Genomics and Cancer Biology

Head and Neck Cancer Research Program

Beginning over 20 years ago, a group of basic science faculty at Einstein, led by Michael B.Prystowsky, MD, PhD, initiated a collaborative effort with the clinical care team at Montefiore led by Richard V. Smith, MD. The two teams joined forces to employ high-throughput genomic techniques established by Geoffrey J. Childs,PhD, to study Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma (HNSCC). Their goal: to develop new diagnostic and prognostic signatures to guide clinical decisions for optimal treatment and patient outcomes.

Current core group members include: Michael B. Prystowsky, MD, PhD; Geoffrey J. Childs, PhD; Thomas M. Harris, PhD; Thomas J. Ow, MD; Jeffrey E. Segall, PhD; and Richard V. Smith, MD.

The group maintains a database of global gene expression, methylation and global proteomic data from about 500 head and neck tumors as a resource. The database is augmented by a linked clinical database that stores information on demographics, tumor characteristics, treatment, recurrence, survival, and other relevant clinical information and outcome measures from each patient they study. This database is an invaluable resource for the group’s translational research, which speeds the application of innnovative treatment strategies from the laboratory bench to the patient bedside.

One specific research focus is the role of miR-375, a micro-RNA, in modifying tumor phenotypes. The investigators decided to pursue this line of inquiry based on their finding that lower levels of miR-375 are associated with decreased disease-specific survival and increased recurrence, and seem to increase invasive properties of head and neck cancer cells. The targets of this micro-RNA and their role in making tumors more invasive and less sensitive to ionizing radiation are being studied. The investigators are exploring the potential use of miR-375 as a nucleic acid therapeutic agent for HNSCC.

There is always a need to develop more-effective chemotherapies based on mutations and pathways affecting tumor survival and growth. Dr. Thomas J. Ow, a surgeon-scientist, is currently investigating predictive biomarkers and molecular treatment targets in HNSCC. His recent work has focused on signaling molecules in the intrinsic apoptosis pathway and cell cycle regulators as potential biomarkers and treatment targets.