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Home-based chemo skyrockets at one US center

Source: www.medscape.com
Author: Nick Mulcahy

In the fall of 2019, the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia started planning a pilot program of home-based chemotherapy for two treatment regimens (one via infusion and one via injection). Six months later, the Cancer Care at Home program had referred 40 patients.

The uptake within the university’s large regional health system was acceptable but not rapid, admitted Amy Laughlin, MD, a hematology-oncology fellow involved with the program.

Then COVID-19 arrived, along with related travel restrictions.

Suddenly, in a 4-week period (March 10 to April 7), an additional 135 patients had been referred ― a 300% increase from earlier. The list of chemotherapies delivered went from two to seven, with more coming.

“We’re not the pilot anymore ― we’re the standard of care,” Laughlin told Medscape Medical News.

“The impact [on patients] is amazing,” she said. “As long as you are selecting the right patients and right therapy, it is feasible and even preferable for a lot of patients.”

For example, patients with hormone-positive breast cancer who receive leuprolide (to shut down the ovaries and suppress estrogen production) ordinarily would have to visit a Penn facility for an injection every month, potentially for years. Now, a nurse can meet patients at home (or before the COVID-19 pandemic, even at their place of work) and administer the injection, saving the patient travel time and associated costs.

This home-based chemotherapy service does not appear to be offered elsewhere in the United States, and a major oncology organization ― the Community Oncology Alliance ― is opposed to the practice because of patient safety concerns.

The service is not offered at a sample of cancer centers queried by Medscape Medical News, including the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Moores Cancer Center, the University of California, San Diego.

Opposition Because of Safety Concerns
On April 9, the Community Oncology Alliance (COA) issued a statement saying it “fundamentally opposes home infusion of chemotherapy, cancer immunotherapy, and cancer treatment supportive drugs because of serious patient safety concerns.”

The COA warned that “many of the side effects caused by cancer treatment can have a rapid, unpredictable onset that places patients in incredible jeopardy and can even be life-threatening.”

In contrast, in a recent communication related to COVID-19, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network tacitly endorsed the concept, stating that a number of chemotherapies may potentially be administered at home, but it did not include guidelines for doing so.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology said that chemotherapy at home is “an issue [we] are monitoring closely,” according to a spokesperson.

What’s Involved
Criteria for home-based chemotherapy at Penn include use of anticancer therapies that a patient has previously tolerated and low toxicity (that can be readily managed in the home setting). In addition, patients must be capable of following a med chart.

The chemotherapy is reconstituted at a Penn facility in a Philadelphia suburb. A courier then delivers the drug to the patient’s home, where it is administered by an oncology-trained nurse. Drugs must be stable for at least a few hours to qualify for the program.

The Penn program started with two regimens: EPOCH (etoposide, vincristine, doxorubicin, cyclophosphamide, and prednisone) for lymphoma, and leuprolide acetate injections for either breast or prostate cancer.

The two treatments are polar opposites in terms of complexity, common usage, and time required, which was intended, said Laughlin.

Time to deliver the chemo varies from a matter of minutes with leuprolide to more than 2 hours for rituximab, a lymphoma drug that may be added to EPOCH.

The current list of at-home chemo agents in the Penn program also includes bortezomib, lanreotide, zoledronic acid, and denosumab. Soon to come are rituximab and pembrolizumab for lung cancer and head and neck cancer.

Already Practiced in Some European Countries
Home-based chemotherapy dates from at least the 1980s in the medical literature and is practiced in some European countries.

April, 2020|Oral Cancer News|

Gene variant makes head and neck cancer more aggressive

Source: www.futurity.org
Author: posted by National University of Singapore

A genetic variant in a gene called MET is responsible for more aggressive growth of head and neck cancer, and lung cancer, according to a new study.

A further probe into the finding reveals therapeutic strategies that could potentially target this genetic alteration and pave the way for better and more effective treatments.

The MET gene encodes for a cancer promoting protein that relays growth, survival, and transmission of signals in cancer cells, researchers say.

As reported in Nature Communications, researchers also identified a form of MET protein which showed ethnic preference with higher incidence among Asians, and associated with poorer prognosis in patients diagnosed with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma or lung squamous cell carcinoma.

Even though the MET variant does not seem to predispose someone to head and neck cancer or lung cancer, it leads to more aggressive growth of cancers that have already developed.

Unlike other MET mutants, existing MET-blocking drugs do not seem to inhibit this genetic variant, prompting researchers to conduct further investigation on the mechanism behind the genetic alteration.

The team found that the single amino-acid change in the MET receptor from the genetic alteration leads to preferential strong binding to another cancer promoting protein, HER2. Both proteins then work together to drive cancer aggression and allow the cancer cells to survive therapies that involve MET-blocking drugs.

“The mechanism of this MET variant is novel and unreported. This finding contributes to the growing evidence of the role of genetic variants in affecting clinical outcome, and underscores the importance of diving deep into our genetic inheritance in cancer research,” says Kong Li Ren of the Cancer Science Institute (CSI) Singapore at NUS, who initiated the study.

