People with Fanconi anemia (FA) are at a very high risk of developing head and neck cancers because of the underlying DNA repair problem in FA. Research is the key to understanding, diagnosing, and treating these cancers. That’s why the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund (FARF) joined Stand Up To Cancer® (SU2C) and three partner organizations in 2021 to fund $3.25 million in grants to find new treatments for head and neck cancers. Stand Up To Cancer harnesses the power of the entertainment industry to fund collaborative translational cancer research projects. The organization funds large integrated research teams comprised of leading scientists with varying expertise who focus their efforts on developing treatments for cancer.
The collaboration between FARF and SU2C also includes three additional nonprofit organizations: the Farrah Fawcett Foundation, the American Head and Neck Society, the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance.
This project reflects FARF’s commitment to directing, accelerating, and investing in cancer research. Over the past three decades, FA research largely focused on gene discovery (there are now at least 23 FA genes), mechanisms of the DNA repair pathway regulated by FA proteins, and bone marrow failure. Now that more people with FA can be successfully treated with stem cell transplants, the focus of FARF has shifted almost exclusively to supporting research on FA cancers.
The incidence of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma in people with Fanconi anemia is 500- to 700-fold higher than in the general population and treatment options are limited. HPV is a very common virus that can cause cancer, including cancer of the throat; approximately 45,300 people with HPV will get a cancer diagnosis every year in the U.S. Head and neck cancers associated with FA or HPV have something in common: genetic defects that cause FA, as well as genetic changes resulting from HPV infection, both adversely affect DNA repair systems, which can lead to cancer.
The selected research team is led by FA researcher, Dr. Agata Smorgorzewska from The Rockefeller University. Joining her are over a dozen other researchers, clinicians, and patient advocates, many of whom are familiar with FARF. This team includes other FA researchers including Dr. Barbara Burtness from Yale School of Medicine and Dr. Markus Grompe from Oregon Health and Science University, and other head and neck cancer experts.
The goals for this project include (1) providing a comprehensive understanding of the biology of FA-related tumors; (2) testing new therapeutic approaches to FA-related head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC); (3) identifying effective chemoprevention treatments, and (4) assessing the toxicity of potential cancer therapeutics. The team theorizes that by having an improved understanding of FA cancers, they can identify tumor-specific vulnerabilities.
This project will provide a pathway for developing safer and more effective prevention and treatment strategies for HNSCC in the FA population.
About Stand Up To Cancer
Stand Up To Cancer® (SU2C) raises funds to accelerate the pace of research to get new therapies to patients quickly and save lives now. SU2C, a division of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, a 501(c) (3) charitable organization, was established in 2008 by media and entertainment leaders who utilize these communities’ resources to engage the public in supporting a new, collaborative model of cancer research, to increase awareness about cancer prevention, and to highlight progress being made in the fight against the disease. As of August 2020, more than 1,950 scientists representing more than 210 institutions are involved in SU2C-funded research projects.
Under the direction of our Scientific Advisory Committee, led by Nobel laureate Phillip A. Sharp, Ph.D., SU2C operates rigorous competitive review processes to identify the best research proposals to recommend for funding, oversee grants administration, and ensure collaboration across research programs.
Current members of the SU2C Council of Founders and Advisors (CFA) include Katie Couric, Sherry Lansing, Kathleen Lobb, Lisa Paulsen, Rusty Robertson, Sue Schwartz, Pamela Oas Williams, and Ellen Ziffren. The late Laura Ziskin and the late Noreen Fraser are also co-founders. Sung Poblete, Ph.D., R.N., serves as SU2C’s CEO. For more information, visit StandUpToCancer.org.