Dr. Aditi Bhattacharya Awarded NIH grant to Study Oral Cancer Pain


Aditi Bhattacharya, BDS, MDS, PhD, 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 study oral cancer pain. Dr. Bhattacharya, an assistant professor in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and the NYU Dentistry Translational Research Center, will investigate the role of the transient receptor potential ankyrin 1 (TRPA1) channel in oral cancer pain. TRPA1 is a member of the TRP family of ion channels, which serve as molecular sensors on a variety of cell types, including neurons.

Clinicians are often unable to alleviate oral cancer pain, since opioid efficacy diminishes as patients develop drug tolerance. A more thorough understanding of cancer pain is needed for the development of better pain medications. Oral cancer patients endure pain during everyday functions such as eating and talking. Some oral cancer patients are also sensitive to hot, acidic, spicy, or pungent foods.

Cancers release mediators that activate cell surface receptors on nociceptors (pain-transmitting neurons). TRPA1 is one type of receptor found on nociceptors. The TRPA1 channel has been implicated in pain from mechanical, thermal and chemical stimulation. These are the same stimuli that cause pain in patients with oral cancer such as eating and talking, as well as hot, acidic, or spicy food. TRPA1 is activated by pungent chemicals such as mustard oil and wasabi.

Dr Bhattacharya seeks to gain insight into the mechanisms of oral cancer pain by defining the molecular anatomy of the cancer microenvironment. Dr. Bhattacharya hypothesizes that oral cancer patients who report high levels of pain possess a higher density of TRPA1 on nerve fibers in the vicinity of the cancer. “I will determine whether painful human oral cancers are more densely innervated with sensory nerves that express TRPA1,” says Dr. Bhattacharya, ”and whether TRPA1 contributes to mechanical and thermal hypersensitivity in preclinical models. This work will lay the foundation for further investigation of the role of TRPA1 in oral cancer pain and will motivate investigation of non-opioid therapeutics that target TRPA1 for the management of oral cancer pain.”