$11 million investment in cell therapy to help throat cancer patients heal

UC Davis

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) is investing more than $11 million to fund a clinical trail testing a cell therapy to help throat cancer patients heal from the devastating effects of radiation therapy. The phase II trial is being conducted by otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat) professor Peter Belafsky who is also director of the UC Davis Health Center for Voice and Swallowing.

It’s estimated that every year more than 65,000 Americans will be treated for head and neck cancer. One devastating and debilitating side effect of the treatment is dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing.

Peter Belafsky

This is a potential game-changer for the uncounted cancer survivors living with the consequences of radiation toxicity. “This is an incredible win for our team at UC Davis and our patients who have been in relentless pursuit of a ‘cure for the cure.'”-Peter Belafsky, director, UC Davis Heath Center for Voice and Swallowing

Belafsky and his team are developing a therapeutic approach using Autologous Muscle Derived Progenitor Cells (AMDC) derived from a biopsy of the patient’s own muscle elsewhere in the body. The cells are injected into the tongue of the patient, where they fuse with existing muscle fibers to increase tongue strength and ability to swallow.

“This is a potential game-changer for the uncounted cancer survivors living with the consequences of radiation toxicity,” said Belafsky. “This is an incredible win for our team at UC Davis and our patients who have been in relentless pursuit of a ‘cure for the cure.'”

Patients with head and neck cancer often undergo surgery and/or radiation to remove tumors. As a result, they may develop problems swallowing and this can lead to serious complications such as malnutrition, dehydration, social isolation, or a dependence on using a feeding tube. Patients may also inhale food or liquids into their lungs causing infections, pneumonia, and death. The only effective therapy is a total laryngectomy where the larynx or voice box is removed, leaving the person unable to speak.

“Dysphagia is not only a serious problem for people recovering from head and neck cancer, it’s also a problem for millions of older Americans,” says Maria T. Millan, President and CEO of CIRM. “This approach has the potential to make life better for millions of Californians who are experiencing swallowing disorders but have no effective treatment options.”

With $5.5 billion in funding and more than 150 active stem cell programs in its portfolio, CIRM is one of the world’s largest institutions dedicated to cellular medicine, currently funding 80 clinical trials.

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