Collaborative Team: Prof B Panizza, Dr J Gonzalez-Cruz, A/Prof C Perry, Prof I Frazer, Q Wright, Dr Q Nguyen.
A form of Head and Neck cancer that develops at the back of the throat, oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) diagnoses ae rising globally and in Queensland alone cases have increased by 11 per cent in four years.
The rise in cases of OPSCC is attributed to the human papillomavirus (HPV) as opposed to smoking and alcohol and this is despite rates of cervical cancer, also caused by HPV dropping.
Highlighting the need for research is the fact that alarmingly every year 1000 Australians die from head and neck cancers 95 per cent are this emerging type caused by HPV.
The three treatment options for OPSCC are trans-oral surgery, radio chemotherapy and immunotherapy, however patients who undergo radio chemotherapy and trans-oral surgery often report problems eating and swallowing, constant pain and even depression.
A new research project at the PA Hospital and funded by the PA Research Foundation will use technology known as transcriptomics to map the cancers of OPSCC patients to not only determine the best course of treatment but ideally use a combination of immunotherapies to reduce the burden of the traditional approach of surgery and radio chemotherapy.
The research team led by PA Hospital based Professor Ben Panizza and Dr Jazmina Gonzalez Cruz believe personalising the treatment of patients with oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma may not just save lives, but also improve the quality of life of thousands of patients.
At present only 20 per cent of OPSCC patient respond to immunotherapies and the study’s focus will be on identifying why immunotherapies, which reactivate a patient's natural immune responses to attack tumours work effectively for some patients and not others, with immunotherapies able to help to deescalate the dosages used in traditional chemo-radiotherapy saving patients their detrimental side effects.
Using transcriptomics, the researchers will take a sample of the patient's cancer and screen for thousands of genetic markers to profile each patient to then guide oncologists and clinicians on which therapies are most suitable for each individual.
A key long term outcome the team hopes will come from the project is reducing the number of patients who need radio-chemotherapy, which can greatly impact quality of life.