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University of Minnesota Research Team Awarded R01 Grant from the NCI to Study Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma

MINNEAPOLIS, MN- September 27, 2021 - Awarded from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a study based at the University of Minnesota will develop a profile analysis of oral cell DNA that may predict head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) susceptibility in smokers and assess the role of alcohol intake. The project, titled “High resolution mass spectrometric profile analysis of carcinogen-DNA adducts in oral cells of cigarette smokers and squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck,” was awarded a prestigious R01 grant of approximately $3.7 million over five years.

The study is led by renowned tobacco and cancer researcher Stephen S. Hecht, PhD, Wallin Land Grant Professor of Cancer Prevention with the U of M Medical School’s Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, and Samir S. Khariwala, MD, MS, FACS, Professor and Interim Department Chair with the U of M Medical School’s Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Also involved in the study are Dorothy Hatsukami, PhD, Professor with the U of M Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Chap Le, PhD, Distinguished Professor with the U of M School of Public Health’s Division of Biostatistics. All are longtime members of the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota.

Based on groundbreaking research at the University of Minnesota and elsewhere over the last few decades, it is well established that tobacco and alcohol synergistically enhance the risk for head and neck cancer. With that knowledge, the research team’s goal is to provide a validated method based on analysis of easily obtained oral cells to identify those individuals who are susceptible to HNSCC but are unable to quit smoking. Aggressive lifestyle and monitoring interventions could be initiated to prevent HNSCC in these individuals.

“This type of study could only be attempted in a Cancer Center such as ours with critical interdisciplinary expertise,” noted Dr. Hecht. “The DNA adduct profile will be determined by high-resolution mass spectrometric methods using the Masonic Cancer Center’s Analytical Biochemistry Mass Spectrometry Facility.”

Dr. Hecht will provide the analytical chemistry and mass spectrometry expertise, while Dr. Khariwala will lead the clinical aspects. Dr. Hatsukami will recruit non-smokers and smokers with different levels of alcohol consumption, and Dr. Le will statistically analyze the results.

Dr. Khariwala stated, “We are delighted to receive support from NCI/NIH to conduct this important work pertaining to the prevention of head and neck cancer. We have high hopes for the long-term impact of this work.” 

About the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota
The Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, is the Twin Cities’ only Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated ‘Outstanding’ by the National Cancer Institute. As Minnesota’s Cancer Center, we have served the entire state for more than 25 years. Our researchers, educators, and care providers have worked to discover the causes, prevention, detection, and treatment of cancer and cancer-related diseases. Learn more at

About the University of Minnesota Medical School
The University of Minnesota Medical School is at the forefront of learning and discovery, transforming medical care and educating the next generation of physicians. Our graduates and faculty produce high-impact biomedical research and advance the practice of medicine. We acknowledge that the U of M Medical School, both the Twin Cities campus and Duluth campus, is located on traditional, ancestral and contemporary lands of the Dakota and the Ojibwe, and scores of other Indigenous people, and we affirm our commitment to tribal communities and their sovereignty as we seek to improve and strengthen our relations with tribal nations. For more information about the U of M Medical School, please visit


About the University of Minnesota School of Public Health
The University of Minnesota School of Public Health improves the health and wellbeing of populations and communities around the world by bringing innovative research, learning, and concrete actions to today’s biggest health challenges. We prepare some of the most influential leaders in the field, and partner with health departments, communities, and policymakers to advance health equity for all. Learn more at