Knowledge of this unique mechanism also allowed researchers to identify several HER2 inhibitors capable of blocking cancer progression the genetic alteration caused.

“Our study represents a conceptual advancement to cancer research, as we have shown that it is possible to block the activity of a cancer-driving gene by administrating a targeted therapy directed not against the mutant protein in question, but rather, a corresponding protein with which it binds to,” says Goh Boon Cher, deputy director and senior principal investigator at CSI Singapore.

“The remarkable anti-tumor responses observed in our experimental models, coupled with the availability of FDA-approved HER2 inhibitors, also presents a huge opportunity for clinicians to improve disease outcome of this genetic alteration via precision medicine.”

The research team is now translating the findings to a clinical trial where patients tested positive for this MET variant gene are treated with suitable medications that have shown effectiveness in the laboratory.

Additional coauthors are from the National University Cancer Institute, the National Cancer Centre Singapore, and the Bioinformatics Institute at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, Singapore.

Source: National University of Singapore

April, 2020|Oral Cancer News|

Guidelines developed for head and neck care during COVID-19

Source: www.physiciansweekly.com
Author: posted by Physicians Weekly

In a special article published online March 31 in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, guidelines are presented for head and neck physical examination and associated procedures during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Since head and neck examinations are considered high risk in patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, Babak Givi, M.D., from NYU Langone Health in New York City, and colleagues developed recommendations for health care workers based on review of the literature and communication with physicians with firsthand knowledge of safety procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The authors note that nonurgent appointments should be postponed to limit infection of patients or health care workers. This may include postponing appointments for patients with benign disease and for those undergoing routine surveillance after treatment for head and neck cancer. Patients should be queried by telephone about new or concerning signs or symptoms that may indicate recurrence and/or pending issues, as well as symptoms suggestive of COVID-19. In-person clinic visits should be offered to those at risk for significant negative outcomes without evaluation. To maintain relationships with patients and support assessments that can be made without in-person examinations, the use of telephone, video, or telemedicine visits should be considered. In-person examinations should be limited to patients who need a thorough head and neck examination. Detailed guidelines are provided for physical examinations and associated procedures.

“By following carefully planned routines and procedures, we will be able to provide excellent care and help protect the safety and health of our colleagues,” the authors write.

April, 2020|Oral Cancer News|

New blood test can detect wide range of cancers, now available to at risk individuals in clinical study at Dana-Farber

Source: www.dana-farber.org
Author: news release

In a study involving thousands of participants, a new blood test detected more than 50 types of cancer as well as their location within the body with a high degree of accuracy, according to an international team of researchers led by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Mayo Clinic.

The results, published online today by the Annals of Oncology, indicate that the test – which identified some particularly dangerous cancers that lack standard approaches to screening – can play a key role in early detection of cancer. Early detection can often be critical to successful treatment.

Developed by GRAIL, Inc., of Menlo Park, Calif., the test uses next-generation sequencing to analyze the arrangement of chemical units called methyl groups on the DNA of cancer cells. Adhering to specific sections of DNA, methyl groups help control whether genes are active or inactive. In cancer cells, the placement of methyl groups, or methylation pattern, is often markedly different from that of normal cells – to the extent that abnormal methylation patterns are even more characteristic of cancer cells than genetic mutations are. When tumor cells die, their DNA, with methyl groups firmly attached, empties into the blood, where it can be analyzed by the new test.

“Our previous work indicated that methylation-based tests outperform traditional DNA-sequencing approaches to detecting multiple forms of cancer in blood samples,” said Dana-Farber’s Geoffrey Oxnard, MD, co-lead author of the study with Minetta Liu, MD, of the Mayo Clinic. “The results of this study suggest that such assays could be a feasible way of screening people for a wide variety of cancers.”

In the study, investigators used the test to analyze cell-free DNA (DNA from normal and cancerous cells that had entered the bloodstream upon the cells’ death) in 6,689 blood samples, including 2,482 from people diagnosed with cancer and 4,207 from people without cancer. The samples from patients with cancer represented more than 50 cancer types, including breast, colorectal, esophageal, gallbladder, bladder, gastric, ovarian, head and neck, lung, lymphoid leukemia, multiple myeloma, and pancreatic cancer.

The overall specificity of the test was 99.3%, meaning that only 0.7% of the results incorrectly indicated that cancer was present. The sensitivity of the assay for 12 cancers that account for nearly two-thirds of U.S. cancer deaths was 67.3%, meaning the test could find the cancer two-thirds of the time but a third of the time the test returned a negative result. Within this group, the sensitivity was 39% for patients with stage I cancer, 69% for those with stage II, 83% for those with stage III, and 92% for those with stage IV. The stage I-III sensitivity across all 50 cancer types was 43.9%. When cancer was detected, the test correctly identified the organ or tissue where the cancer originated in more than 90% of cases – critical information for determining how the disease is diagnosed and managed.

