School of Dentistry Researcher Pioneers Methods in Treating Tumor Angiogenesis

Jacques Nör, D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D. is a Professor of Professor of Dentistry, Biomedical Engineering and Otolaryngology at the University of Michigan. He leads a research effort that explores several mechanistic aspects of head and neck cancer. His group closely studies cancer stem cell biology and has also pioneered methods in treating tumor angiogenesis in its occurrence during both physiological and pathological disease processes.

The study of molecular regulation in tumor angiogenesis has proven extremely informative in providing further insight into cancer biology and in offering insights into therapeutic response and mechanisms of inhibition that have the potential to be harnessed as a novel approach for cancer therapy.

The overall goal of this research effort is to improve the survival rates and quality of life of patients with head and neck cancer through two approaches.

  • The first approach focuses on the prevention of metastasis and recurrence of head and neck cancer. Although cancer stem cells constitute no more than a small fraction of all tumor cells (less than 5% of tumor cells in head and neck cancer), they are incredibly likely to lead to the formation of new tumors. With Mark Prince, M.D. as a collaborator of Dr. Nör’s, the data obtained from their research effort suggests that these stem cells are the specific cells responsible for tumor recurrence and metastasis in head and neck cancer. “We try to identify these stem cells and find therapies that eliminate them,” said Dr. Nör.
  • The second approach to improving treatment in head and neck cancer is the targeting of blood vessels within the tumors themselves. In the 1970s, pioneering cancer researcher Judah Folkman demonstrated that tumors depend on blood vessels for their growth and that one can shrink tumors by starving them of their blood supply. These therapies are called anti-angiogenic therapies and for at least 15 years, Dr. Nör’s research group has been committed to developing approaches that target tumor blood vessels as a means for treatment. Dr. Nör has collaborated with Dr. Shameng Wang for nearly a decade in testing drugs that have a therapeutic effect in head and neck cancer, including AT-101, an investigational drug for the treatment of advanced cancer.

Dr. Nör has cited the Flow Cytometry Core in the University of Michigan Medical School as a very important component of his group’s research effort. “The Flow Cytometry Core is very critical for our stem cell project because the best way to identify these stem cells is through flow analysis. I believe that our group is one of the most frequent users of the core’s services,” said Dr. Nör.  

One of the greatest services offered by the Flow Cytometry personnel is to train researchers in the lab so that they may run their samples themselves and become more independent users of the equipment whenever possible. This then creates time available for researchers to use the core after-hours. Dr. Nör’s group often receives tumor specimens promptly after surgery and these samples must be analyzed within twenty-four hours of receiving them. The lab personnel often receive no advanced notice regarding the availability of these specimens, so it is absolutely critical that the lab personnel are trained to independently conduct an analysis of these time-sensitive samples.

The nature of Dr. Nör’s research requires an extensive collaborative effort that utilizes the services of the Flow Cytometry Core to expand his lab’s own developed methods. His work is a testament to the notion that communication and collaborative training are essential for maintaining the success of such a large research effort.