ACS awards $720,000 for study of head and neck cancer metastasis

Eduardo Méndez of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Clinical Research Division leads four-year effort to identify gene targets, beneficial mutational status
Dr. Eduardo Méndez, Clinical Research Division
Dr. Eduardo Méndez, Clinical Research Division Photo by Bo Jungmayer

The Clinical Research Division's Dr. Eduardo Méndez was recently awarded a four-year Research Scholar Grant from the American Cancer Society. The $720,000 award enables Méndez's study—the first in humans—to characterize the genetic abnormalities associated with head and neck cancer metastasis, or spread to other parts of the body.
Méndez, who is also part of the University of Washington's Department of Otolaryngology, and his team hope to use the information to identify gene targets whose silencing would render these cells more sensitive to current treatments. Patients with head and neck cancer are often not diagnosed until the disease is far advanced.

The researchers will also study TP53, one of the most commonly mutated tumor suppressor genes in head and neck cancer. Patients with this mutation have worse outcomes, but it is not yet known if TP53 is associated with the treatment resistance these cells exhibit. "Findings from this work will not only let us identify novel pro-metastatic genes that might be novel therapeutic targets, but also determine whether TP53 mutational status can be used to identify patients that would benefit from such novel therapies," Méndez said.

Méndez's collaborators include Drs. Chris Kemp (Human Biology Division), Chu Chen, Stephen Schwartz and Pei Wang (all of the Public Health Sciences Division).

The American Cancer Society, the largest nongovernment, not-for-profit funding source of cancer research in the U.S., awarded 96 national research and training grants totaling more than $43 million to 70 institutions nationwide in the second of two grants cycles for 2012. Research Scholar Grants fund investigator-initiated research in a variety of cancer-relevant areas. Recipients must be independent, self-directed researchers within six years of their first academic appointment.

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