“Our results show that this approach to testing cell-free DNA in blood can detect a broad range of cancer types at virtually any stage of the disease, with specificity and sensitivity approaching the level needed for population-level screening,” Oxnard observed. “The test can be an important part of clinical trials for early cancer detection.”

The study was funded by GRAIL, Inc. As part of further validation research, Dana-Farber has joined a multi-center clinical trial of the test. The PATHFINDER study intends to enroll about 6,200 participants across the U.S. Participants in the study will have the results of the test communicated to them.

Dana-Farber researchers are aiming to enroll hundreds of individuals, mainly cancer survivors and other people who are at elevated cancer risk. Enrollment is limited to individuals who receive care through the Partners HealthCare system.

April, 2020|Oral Cancer News|

Insurance coverage key to timely care in head and neck cancer cases

Source: www.eurekalert.org
Author: Medical University of South Carolina

A study published in the JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery examines the effect of Medicaid expansion on head and neck cancer patients, finding that the expansions under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) were associated with improved access to care for these patients and selective Medicaid expansion may worsen existing regional disparities in terms of access to care and outcomes.

Medicaid expansion refers to a provision in the ACA that called for expansion of Medicaid eligibility to cover more low-income Americans. It was determined that each state would decide whether to participate in the expansion – accept federal funds – or not. As of 2020, 37 states including the District of Columbia accepted Medicaid expansion. South Carolina is one of 14 states that has not. As a result, there are gaps in coverage for adults who have incomes above Medicaid eligibility limits yet still below the poverty level, exacerbating challenges with access to care, which is vital in the early detection of cancer.

“We performed the study because delivering timely head and neck cancer care is critical for optimal outcomes,” said Evan Graboyes, M.D., a researcher at Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina and senior author on the study. The surgeon at MUSC Health specializes in the treatment of head and neck cancers.

The team analyzed data from a national sample of nearly 91,000 adults with newly diagnosed head and neck cancer who were identified from the National Cancer Database. In this observational study, researchers examined the effect that Medicaid expansion, as part of the ACA, had on the patients’ stages of cancer at the time of diagnosis as well as treatment delays for these patients.

Medicaid expansions are known to increase the percentage of patients getting treatment who have localized (stages I or II) cancer at diagnosis for cancers such as colon and breast cancer that have screening tests. Graboyes said the researchers wanted to know the effect of Medicaid expansions on head and neck cancer, which lacks a screening test, he said.

The study showed in states that expanded Medicaid as part of the ACA, patients with head and neck cancer were more likely to be diagnosed with localized (stages I to II) cancer and initiate treatment in a timelier fashion than patients in nonexpansion states. Because of the strong association with a particular stage at diagnosis and the timely treatment that leads to survival for head and neck cancer, the study suggests that Medicaid expansion that offers insurance coverage may help to improve outcomes for these patients.

“I hope that the data we produce gets referenced and is used by policy makers in the future,” Graboyes said.

Helmneh Sineshaw, M.D., lead author on the study and a principal scientist at the American Cancer Society, said the study found that Medicaid expansion provided a huge benefit to those who didn’t have access to insurance, leading to earlier diagnosis and timely treatment.

“What we find is that patients, in states that expanded Medicaid, had a greater chance of being diagnosed early, whereas patients living in nonexpansion states were likely to be diagnosed in a more advanced stage,” Sineshaw said.

Graboyes said delays in the delivery of head and neck cancers are a key driver of suboptimal survival for patients with head and neck cancers and contribute to racial disparities in mortality. Head and neck cancers are rising in number and carry a high mortality rate, with black patients even more likely to die from it.

This study adds to a growing portfolio of other health disparity studies by Graboyes and colleagues, including:

A 5-year $1.2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute awarded in 2019 to decrease mortality and racial disparities in survival for head and neck cancer patients by developing innovative interventions to improve the timeliness, equity and quality of care delivery.

A 2018 study in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery that found that ensuring head and neck cancer patients receive postoperative radiotherapy within six weeks of their surgical procedure maximizes their chances of a cure.

Graboyes said more research is needed to understand more fully how changes in insurance coverage affects patients with head and neck cancer. Although there is a strong relationship between the patient’s stage at diagnosis and timely treatment, the current study does not address whether Medicaid expansion is associated with fewer recurrences or better survival since there has not been enough time since the implementation of Medicaid expansion to answer this question.

Another limitation of the current study is that it did not analyze how Medicaid expansion was associated with changes in the cost of treatment for head and neck cancer patients. More research is needed to understand the relative costs of expansion of Medicaid provisions as compared to the assumed cost savings of catching and treating head and neck cancers in a more localized stage (I to II) versus advanced stages (III to IV), he said.

“The study is an important first step in understanding how insurance coverage affects health care delivery for patients with head and neck cancer, particularly those who, due to lack of insurance coverage, are more likely to present with advanced disease and experience treatment delays.”

April, 2020|Oral Cancer News|

The YAP signal plays a crucial role in head-and-neck cancer onset

Source: www.eurekalert.org
Author: press release, Kobe University

Joint research between Kobe University and National Hospital Organization Kyushu Cancer Center has revealed that mice with mutations in the YAP signal pathway develop head-and-neck cancer over an extremely short period of time (world’s fastest cancer onset mouse model), indicating that this pathway plays a crucial role in the onset of these cancers. This discovery may shed light on the development of new drugs for head-and-neck cancer.

