Salivary gland carcinomas (SGC) are a group of diverse but relatively rare head and neck cancers. The different subtypes differ in their microscopic appearance, with high-grade tumours being more aggressive than intermediate and low-grade tumours. Risk factors for the development of SGCs include diet, previous radiotherapy, ultraviolet radiation, infection with Epstein Barr Virus and exposure to industrial products.
Relapsed or metastatic SGCs respond poorly to conventional anti-cancer therapies, typically these cancers are treated with palliative chemotherapy with only modest results. Due to the limited results of chemotherapy, several molecular targets are already under investigation. Importantly, scientific studies on SGC have shown that improved knowledge of their biology may lead to the identification of new therapeutic targets. For this project, we have developed a framework for studying the most common variants of SGC – Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma, Adenocarcinoma and Muco-epidermoid Carcinoma. Our approach will combine knowledge obtained using state-of-the-art molecular biology techniques to genetically profile tumours obtained from patient biopsies, with data from studies in laboratory models to assess how effective targeted therapies are in treating these tumours.
Because we are using tumour tissue obtained directly from the patient, our methodology has the benefit of providing a more relevant picture of the biological processes that govern the behaviour of specific SGC subtypes. This approach also offers the prospect of defining specific genetic abnormalities that might be suitable for targeted therapies in individual patients. This approach of using tumour profiling to select treatments for individual patients represents an exciting opportunity to test the hypothesis that personalised medicine may yield significant therapeutic benefits, even in patients with rare tumours. Ultimately we aim to be able to test novel targeted therapies in cohorts of patients with specific SGC histotypes in phase II clinical trials with a view to establishing new standards of care.