The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), has awarded researchers at New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry a five-year, $2.9 million grant to investigate oral cancer pain treatment.
Dr. Brian Schmidt, PhD, a professor in the department of oral and maxillofacial surgery, and Dr. Seiichi Yamano, PhD, an assistant professor of prosthodontics at NYU College of Dentistry, will research whether nonviral codelivery of DNA and RNA will safely alleviate oral cancer pain. Currently, opioid medications are used to treat oral cancer pain, but these drugs become less effective as patients develop drug tolerance and can cause debilitating side effects.
Gene therapy could help with pain relief by reversing cancer-induced epigenetic changes and, thus, disrupting pain signaling without the side effects of opioids. Yamano and Schmidt created two nonviral vectors that can deliver DNA and RNA to cells with no toxicity: a cell-permeable peptide combined with a cationic lipid for DNA, and a lipopolymer for RNA, according to the university. They believe the combination of OPRM1 (mu opioid receptor gene) reexpression and F2RL1 (gene for protease-activated receptor 2) downregulation could eliminate cancer pain.
Yamano and Schmidt have received three previous NIH-funded grants, the university noted.