This research resulted from a collaboration between a research group led by Professor SUZUKI Akira and Associate Professor MAEHAMA Tomohiko at Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine, and Dr. MASUDA Muneyuki’s team at Kyushu Cancer Center.

These results were published in the American scientific journal ‘Science Advances‘ on March 18.

Main Points:
>Deletion of MOB1 (*1, which represses YAP) in mouse tongues causes strong activation of YAP (*2), leading to the early onset of cancer (in about 1 week).

>In humans, the expression of YAP increases during the development of dysplasia (pre-cancerous lesions), prior to the onset of head-and-neck cancer. YAP continues to increase with the development and progression of cancer. This high YAP activation is linked to poor patient prognosis.

>The onset and progression of head-and-neck cancer in the mice in this study, and the proliferation of stem cells in this cancer in humans, are dependent on YAP.

>These results suggest that cancer develops when the YAP activation exceeds a threshold. YAP may play a fundamental role in head-and-neck cancer onset and progression. These conclusions represent a paradigm shift in the understanding of these cancers.

>The mouse model developed in this study can be used in research to develop new drugs for head-and-neck cancer and, in addition, provides a beneficial resource for cancer research in general.

>By inhibiting YAP, the development and progression of head-and-neck cancer can be suppressed. Thus, the YAP pathway provides a good target for head-and-neck cancer treatments.

Research Background

Head-and-neck cancer in humans
Head-and-neck cancer is the sixth most common type of cancer in the world, affecting 600,000 people annually. In Japan there are around 22,500 new cases every year. This ‘head and neck’ includes the oral cavity and areas of the throat (pharynx and larynx). Among these, mouth cancers (especially tongue cancer) are the most prevalent.

It is understood that exposure to carcinogens, such as those found in cigarettes and alcohol, as well as mechanical irritation of the mucous membranes in the mouth, tooth decay and improperly fitted dentures, are risk factors for the development of head-and-neck cancer.

In addition, 15% of head-and-neck cancer is caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which in particular causes oropharynx cancer.

The prognosis for patients who are HPV-positive is relatively good. Conversely, prognosis is poor for HPV negative patients and in most cases, mutations are found in the tumor suppressor gene TP53 (p53). However, mutations in this gene alone are not sufficient to cause head-and-neck cancer. It has been thought that changes in other molecules are also necessary for cancer development, however these causes remain elusive.

From comprehensive cancer genome analyses, it is known that PTEN/P13K (46%), FAT1 (32%), EGFR (15%) gene mutations are also found in HPV-negative head-and-neck cancer. However, the genetic pathway of these molecules in relation to head-and-neck cancer development has not been sufficiently understood.

Mouse models of cancer
Up until now, research using mouse models of head-and-neck cancer has discovered that if both the p53 and Akt genes are mutated, 50% of mice will develop this type of cancer about 9 months after the mutation (the average mouse lifespan is 2 years).

The onset of cancer begins after many genetic mutations have accumulated (multistep carcinogenesis). Mice with a mutation in one important molecule usually develop cancer within 4 to 24 months (with the majority showing signs between 6 to 12 months).

The YAP pathway
The function of the transcriptional co-activator YAP is to turn ‘on’ the transcription of gene clusters related to cell growth. The LATS/MOB1 complex phosphorylates YAP, thereby excluding YAP from the nucleus, leading to the subsequent degradation of YAP proteins. In other words, MOB1 and LATS act as a ‘brake’ (tumor suppressor) to inhibit cell proliferation facilitated by YAP. It has been reported that in 8% of human head-and-neck cancer cases, the YAP gene is amplified and there is a connection between YAP activation, cancer progression and poor prognosis.

This research group produced mice with MOB1 deletion in their tongues (so that YAP would be intrinsically activated) in order to perform a detailed analysis in vivo of the role that the YAP pathway plays in head-and-neck cancer.

Research Methodology

Mice with MOB1 deletion exhibit rapid onset tongue cancer
This research group developed mice with MOB1 deletion in their tongues by applying the drug tamoxifen to their tongues and then modifying them genetically using the Cre-loxP system (*4).

Three days after applying tamoxifen, the amount of MOB1 had barely decreased, however by day 7, the vast majority of these proteins had disappeared. At this point, a third of the mice demonstrated rapid onset head-and-neck cancer (intraepithelial tongue cancer), with all mice developing the disease by day 14. The cancer had progressed in all mice by day 28 (invasive tongue cancer). The team succeeded in developing the world’s fastest mouse model of cancer onset. Both domestic and international patents for this model have been applied for.

This mouse model showed that head-and-neck cancer develops quickly (within a week) when the YAP pathway is strongly activated, suggesting that this pathway plays an extremely important role in head-and-neck cancer onset.

