New Division to Explore Genetic Basis of Head and Neck Cancer

07/09/03    Portland, Ore.

One goal: less toxic therapies that target the molecular causes of cancer

Oregon Health & Science University has created a new division intended to integrate the latest research results into its highly regarded head and neck cancer treatment program. And it has recruited a highly regarded researcher from Baylor College of Medicine, Xiao-Jing Wang, M.D., Ph.D., to head the division.

"We need to develop new and less toxic therapies by targeting specific molecular causes of cancer," said Grover Bagby, M.D., director of the OHSU Cancer Institute and professor of medicine (hematology and medical oncology), and molecular and medical genetics in the OHSU School of Medicine. "The OHSU Cancer Institute has collaborated with the departments of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery and dermatology to recruit Dr. Wang because we know that her work will help us achieve our final goal of developing new diagnostic and therapeutic tools."

Added Mark Richardson, M.D., chairman and professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery: "Dr. Wang's research is on the forefront of discoveries that will help people."

Wang brings with her a wealth of knowledge about the molecular mechanisms of cancer, skin development, skin diseases and wound healing. She has extensive experience in skin cancer research and in using mouse models to mimic human diseases. She and her collaborators at Baylor originated the gene-switch transgenic system, which is widely used to study the molecular mechanisms of cancer and to screen for therapeutic approaches.

"Dr. Wang's development and application of the gene-switch system to study the function of a gene by turning it on or off in a particular cell type is a key new area of research at OHSU," said Molly Kulesz-Martin, Ph.D., professor and associate chairman of dermatology in the OHSU School of Medicine. "It will increase our ability to diagnose and predict severity of disease and to treat epithelial cancers like those of the head and neck."

Wang has recruited Shi-Long Lu, M.D., Ph.D., a cancer geneticist from Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Ireland Cancer Center and Case Western Reserve University, as a research assistant professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery. Several of her laboratory staff have moved with her from Baylor College of Medicine, including Allen Li, M.D., Ph.D., senior research associate and dermatologist; Gangwen Han, M.D., postdoctoral associate and dermatologist; and Donna Wang, senior research assistant.

"Head and neck cancer is very similar to skin cancer because they both originate from stratified squamous epithelia, and they have similar genetic alterations," Wang said. "We will use our knowledge and techniques to develop experimental models that will mimic naturally occurring head and neck cancers so that we can examine genetic alterations and test therapeutic approaches."

Wang is head of the new Division of Molecular Biology of Head and Neck Cancer in the school of medicine and a member of the OHSU Cancer Institute. She also has been appointed research professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery, with joint appointments as research professor of cell and developmental biology as well as dermatology in the medical school. She has brought with her three major grants from the National Institutes of Health.

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