Future Treatments for Head & Neck Cancer

Roswell Park places a strong emphasis on translational research, which aims to speed the transfer of discoveries from the laboratory to the clinic so patients will benefit faster.

The Head & Neck/Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery Translational Laboratory works with department surgeons to identify and pursue new areas of research so we can better understand oral/head & neck cancer and further refine head & neck and plastic & reconstructive surgery.

Our department surgeons are highly skilled in their clinical practice and also actively involved in both research in their specialty areas and in the education and training of younger surgeons. Our students, residents and surgical fellows all participate in research activities to expand their knowledge and training while contributing to the medical/scientific literature.

Some of our current research projects focus on:

  • Developing new combination treatments to improve the effectiveness of immunotherapy for oral cancer.
  • Collaborating with University at Buffalo researchers to learn more about how oral cancer progresses.
  • Understanding specific characteristics of oral cancers that make them respond differently to treatment depending on where they are located in the oral cavity. Our researchers have identified genes in these different types of tumors that could be used as targets for developing new treatments.
  • Understanding why some head and neck cancers are resistant to treatment. Tumor-derived microvesicles — which can enable the tumor to spread — are one focus of this research.
  • Evaluation of several protein interactions that may provide new biomarkers we can use to detect thyroid cancer earlier, when it can be treated more effectively.

In addition, the Center for Oral Oncology focuses on discovering and developing new ways to prevent or treat oral cancers and to relieve the side effects of treatment.

Wound-healing research

Head & Neck/Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery researchers at Roswell Park also are working with colleagues at the University at Buffalo to develop new strategies to promote wound healing — for example, by creating a new biologically active dressing. This research, which already has led to several biomaterial and bioengineering patents, has broad potential for benefiting surgical patients who are at risk for complications as their wounds heal after surgery. It has special significance for reducing pain and healing time, minimizing the risk of complications and improving appearance for patients who undergo head and neck surgery.

International collaborations

The Department of Head & Neck Surgery has launched several translational research projects as part of an international head and neck cancer consortium with Mazumdar-Shaw Cancer Center in Bangalore, India, and the Cochin Cancer Research Centre in Kerala, India. Goals of just a few of the projects include:

  • Developing a mobile app to assist community dental surgeons in identifying suspicious oral lesions in high-risk patients.
  • Developing a saliva-based test to screen for oral cancer and provide information about how the disease will probably progress.
  • Understanding how oral cancer stem cells resist treatment, so we can identify the treatments that are likely to be most effective.
  • Developing specialized testing that can be used in the operating room during surgery to confirm whether squamous cell carcinoma has metastasized (spread) to lymph nodes in the head and neck, to avoid over-treatment and such side effects as lymphedema.
  • Creating a panel of biomarkers to identify laryngeal/pharyngeal cancer patients whose genetic profiles suggest how they will probably respond to a combination of chemotherapy and radiation as an alternative to surgery.