YAP activation and tumorigenic properties of the tongue epithelium in MOB1 deletion mice.
The epithelial cells (on the surface of the tongues) of MOB1 deletion mice exhibited the following properties characteristic of tumor development: increased cell proliferation and cell saturation density, impaired cell polarity, low levels of apoptosis (cell death), increase in undifferentiated cells, and chromosomal instability (characterized by increases in aneuploid cells (*5)), multipolar spindles (*6) and micronucleated cells). On a biochemical level, activation of YAP and a decrease in LATS proteins was evident due to MOB1 deletion.

The epithelial cells acquired the characteristics of tumor cells due to the YAP activation caused by the deletion of MOB1.

YAP activation in the stages of tongue cancer in humans
The development of human tongue cancer can be divided to the following stages; the normal stage, the dysplasia stage, the intraepithelial cancer stage (*8) and the invasive cancer stage (*9).

If we look at YAP activation across all these stages, we can see that YAP is enhanced in the dysplasia stage which proceeds the onset of cancer. YAP activation shows continued increase during the subsequent stages of cancer progression. In cases where YAP is highly activated, overall survival is decreased and the likelihood of cancer relapse is high.

In other words, YAP increases before the onset of cancer and continues to increase as the cancer develops and progresses. Accumulation of YAP is linked to poor patient prognosis.

Cancer formation is dependent on YAP when MOB1 is deleted
Invasive cancer occurred in MOB1 deletion mice. However, when both YAP and MOB1 are deleted from mice, cancer onset is halted at the dysplasia stage, showing that the onset of head-and-neck cancer is dependent on YAP (Figure 2).

Among current YAP pathway inhibitors, the SRC inhibitor Dasatinib (*10) was shown to be the most effective (SRC has been previously shown to activate YAP both directly and indirectly). Dasatinib was shown to prevent the onset of intraepithelial head-and-neck cancer in the MOB1 deletion mice. It also suppressed the development of invasive cancer in MOB1 deletion mice that had reached the intraepithelial head-and-neck cancer stage.

In human head-and-neck cancer stem cells, it is possible to suppress cell proliferation either by inhibiting YAP gene expression or by adding YAP inhibitors. Cisplatin, which is commonly used to treat head-and-neck cancer, is augmented when YAP is suppressed.

In mice, head-and-neck cancer onset and progression was suppressed when YAP was inhibited. In the same way, it was shown that in human tongue cancer stem cells, cell proliferation was also suppressed when YAP was inhibited.

Known genetic mutations in human head-and-neck cancer and YAP activation
Genetic mutations in p53, PTEN/PI3K, FAT1, and EGFR have been identified in HPV-negative head-and-neck cancer.

This research group showed that EGF signal activation and mutations in p53, PTEN and FAT1 each play a role in YAP activation. Furthermore, YAP activation gradually increases as these genetic mutations accumulate.

Normally, cancer takes time to develop as it is a multistep process. However, in this study, intraepithelial head-and-neck cancer rapidly developed just from highly strengthening YAP activation.

In conclusion, this study raises the possibility that the following process for head-and-neck cancer development takes place: A. Cancer develops when the YAP activation exceeds a threshold due to the accumulation of genetic mutations in p53, PTEN/PI3K, FAT1 and EGFR (Figure 3). B. Subsequently, YAP continues to accumulate after cancer has developed, resulting in cancer progression.

Conclusion and Further Developments
YAP is frequently activated in cancer cells although genetic mutations in the YAP pathway are not frequently found. It is thought that this is why the importance of the YAP pathway in the onset of head-and-neck cancer was unclear until now.

1. YAP activation levels are high before the onset of head-and-neck cancer in humans.
2. YAP is further activated as the cancer progresses.
3. The high frequency of mutations in p53, PTEN/PI3K, FAT1 and EGFR all activate YAP.
4. The accumulation of these molecular mutations gradually leads to high YAP activation:
4a. The accumulation of genetic mutations in p53, PTEN/PI3K, FAT1 and EGFR cause YAP to reach its threshold, culminating the onset of cancer.
4b. YAP continues to accumulate after the cancer onset, resulting in further cancer progression.

It is necessary to consider YAP as a basis for head-and-neck cancer onset and progression. This represents a paradigm shift in our understanding of these cancers.

In addition, it has also been shown that risk factors for head-and-neck cancer, such as cigarette smoking, mechanical irritation of mucous membranes and HPV infection, also play a part in YAP activation.

The mouse model in this study: 1. Is the fastest mouse model in the world for showing the natural onset of cancer. 2. Can be used to visualize cancer onset and progression. 3. Allows cancers to be developed naturally at the same time. 4. Allows cancer onset and progression to be analyzed in mice immediately after birth, allowing drug tests to be conducted in a shorter period of time and in small quantities. The results suggest that this mouse model would be ideal, not only for research into developing new treatments for head-and-neck cancer, but also for cancer research in general.

It is expected that the YAP pathway will provide a good target for drugs used in the treatment of head-and-neck cancer because inhibiting YAP not only suppresses the cancer onset but can also prevent its progression.

