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Blog Entries - tag: 'University of cincinnati cancer institute'

A Mother's Passion and UC Research Findings

Liz Bonis, WKRC Local 12 health reporter, spoke with Brandon's mother, Karen, and head and neck cancer researcher, Dr. Trisha Wise-Draper, about head and neck cancer and recent findings regarding the role of the DEK gene in certain types of head and neck cancer. The interview aired on WKRC's March 6, 2016 late afternoon news program. Ms. Bonis focused on UC's head and neck cancer research, and Brandon's story and the foundation to raise funds for research in his name. Thank you, Ms. Bonis, for the opportunity to explain the reason "we can't, we won't and we don't stop" raising funds to end head and neck cancers. 

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April is Head & Neck Cancer Awareness Month

Five years ago - April 2010 - I'd never heard of Head & Neck Cancer Awareness Month, although our family had recently become acquainted with head and neck cancer. Only a few weeks earlier Brandon called with news that brought me, his mother, to my knees. I vividly remember where I was and what I was doing as he explained that one of the several nasal polyps he'd had removed a few days before had shown "poorly differentiated - or undifferentiated - squamous cell cancer" in his right maxillary sinus. One moment I was standing, the next I was not. My knees and my mind had buckled. But hey, how bad could this be? Surely, it was treatable. Cancer treatment had come so far.

The pathology findings from the examination of the nasal polyps were discussed by the University of Cincinnati Cancer Institute's tumor board. Surgery, a maxillectomy, was scheduled for later in March, and the head and neck surgeon told Brandon they would do what was needed to remove the cancer, which could include the creation of cleft palate, the removal of his right eye, or removal part of his jaw and/or nose. The cancer was found on a single turbinate bone at the nasal area of the sinus and that bone was removed. The mucus membrane was stripped from the right maxillary sinus and sent to Pathology for microscopic examination. No other evidence of disease was discovered. We all breathed deep sighs of relief. Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month came and went without our realization that April was designated as such.

Then during an early August follow-up appointment, a resident palpated enlarged lymph nodes on the left side of Brandon's neck and found a "spot" at the back of his throat. A biopsy showed more of the same poorly differentiated, HPV-negative squamous cell cancer (SCC). A PET (positron emission tomography) scan found no other "hot spots" below the neck, so everyone felt positive as he dove into the whirlwind of port (port-a-cath) insertion for chemotherapy, fitting for his specially molded radiation mask, and the two months of the common brutal treatment for most head and neck cancers -pinpointed radiation 5 days a week for 7 to 8 consecutive weeks combined with chemotherapy every 2 to 3 weeks. (The blog photo of a smiling Brandon was taken at the end of the chemo-radiation combo. His port is visible just below is right collarbone and the radiation burns are obvious.)  Radiation resulted in burns outside and in, affected and thickened mucus production, caused his sense of taste to change. Chemotherapy damaged his hearing, produced strange tastes in his mouth, upset his digestive system in all ways imaginable. He chose to wait and see if he'd need a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) feeding tube, which many, if not most, on the treatment journey for head and neck cancer now receive prior to treatment. None of us know how he continued to eat and drink throughout treatment, but he did, and he never shared how difficult it must have been. 

The post-treatment PET scan revealed new "hot spots" on a rib and his femur. He learned he was to become a father while undergoing radiation treatment for the new spots. The afternoon of his last radiation treatment, he hopped a jet to Paris to meet his wife, who was already there for business, for a long Easter weekend in the city of love and lights. They made the most of every moment. They welcomed daughter Morgan on December 3, 2011. Meanwhile, Brandon fought more and more "hot spots." Different forms of traditional and trial chemotherapy agents were tried. Each caused new and more uncomfortable side effects. None made an impact. He was fitted for a new radiation mask when "spots" appeared in his brain. The disease continued to march through his body, quickly overwhelming body systems. He died June 2, 2012. His father and I founded Brandon's Foundation the next day.

Head and neck cancer receives very little attention compared to many others. It is thought to be an old person's disease related to a lifetime of tobacco or alcohol use. However, the number of people affected by some form of head and neck cancer is growing and this growth is mainly among younger adults. Part of it is related to the same forms of HPV that cause most cervical cancer, but HPV does not account for many other cases. It is estimated that almost 46,000 will be diagnosed with some form of head and neck cancer during 2015 alone - that is about 125 persons each day being told they have this cancer. It's anticipated that more than 8600 of those journeying with head and neck in this country will die this year. 

Don't forget your own screening for head and neck cancer, as early detection can make the difference. Be sure a thorough head and neck cancer screening is part of every dental check up. If you're in the Cincinnati area, call (513) 475-8400 to reserve a spot for a free screening by the University of Cincinnati Health Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery at the Barrett Cancer Center Area F from 8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. on April 16. Last year the team performed approximately 230 screenings of which 17 required referred for follow up. 

