Head and neck cancer remains one of the most difficult-to-treat diseases with limited therapeutic options to date. Due to advances in our ability to read our DNA and those of cancer cells, we’re now able to correlate this genetic information with how cancer cells respond to drug treatment. As a result, we now know that specific genetic patterns deciphered from cancer cells can be used to determine whether a patient is likely to respond to specific drugs.
In CRM, we’ve established a panel of robust oral cell lines, including pre-cancer and cancer cell lines from our patients. These cell lines have similar characteristics to cancer cells — they are immortal and they represent the largest collection of Asian head and neck cancer cell lines. We have successfully used these to identify genetic drivers of cancer development, and to evaluate new drugs for head and neck cancers. In addition to their use in our laboratory, these cell lines have also been used by other scientists internationally to help with the understanding of cancer development and facilitate the development of new therapies for head and neck treatment.
We’ve also established a tool that is able to utilise the genetic information of cancer cells to identify potentially effective drugs. Such a tool can expedite the development and testing of new therapies for cancer, and has the potential to identify patients most likely to benefit from it.
We have also adopted a new technology called the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing method, which allows us to systematically delete each and every gene in head and neck cancer cells to identify critical genes that promote cancer growth. Through this systematic approach, we anticipate new drugs emerging for the treatment of oral cancers, as genes identified to be crucial for the cancer cells’ survival will either be specifically targeted by existing clinical drugs, or by further developing novel drugs.
Overall, our research program is based on the drug repurposing strategy to promote rapid translation of our findings into the clinic in order to treat head and neck cancer patients in the near future.