Researchers from all over the world, including this research group, are currently trying to find new drugs that target the YAP pathway. We have shown one factor that is effective against head-and-neck cancer. It is also expected that the mouse model will become an indispensable tool for evaluating their results and for head-and-neck cancer research.

Glossary
1. MOB1 (Mps One Binder 1): MOB1 is necessary for activating the LATS kinase and acts as a brake (tumor suppressor) on downstream, negatively-controlled YAP. Deletion of MOB1 exacerbates cell proliferation and leads to cancer.
2. YAP (Yes-associated Protein): YAP is a transcriptional coactivator. It forms a complex with multiple transcription factors inside the nucleus to control the expression of various genes. YAP is phosphorylated by the LATS kinase, causing YAP to be excluded from the nucleus and inactivated.
3. Human Papillomavirus (HPV): A type of papillomavirus, there are over a hundred genotypes or varieties of HPV. The virus is linked to genital warts, head-and-neck cancer and cervical cancer.
4. Cre-loxP system: A genetic modification system using Cre recombinase, which catalyze DNA recombination between two loxP sites (a 34-base pair nucleotide sequence). If Cre is expressed in a cell where chromosomal DNA has been artificially inserted into two loxP sites, the intervening DNA segment is deleted.
5. Aneuploid Cells: contain an abnormal number of individual chromosomes. This does not include a difference of one or more complete sets of chromosomes.
6. Multipolar Spindle: Spindles are formed during cell division to separate chromosomes between daughter cells. In normal cells, a pair of centrosomes forms prior to cell division to organize proteins called microtubules into a spindle between the two centrosomes. However, in cancer cells there are more than two centrosomes, and so-called multipolar spindles form. This can cause chromosomal instability and lead to the formation of aneuploid cells because the chromosomes were not correctly allocated at the time of cell division.
7. Dysplasia: The presence of cells of an abnormal type within a tissue. In medical diagnosis, the presence of abnormal-looking cells (dysplasia) observed under a microscope can signify an increased chance of a patient developing cancer (pre-cancerous symptoms).
8. Intraepithelial cancer: This is where cancer cells are found within the intraepithelial layer of cells which form on an organ’s surface. At this point, cancer cells have not been able to penetrate the basement membrane and have not spread deeply. Related terms include Carcinoma in Situ (CIS), intraepithelial tumor and intraepithelial neoplasia.
9. Invasive cancer: is where cancer cells penetrate the basement membrane, a thin membrane separating them from other tissues. From there, cancer can spread to the surrounding area.
10. Dasatinib: a chemotherapy drug that inhibits the SRC kinase family, which can cause malignant transformation in cells. SRC is both directly and indirectly connected to YAP activation, so dasatinib can also inhibit YAP. It is currently used to treat leukemia but is not prescribed for head-and-neck cancer treatment.

Acknowledgements:
This research was made possible primarily through funding to the project ‘The development of cancer treatment methods targeting cancer suppression genes.’ (Lead researcher: Suzuki Akira) as part of the Japanese Agency for Medical Research and Development’s Project for Cancer Research and Therapeutic Evolution (AMED P-CREATE).

March, 2020|Oral Cancer News|

Okayama University Research: disrupting blood supply to tumors as a new strategy to treat oral cancer

Source: www.prnewswire.com
Author: press release provided by Okayama University

Researchers at Okayama University have recently published a study in Cells in which they reduced the size of oral cancer tumors by damaging the blood vessels surrounding the tumor cells.

Cancer cells have ingenious mechanisms of survival within the body. One strategy they adopt is developing a network of blood vessels around themselves as a source of blood supply. Scientists have long been investigating ways to prevent this blood flow to cancer cells. CXCR4 is a protein known to be closely involved with tumor growth. However, its exact role in tumor progression is unclear. A research team led by Assistant Professor KAWAI Hotaka and YOSHIDA Saori (graduate student, D.D.S.), Assistant Professor EGUCHI Takanori at Okayama University has now shown that CXCR4 is the main culprit maintaining the arrangement of tumor blood vessels.

Firstly they found, immunohistochemistry on human clinical specimens revealed that tumor vessels expressed CXCR4 in human oral cancer specimens. The next question to arise was whether the CXCR4-rich blood vessels were promoting tumor growth. In order to investigate this further, the oral cancer cells were transplanted into mice. Once the tumor grew in mice body, they were given AMD3100—a drug that antagonises CXCR4. When the tumors were subsequently observed under a microscope, several areas were found to necrotic. A characteristic pattern of necrosis was observed in which the tumor tissue that were at a distance away from the blood vessel was necrotic, leaving the tumor tissue close to the periphery of the blood vessel. This randomized pattern of tumor cell death was termed ‘tumor angiogenic inhibition triggered necrosis’ (TAITN) by the researchers. The wide area of tumor tissue also showed a severe lack of oxygen which was accompanied by an impairment of angiogenesis. CXCR4 inhibition thus seemed to induce tumor necrosis by damaging the blood vessels and preventing the cells of a healthy oxygen supply.

