Dr. Yi Ye, assistant professor in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and associate director of clinical research operations at Bluestone Center for Clinical Research, has been awarded a two-year grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to investigate the link between Schwann cells and oral cancer pain.
Oral cancer pain degrades quality of life and impedes eating and speaking. Cancer pain is currently treated with opioid medications; however, these drugs produce severe side effects because they broadly affect the central nervous system. Opioids also become ineffective after patients develop tolerance. Dr. Ye's work will lay the foundation for a non-opioid approach to combat pain at the site of the cancer. She will investigate the role of Schwann cells on cancer pain. Schwann cells surround, insulate and support nerve axons.
Dr. Ye discovered that Schwann cells are activated by oral cancer and revert to a more primitive cell type when they are adjacent to oral cancer cells. She now seeks to determine whether cancer-activated Schwann cells release pain mediators. In describing the aim of her research Dr. Ye notes, "I hope to demonstrate a causal relationship between Schwann cell activation and oral cancer pain, and identify mediators produced by Schwann cells that activate or sensitize neurons." Ultimately, Dr. Ye seeks to develop a pain control strategy that deactivates Schwann cells.
The research is funded by NIH grant R03 DE027777.