Screening and early detection are only one part of the head and neck cancer picture. it is time to change the survival statistics and it is time for treatments that have fewer debilitating side effects. Only research can find the treatments and cures that will allow other families to never know the kind of loss we feel without Brandon in our lives. His Foundation's Request for Proposals was sent to researchers in February and many proposal submissions arrived by the March 27 deadline. Next week we begin sending these proposals out for "blind" reviewers by experts in the field of head and neck cancer. An announcement of the 2015 grant awards is to be made June 2, 2015 - the third anniversary of the date of Brandon's death.

PLEASE help us fund the research that will put an end to head and neck cancer. DONATE now so Brandon's Foundation may expand the number and amount of grant funding available for promising research projects. And the next time you sit down for a meal - the next time you enjoy the aromas and flavors of your food, the next time your mouth is moist enough and your throat is undamaged so that you don't have to even think about swallowing and easily passing food from your mouth down your throat to your stomach - think about Brandon and all those who are or have been on the head and neck cancer journey with him.

 

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Ceremonial Grant Award Check Presented to UC Researchers

This year Brandon's Foundation awarded its first research grants. During the December 4th Happy Hour at The Phoenix in downtown Cincinnati, the researchers who submitted one of the two research proposals awarded the foundation's first grant awards were presented with a ceremonial award check. Receiving the ceremonial $15,000 check to investigate "A Comprehensive Study of Common Mutations in Sinonasal Cancer" were Scott Langevin, PhD, MHA and otolaryngologist Keith Casper, MD, from the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine/UC Cancer Institute. Dr. Langevin said he and assistants planned to begin DNA extraction from sinonasal cancer tumors before the end of 2014. They will then move on to the task of looking for mutations in the extracted DNA.  

Unable to attend the ceremony was Stephen Y. Lai, MD, PhD, FACS of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, who submitted the research proposal "MiR-27a* Targets Critical Signaling Pathways in HNSCC (head and neck squamous cell carcinoma)." Dr. Lai was awarded a $10,000 grant by Brandon's Foundation. 

Details of the grant-winning research projects and the grant proposal process used by Brandon's Foundation were included in a previous blog post. Hearing from researcher after researcher who submitted a proposal about the lack of funding for head and neck cancer research was the most profound aspects of the the grant award process. Questions and comments are welcome as the Board of Directors moves forward, revises the process and awards more grant funding for head and neck cancers in 2015. 

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2014 Research Grant Awards - Meet the Researchers

This year Brandon's Foundation awarded its first research grants, and oh, how much we learned. Early in the year, the Research Grant Task Force sent a handful of the Request for Proposals (RFP) document to head and neck cancer specialists/researchers who had made contact with the Foundation. The Foundation's Board of Directors hoped the mailing of the RFP would generate at least 10 or possibly up to 15 research proposal submissions. The plan was to announce the awardee(s) on June 2, 2014 - the second year date of Brandon's death from head and neck cancer – following what all involved thought would be a fairly straightforward blind review process. However, it quickly became more complicated than we’d ever imagined. Somehow news that there was a RFP targeting projects focusing on head and neck cancer was sent to a service that disseminates such information worldwide to interested parties. Suddenly, the Foundation's email box was inundated with requests to forward the Foundation’s RFP.

By the proposal submission deadline date, Brandon's Foundation had received 84 research proposals from researchers working in 17 countries on 5 continents. The number of submissions was overwhelming, but it highlighted the great need for more research funding for head and neck cures and improved treatments. A number of researchers submitted a proposal, which included a personal message of thanks for funding for research for head and neck cancers because these cancers get so little funding attention in spite of the increasing incidence of them in younger age groups.

The original review process was revised somewhat in order to whittle down the number of proposal submissions sent to “blind” reviewers. (Blind review means no identifying information is included on any submission sent to reviewers, which may bias the review. The goal is that each submission be considered on merit alone.) The “whittling” process led to 20 of the 84 submissions being sent to other head and neck cancer researchers and other related, highly specialized professionals for blind review. Each of the 20 submissions was sent to 3 different reviewers.

At the end of the review process, two research proposals were awarded 2014 grant funding by Brandon’s Foundation. Scott Langevin, PhD, MHA and otolaryngologist Keith Casper, MD, from the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine/UC Cancer Institute were awarded an initial grant of $15,000 to investigate "A Comprehensive Study of Common Mutations in Sinonasal Cancer." (The Foundation’s grant award led to a matching award from the UC College of Medicine.) A second research grant award of $10,000 went to head and neck surgeon Stephen Y. Lai, MD, PhD, FACS of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, to study "MiR-27a* Targets Critical Signaling Pathways in HNSCC (head and neck squamous cell carcinoma)."

Young Professionals are invited to meet the Foundation's 2014 research grant awardees from UC College of Medicine/UC Cancer Institute, Scott Langevin and Keith Casper, at a Happy Hour hosted by The Phoenix (812 Race Street, downtown Cincinnati), December 4, 2014 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Please join Brandon’s Foundation next week! Kick off the holiday season, talk to the researchers, learn what Brandon’s Foundation is and what it does, and perhaps win a door prize! 

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