This study is the first to show the role of CXCR4 in promoting tumor growth by supplying cancer cells with a healthy, organized network of blood vessels. Strategies that can disrupt this network can be explored further as anti-cancer therapies. “CXCR4 plays a crucial role in tumor angiogenesis required for OSCC progression, whereas TAITN induced by CXCR4 antagonism could be an effective anti-angiogenic therapeutic strategy in OSCC treatment,” concludes the team.

Background

CXCR4: CXCR4 is a protein vital in maintaining and growing the cells that produce blood within our body. In fetuses, CXCR4 is also responsible for the formation of certain blood vessels. Incidentally, CXCR4 is also present in various forms of cancers such as breast, liver, and oral cancer. Often, tumors which show the presence of CXCR4 tend to grow faster that those without. Given its link with blood vessels and cancer progression, the research team from Okayama University sought out to investigate whether CXCR4 directly promotes cancer growth by supplying tumors with blood.

Reference

Saori Yoshida, Hotaka Kawai*, Takanori Eguchi*, Shintaro Sukegawa, May Wathone Oo, Chang Anqi, Kiyofumi Takabatake, Keisuke Nakano, Kuniaki Okamoto, Hitoshi Nagatsuka. Tumor Angiogenic Inhibition Triggered Necrosis (TAITN) in Oral Cancer. Cell, 2019, 8(7), 761.

March, 2020|Oral Cancer News|

Identified: 15 genes that trigger rapid growth of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma

Source: medicalxpress.com
Author: Bob Yirka , Medical Xpress

A team of researchers affiliated with several institutions in Canada has identified 15 tumor suppressor genes that can trigger rapid growth of human head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) when they mutate. In their paper published in the journal Science, the group describes their reverse genetic CRISPR screen, which allowed them to analyze almost 500 long-tail genetic mutations that lead to HNSCC.

HNSCC is the sixth-most common type of human cancer, and sadly, has a low survival rate. As the researchers note, to date, most studies looking into a cure have focused on the few genes that mutate at a very high rate. This has given them a high profile. But there is another class of slower mutating gene that can lead to tumors in low numbers of patients. Prior research has shown that there are hundreds of these so called “long tail” genes, many of which have not been identified. In this new effort, the researchers used a reverse genetic CRISPR screen that allowed them to identify 15 of them.

The work focused on tumor suppressor genes that regulate cell division. When something goes wrong with them, such as a mutation, they lose their function and thus cannot prevent the cells they were regulating from mutating out of control. More specifically, the team focused their attention on the genes in cells that are part of the notch signaling pathway—in particular, those cells that develop into HNSCC tumors. All mammals have four kinds of notch receptors, which are used for communications between cells. The team carried out in vivo CRISPR screening on 484 long-tail gene mutations that had triggered the development of tumors in mice and identified 15 tumor suppressor genes. They then looked for the same types of mutations in human long-tail mutations and were able to calculate percentages for each.

The researchers conclude that 67 percent of human HNSCC cases occur along the notch signaling pathway, which suggests notch inactivation is a distinguishing characteristic of HNSCC.

March, 2020|Oral Cancer News|

Gabapentin shows efficacy as opioid alternative for patients with head and neck cancer

Source: www.healio.com
Author: Jennifer Byrne

For many patients with head and neck cancer, treatment-associated oral mucositis is a source of severe pain. Managing this pain is a priority for physicians and interdisciplinary care teams.

Although opioid painkillers historically have been used for this purpose, researchers at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center investigated the use of gabapentin, a drug used to alleviate nerve pain, as an alternative to narcotics for this patient population.

“Virtually all patients will require some type of pain relief or analgesic medication during the course of chemotherapy and radiation,” study author Anurag K. Singh, MD, professor of oncology and director of radiation research at Roswell Park, told Healio. “We’ve been studying better ways to improve pain control in this population because standard narcotics just don’t work that well. Patients tend to use a lot and they still experience pain, but they are sleepier.”

A dose-dependent effect
In their study, published in Cancer, Singh and colleagues randomly assigned 60 patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma to one of two treatment regimens: high-dose gabapentin (2,700 mg daily), progressing sequentially to hydrocodone-acetaminophen and fentanyl when needed (n = 31), or low-dose gabapentin (900 mg daily) progressing to methadone as needed (n = 29).

Safety and toxicity served as the study’s primary endpoints. Pain, opioid requirement and quality of life served as secondary endpoints.

Results showed no difference in pain between the treatment groups, but more patients in the high-dose gabapentin group did not need an opioid while receiving treatment (42% vs. 7%; P = .002). Patients whose treatment progressed to methadone rather than hydrocodone and fentanyl had significantly better quality-of-life outcomes in terms of general health (P = .05), physical functioning (P = .04) role functioning (P = .01) and social functioning (P = .01).

“The bottom line is there was a dose-dependent effect of gabapentin,” Singh told Healio. “When you go from 7% in the lower-dose arm, or 0% if you weren’t giving gabapentin at all, to 42% in the higher-dose arm, that’s a really obvious difference.”

