts have also been devoted to developing collaborations with industry. Importantly, our findings have been recognized to have translational value and have led to a number of new collaborations. Successful partnerships have been negotiated with Biogen, Eisai and Pharmaxis, and discussions are at various stages of development with several other industry partners including AstraZeneca, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, SimulTOF Systems, Vigilant Biosciences and a spin-out company from the MIT Nanomechanics Laboratory.

• Team science publications: the significant new findings of the EPOC ARC have been highlighted in important publications. 32 manuscripts have been published since the establishment of the ARC in 2013 with a further 8 in preparation or under review. 45 ARC-related abstracts were presented in meetings during the same period. These publications and presentations are testament to the outstanding team science approach of the EPOC ARC in leveraging the strengths and expertise of researchers, clinicians and trainees from many different fields to address the common challenge of combatting head and neck cancer.



 Oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) is among the most morbid cancers with poor survival rates, whose incidence is on the rise. The overall goal of this multidisciplinary ARC application is to determine the molecular mechanisms underlying the Etiology and Pathogenesis of Oral Cancer (EPOC), to identify novel biomarkers predictive of disease initiation, progression and morbidity, to evaluate responses to environmental carcinogens and the role of oral microbiome, and to examine the effectiveness of novel therapeutics in preclinical testing using orthotopic nude mouse models of non-metastatic and metastatic tongue cancers. In addition, this ARC will develop supportive data for translational projects for a P50 Research Center Grant for Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) in Head and Neck Cancer application. The strength of the EPOC ARC application is its multidisciplinary team of investigators which brings together diverse expertise from different departments and schools at Boston University with the core based in the Department of Medicine and its outstanding scientific, bioinformatics and computational  resources. Additional strengths represent the access to human tumor biospecimens and staged pre-malignant oral lesions and the availability of orthotopic nude mouse models of non-metastatic and metastatic tongue cancers. Our studies will generate new knowledge of high impact and translational relevance to oral cancer. Further, information derived from these studies will be relevant to other malignancies and provide a platform for future exploration of new biomarkers and therapeutics for other cancers.



Name / Title Department School * Core Faculty
Maria Kukuruzinska, PhD; Professor/Associate Dean of Research Molecular and Cell Biology Dental Medicine *Director
Avrum Spira, MD; Professor/Division Chief Medicine Medicine *Director
Maria Trojanowska, PhD; Director, Arthritis Center/Professor Medicine Medicine *Director
Manish Bais, DVM, PhD; Research Associate Professor Molecular and Cell Biology Dental Medicine *
Irving Bigio, PhD; Professor, Biomedical Engineering Biomedical Engineering Engineering *
Caroline Genco, PhD; Professor Medicine Medicine *
Tony Godfrey, PhD; Associate Professor Surgery Medicine *
Susan Langmore, PhD; Professor Otolaryngology Medicine *
Stefano Monti, PhD; Associate Professor Medicine Medicine *
Michael Platt, MD, MSc; Associate Professor Otolaryngology Medicine *
David Sherr, PhD; Professor Environmental Health Public Health *
Philip Trackman, PhD; Professor Molecular and Cell Biology Dental Medicine *
Xaralabos Varelas, PhD; Associate Professor Biochemistry Medicine *
Muhammad Zaman, PhD; Professor Biomedical Engineering Engineering *