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Radiology Researcher Developing Drug for Patients with Oral Cancer

A University of Missouri researcher is developing a way to improve treatment for patients with the most common form of oral cancer — squamous cell carcinoma. With a new $590,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, Michael Giblin, PhD, will expand his study of a drug designed to weaken a cancer cell’s protective armor against existing treatments.


“This grant will allow us to continue our development of a new type of agent that could help make other cancer treatments more effective in fighting tumors,” Giblin said. “Our ultimate goal is to improve the survival rates for those who have this type of cancer.”

The American Cancer Society estimates that about 28,500 new cases of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States, and an estimated 6,100 Americans die of the cancers annually.

Giblin, an assistant professor in the MU School of Medicine Department of Radiology, is collaborating with Jeffrey Smith, PhD, associate professor of radiology, and Sharon Stack, PhD, professor of pathology and anatomical sciences and Margaret Proctor Mulligan Distinguished Professor in Medical Research at the MU School of Medicine. The team is evaluating a process that uses nanoparticles containing small interfering ribonucleic acids (siRNAs) to target a gene that is known to promote tumor growth.

“There are a variety of nanoparticles that can be can be customized out of a variety of ingredients. In our case, we are researching a specific nanoparticle and siRNA combination capable of reducing expression of a gene that helps cancer cells survive radiotherapy and chemotherapy,” Giblin said.

Giblin’s team is studying tumors in mice. The researchers are able to track how the nanoparticles are distributed to the tumor by using a positron–emission tomography (PET) device at the Truman Veterans Hospital. In addition, the siRNA component of the treatment is illuminated with a fluorescent material, so its effectiveness in the tumor can be seen under a microscope in the lab.

Giblin received his doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Missouri in 1997. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California in Irvine in 2000, Giblin served as a staff scientist at the Quest Diagnostics Nichols Institute in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. In 2002, he joined the MU Department of Radiology. In addition to his position with the radiology department, Giblin is an adjunct assistant professor at the MU Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute and a research health scientist with Truman Veterans Hospital
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