‘Potential arrow in our quiver’
The team at Roswell Park has begun using gabapentin as a first-line approach to pain for patients with head and neck cancer, Singh said.

“We use even higher-dose gabapentin now. We go up to 3,600 mg and follow it with methadone when needed,” he told Healio. “We’re having excellent results. Currently, we’re studying whether we can add something to the gabapentin to get narcotics even further out of the equation.”

Singh and study first author Gregory Hermann, MD, MPH, resident physician in radiation medicine at Roswell Park, have started to evaluate use of the antidepressant venlafaxine (Effexor, Pfizer), which was shown in a study conducted in Europe to enhance the effects of gabapentin.

“Venlafaxine is an SNRI [serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor] that is similar to other drugs like duloxetine (Cymbalta, Eli Lilly) that have been used for neuropathic pain in diabetes. It’s a very common medication that is used in primary care,” Hermann told Healio. “At the end of the study, we’ll be able to say whether 3,600 mg is more effective than 2,700 mg and whether venlafaxine adds anything.”

Although opioid painkillers are known for their addictive potential, opioid abuse is less likely among patients with head and neck cancer, provided they are used properly, according to Heath Skinner, MD, PhD, associate professor of radiation oncology at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. improve significantly within a few weeks of treatment completion,” Skinner told Healio. “In that situation, the goal is to manage pain to allow for eating and drinking as much as possible. Once the acute event leading to the pain is at least partially resolved, we start to wean those medications down. So, in the acute setting, I think these medications have a very limited addiction potential.”

However, if improperly prescribed for long-term use, opioid painkillers could become addictive, Skinner said. Moreover, narcotic painkillers are associated with significant toxicities for an already sick population.

“Constipation is a common effect with opioids and can be particularly challenging for [patients with head and neck cancer] because they’re not drinking a lot of fluids or eating much food,” Skinner told Healio. “That could exacerbate a problem known to happen with narcotic-based pain medications.”

Skinner said gabapentin is a promising alternative to opioids that is readily accessible to clinicians.

“It’s available in the setting of pain control and easily prescribed,” he said. “It’s not something that’s proprietary that a clinician couldn’t acquire. It’s nice to have another potential arrow in our quiver.” – by Jennifer Byrne

Reference:
Hermann GM, et al. Cancer. 2020;doi:10.1002/cncr.32676,

March, 2020|Oral Cancer News|

Increasing ion channel function in cancer T cells could be new immunotherapy

Source: www.drugtargetreview.com
Author: Ameet Chimote et al.

A previously unknown T cell mechanism that could explain the reason behind decreased immune function in cancer patients has been discovered. According to the researchers, their finding may present a new immunotherapeutic target for patients with head and neck cancers.

The study, conducted at the University of Cincinnati (UC), US, revealed that a reduced interaction between a molecule called calmodulin and the ion channel KCa3.1 in the immune cells of cancer patients plays an important role in the limited function of these cells. The team performed experiments on cytotoxic T cells taken from the blood of patients with head and neck cancer.

“Cytotoxic T cells are like the soldiers of our immune system and are our body’s first line of defence against cancerous tumours,” said first author Ameet Chimote. “These cytotoxic T cells are expected to penetrate the solid tumours by migrating within the tumour mass and then secreting chemicals called cytokines to kill these tumour cells. Sadly, for some reason, these cells do not function properly in patients with cancer and they do not penetrate the tumours and attack the tumour cells, causing the cancerous tumours to grow uncontrollably.”

Lead researcher Professor Laura Conforti, explained: “Identifying the mechanism of this underlying dysfunction can help us identify molecules that we can target with drugs and ultimately restore the ability of these cells to enter and kill the tumours.” Molecules, known as ion channels, are present in the T-cell membranes and are essential for their function.

“In this study, we were able to show that the function of these channels in cells from cancer patients is decreased which results in a decreased T-cell accumulation in solid tumours,” Conforti said.

These types of channels require the signalling molecule calmodulin to bind to them in order to function to their full capacity; this is needed even more in cancer T cells. Using several intricate microscopy imaging techniques on cells isolated from the blood of cancer patients, the team found out that, when compared to T cells from healthy individuals, the cancer T cells have fewer calmodulin molecules in their membranes.

“This would mean that there is less calmodulin binding to the channels in the T cells from cancer patients,” Conforti said. “As previously stated, the channels do not function if the calmodulin does not bind to them. Thus, the decreased calmodulin binding in T cells from cancer patients results in decreased function and leads to reduced tumour infiltration and killing of the cancer cells.”

“We observed that if we increase the function of these channels by drugs that enhance their activity, the cancer patients’ T cells can penetrate the tumours better and also produce increased cytokines which can kill tumour cells,” Chimote explained. “These are exciting findings that could lead to additional treatments for patients with cancer.”

“These findings strengthen the therapeutic potentials of [these] activators, which could restore cytotoxic T-cell functionality and can ultimately lead to additional immunotherapeutic options for patients with cancer,” Conforti conlcuded.

The study was published in Frontiers in Pharmacology.

March, 2020|Oral Cancer News|