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NYU Oral Cancer Center Awarded $2.5 Million NIH Grant to Study Cancer Pain

Researchers at New York University (NYU) Oral Cancer Center were awarded a $2.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to study the role of artemin in oral cancer pain and growth.

Researchers at New York University (NYU) Oral Cancer Center were awarded a $2.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to study the role of artemin in oral cancer pain and growth. The principal investigators, Donna Albertson, PhD, and Brian Schmidt, DDS, MD, PhD, seek to improve oral cancer treatment and alleviate pain by targeting overexpressed cancer mediators.

Albertson and Schmidt initiated their investigation of artemin—a protein encoded by a gene of the same name—when a molecular analysis of oral cancers from patients seen at the NYU Oral Cancer Center revealed elevated concentrations of artemin in tumors of the patients with pain. Since Schmidt founded the NYU Oral Cancer Center in 2013, scores of oral cancer patients have volunteered to participate in an ongoing investigation of why cancers hurt. Prior to surgery, Schmidt measures pain with a written patient questionnaire. A sample of the patient’s cancer is collected during surgery and molecularly compared with normal oral tissue. After analyzing the questionnaire and molecular data, Albertson and Schmidt discovered a strong correlation between artemin levels and pain. Since artemin is overexpressed in oral cancers, it is likely that artemin also promotes cancer growth.  

“Out of tens of thousands of genes, the gene that codes for artemin is one that is highly expressed in oral cancer compared with normal tissue,” says Albertson, professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at NYU College of Dentistry. “Artemin became the obvious target to simultaneously address cancer growth and pain.” Following their discovery in the tissues of oral cancer patients, Albertson and Schmidt undertook experiments in the laboratory to confirm the role of artemin in both cancer pain and cancer growth.

Artemin is one of four members of the glial cell line-derived-neurotrophic factor (GDNF) family of proteins. Neurotrophins are secreted molecules that promote growth, differentiation, and survival of neurons. Artemin contributes to pain by inducing expression of receptors on sensory neurons.

Oral cancer patients endure severe chronic pain during everyday functions such as chewing and speaking. Albertson and Schmidt have investigated oral cancer pain at the molecular level over the last 13 years to alleviate pain in these patients through improved pharmacologic therapy.

For more information, visit: nyu.edu

 

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