The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) is investing more than $11 million to fund a clinical trial of a cell therapy to help cure throat cancer patients from the devastating effects of radiation therapy. The phase II trial is being conducted by otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat) professor Peter Belafsky, who is also director of the UC Davis Health Center for Voice and Swallowing.
It is estimated that more than 65,000 Americans will receive treatment for head and neck cancer each year. A devastating and debilitating side effect of treatment is dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing.
This is a potential game-changer for the countless cancer survivors living with the effects of radiation toxicity. “This is an incredible victory for our team at UC Davis and our patients relentlessly seeking a ‘cure for the cure’.” – Peter Belafsky, Director, UC Davis Heath Center for Voice and Swallowing
Belafsky and his team are developing a therapeutic approach using autologous muscle-derived progenitor cells (AMDC) derived from a biopsy of the patient’s own muscle elsewhere in the body. The cells are injected into the patient’s tongue, where they fuse with existing muscle fibers to increase tongue strength and swallowing ability.
“This is a potential game-changer for the countless cancer survivors living with the effects of radiation toxicity,” Belafsky said. “This is an incredible victory for our team at UC Davis and our patients relentlessly seeking a ‘cure for the cure’.”
Patients with head and neck cancer often undergo surgery and/or radiation to remove tumors. As a result, they may have difficulty swallowing and this can lead to serious complications such as malnutrition, dehydration, social isolation or dependence on the use of a feeding tube. Patients can also inhale food or liquids into their lungs, which can cause infections, pneumonia, and death. The only effective therapy is a total laryngectomy in which the larynx or larynx is removed, rendering the person unable to speak.
“Dysphagia is not only a serious problem for people recovering from head and neck cancer, it is also a problem for millions of older Americans,” said Maria T. Millan, president and CEO of CIRM. “This approach has the potential to improve the lives of millions of Californians who have swallowing disorders but lack effective treatment options.”
With $5.5 billion in funding and more than 150 active stem cell programs in its portfolio, CIRM is one of the world’s largest cellular medicine institutions, currently funding 80 clinical trials.