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[2012/04/05] Dr. Muh-Hwa Yang's research team discovered the molecular mechanism for local invasiveness of head and neck cancer

President Kung-Yee Liang Received the 2010 Rema Lapouse Award

[2012/04/05]

Dr. Muh-Hwa Yang's research team discovered the molecular mechanism for local invasiveness of head and neck cancer

Dr. Muh-Hwa Yang, an associate professor of the Institute of Clinical Medicine, lead his research team to investigate the molecular mechanism for local invasiveness of head and neck cancer. They found that activation of RAC1 by Twist1 is responsible for the local invasiveness of advanced head and neck cancer. On March 20th, 2012, the group revealed their results in a press conference held in National Yang-Ming University.

Head and neck cancer includes cancers originate from oral cavity, oropharynx, hypopharynx, and larynx. In recent years, the incidence of head and neck cancers in Taiwan increases rapidly, and now it is ranked as the fourth leading cause of male cancer death. A large number of head and neck cancer patients are diagnosed as advanced diseases, presenting as rapid tumor growth, local tissue destruction, and functional loss. Since advanced head and neck cancer is frequently associated with problems of swallowing, phonation, and cosmetics and usually responds poor to chemotherapy and radiation, the late-stage head and neck cancer becomes a nightmare not only for patients but also for clinicians.

Dr. Yang and his lab members, including the Ph.D. student Wen-Hao Yang and the research assistant Hsin-Yi Lan, performed a series of elegant cell biology experiments based on the hypothesis derived from clinical observation. They discovered that in head and neck cancer cells, the metastatic-promoting transcriptional factor Twist1 represses the expression of microRNA let-7i, leading to activation of RAC1. This molecular event promotes the "mesenchymal-mode movement" of head and neck cancer cells in three-dimensional environment. This movement highly correlates with the local invasiveness of head and neck cancer, and the RAC1 inhibitor could block the Twist1-induced mesenchymal-mode movement. This novel mechanism was also confirmed in clinical head and neck cancer samples: in patients with a combination of a higher Twist1 expression and a lower let-7i level, they will have the most severe local invasion.

Dr. Yang explained that this finding is valuable in both scientific and clinical aspects. Scientifically, they identified the molecular mechanism of local invasiveness in head and neck cancer. Clinically, the result provide a druggable target, RAC1, for developing therapeutic strategy against advanced head and neck cancer. This study will provide important information for developing the personalized medicine of head and neck cancer. This major finding of Dr. Yang's team has been published in Nature Cell Biology online at March 11, 2011 (printed issue April 2012).

Mr. Wen-Hao Yang (left), Dr. Muh-Hwa Yang (middle), and Ms Hsin-Yi Lan (right).

Dr. Yang's research team: Mr. Wen-Hao Yang (left), Dr. Muh-Hwa Yang, and Ms Hsin-Yi Lan (right).


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