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[2019/04/09] Dr. Yang’s Team and Academia Sinica have Discovered the Key to the Metastatic Mechanism of Head and Neck Cancers

Dr. Yang (middle) and the research team: Academia Sinica Dr. Chang (left) and first author Dr. Li


Dr. Muh-Hwa Yang, who has committed himself to head and neck cancer research and received a number of important academic awards, has been teamed up with Academia Sinica's Dr. Ying-Chih Chang for more than four years in order to carry out research. They have discovered that cancer calls have a habit of moving around in groups, which would seem to be the key signature of head and neck cancer deterioration. This important discovery has just been published in January in the prestigious journal “Nature Cell Biology”.


Dr. Yang is a professor in the NYMU Institute of Clinical Medicine, a doctor at the Taipei Veterans General Hospital and a research fellow at the Academia Sinica Genomics Research Center. He has extensive research experience in the area of head and neck cancer. When tumor sections were observed, it was found that tumor cells with squamous epithelial characteristics are able to easily form clusters when they invade peripheral tissues; this aroused his interest.


These cell clusters have been shown by a cancer cell capture platform (the CMx platform invented by Dr. Chang) to be cancer cells. Through the CMx platform, only 2ml of blood is needed to detect cancer cells in patients. According to clinical statistics collected by the research group, when head and neck cancer cells cluster together, the severity of metastasis affecting the lung is proportionally increased. This is a strong evidence indicating that the clustering of cancer cells is a key signature of a poorer prognosis for head and neck cancer.


Using the CMx platform, only 2ml of blood is needed to detect the number of cancer cells in patients


The research team has proved in their experiments involving mice and human that when head and neck cancer cells replicates, they produce claudin-11 proteins via the transcription factor “Snail”, and this leads to a “drawing together” of the cancer cells. This characteristic of gathering together is just like human beings. To survive, instead of circulating as a single cell, a cancer cell cluster is much more powerful. Preventing metastasis is the key to the successful treatment of cancer. The implications of these findings are important to the development of new treatments for tumors that affect the face, nasopharyngeal cavity, nasal cavity, mouth, throat and neck.


In addition, the first author of this paper, Dr. Ching-Fei Li, who is a Molecular Medicine PhD from National Yang-Ming University. After her graduation last year, she worked in Dr. Yang’s laboratory and, starting this January, has begun her postdoctoral studies at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas.