Collaborative Projects (UCLA)

Since 2002, Drs. Elliot Abemayor, Marilene Wang and David Wong have had long-standing and productive research collaborations. In fact the first paper on salivary biomarkers for oral cancer detection was carried out between the Division of Head & Neck Surgery/Otolaryngology and the School of Dentistry. The decade long collaborative relationship has resulted in multiple extramural grants including from NIH and TRDRP. Currently this research collaboration is focusing on molecular characterization of salivary gland tumors, saliva biomarkers development for detection of HPV-associated oropharyngeal tumors as well as clinical validation of salivary oral cancer biomarkers. Two of their recently supported research grants are listed below.

R56 Grant: "Molecular Characterization of Parotid Gland Tumors"

Dr. David Wong and Dr. Elliot Abemayor, Professor-in-Residence and Vice Chief of the Department of Head and Neck Surgery at the UCLA Health System, received a grant to enhance translational and basic research of salivary gland tumors. For translational enhancements, they will work towards developing biomarkers to test the hypothesis that discriminatory biomarkers can be harnessed to assist pathologists in salivary gland malignancy diagnosis. The goal is to use such markers to address the clinical challenge that 11 percent of salivary gland biopsies remain ambiguous and may require invasive surgery to exclude malignancy.

21RT-0112: "Clinical Validation of Salivary Oral Cancer Biomarkers"

Dr. David Wong and Dr. Marilene Wang, Professor-in-Residence at the Department of Head and Neck Surgery at the UCLA Health System, received a grant to test whether suspicious oral lesions are cancerous or not through pre-validated salivary oral cancer biomarker tests. This three-year application is expected to advance the biomarkers to a clinical panel that can be definitively evaluated in a multi-center clinical validation study permitting the subsequent next steps of regulatory approval and product development.


Extracellular RNA Biomarkers in Saliva

"Conventionally, RNA - which translates genetic code from DNA to make protein - was always believed to reside within cells. However, scientists have recently found that RNA is secreted into extracellular spaces, or spaces outside the cell. Researchers surmised that exRNA acts as an exocrine signal, a signal that travels by way of a duct, to alter the cell traits of target cells. This messaging system occurs in the body's central organs, such as the stomach and heart, and in the extremities, such as the fingers, toes and mouth.

With the Common Fund award, Wong's team will conduct a prospective study to develop a salivary biomarker panel that would definitively validate for stomach cancer detection. Their hope is to capture exRNAs in saliva samples secreted by stomach cancer cells to confirm whether the patient is at risk for stomach cancer.

"Salivary diagnostics is a very dynamic field with a lot of potential and I am excited that our research is advancing toward clinical maturation," Wong said. "The National Institutes for Health's support for developing salivary exRNA biomarkers as part of the Common Fund initiative is a strong statement that saliva is scientifically credible for the detection of systemic disease."

Wong's laboratory, along with collaborators, first discovered salivary exRNA molecules in 2004 and demonstrated their translational utility for detecting oral cancer. Over the next several years, the team developed salivary exRNA biomarkers for a number of oral and systemic diseases, including salivary gland tumors, Sjogren's syndrome and many life-threatening cancers. While there are other diagnostic constituents in saliva, salivary exRNAs are the most reliable markers for disease.

This NIH Common Fund initiative highlights the transformative potential of biological information revealed in exRNAs towards the regulation of health and diseases. Moreover, it echoes President Barrack Obama's Strategy for American Innovation to address the so-called Grand Challenges of the 21st century. High on the list of those challenges is the goal of "early detection of dozens of disease from a saliva sample.""
(Quotes from: UCLA Newsroom NIH ERC program | Video)