Global Health Nexus, Summer 2003

NYU Dentistry Awarded $488,000 to Improve Head and Neck Cancer Treatments and Reduce Side Effects

Biotechology developer MedImmune, Inc., and Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, Inc., a Johnson & Johnson company, have awarded NYU Dentistry two separate grants totaling $488,888 to conduct two head and neck cancer studies in collaboration with New York’s Beth Israel Hospital Medical Center. The principal investigators are Dr. Jonathan Ship, Professor of Oral Medicine and Director of the Bluestone Center for Clinical Research (BCCR), and Dr. Kenneth Hu, an Attending Physician in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Beth Israel Hospital Medical Center.

The first study, a two-and-a-half-year investigation, will evaluate whether a new head and neck cancer treatment regimen can increase life expectancy and reduce treatment side effects. The investigators want to establish if applying a dose of radiation intraoperatively—that is, directly to the tumor bed—immediately after surgery reduces the need for external beam radiation therapy later in the post-surgical period. They theorize that by adding tumor-bed radiation, they can reduce the time needed for external-beam radiation by 25 percent, to four to five weeks instead of six to seven, while decreasing tumor recurrence and increasing life expectancy. They also believe that they can reduce the incidence of two common side effects— xerostomia and oral mucositis— by giving subjects daily injections of a radioprotectant.

The second, one-year, double-blind, placebo-controlled investigation will determine whether a medicated mouth rinse reduces the incidence and severity of oral mucositis in head and neck cancer patients receiving radiation therapy. Drs. Ship and Hu anticipate that the mouth rinse will reduce mucous membrane inflammation and improve oral function and quality of life for cancer patients.