Mice study helps calculate aggressiveness of human oral cancer

Washington: Researchers can now foresee the aggressiveness of cancer tumors in people, thanks to a study which was being done on mouth cancer in mice.

Ravindra Uppaluri, MD, PhD, said that all patients with advanced head and neck cancer got similar treatments, and they were interested in finding out why some of the patients do well on standard combinations of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, while some don’t.

Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis investigators found a consistent pattern of gene expression associated with tumor spreading in mice, and Uppaluri said that though they didn’t automatically assume this mouse model would be relevant to human oral cancer, it turned out to be highly reflective of the disease in people.

The researchers, including first author Michael D. Onken, PhD, research assistant professor of cell biology and physiology, showed that exposure to a carcinogen sometimes produced tumors in the mice that did not spread, but other times resulted in aggressive metastatic tumors, similar to the variety of tumors seen in people.

Uppaluri’s team then collaborated with Elaine Mardis, PhD, and compared their mouse sequences to human data sets from ‘The Cancer Genome Atlas’ (TCGA) and found that a lot of the genetic mutations present in mouse tumors were also found in human head and neck cancers.

Further analysis identified a common signature in the expression of about 120 genes that was associated with the more aggressive tumors, whether in mice or people. Subsequently, using oral cancer samples from patients treated at Washington University, researchers developed a proof of concept test from their signature that identified the aggressive tumors with about 93 percent accuracy.