Nucleic acid targeting: towards personalized therapy for head and neck cancer

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In light of a detailed characterization of genetic aberrations in cancer, nucleic acid targeting represents an attractive therapeutic approach with significant translational potential. Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is a leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide with stagnant 5-year survival rates. Advances in conventional treatment have done little to improve survival and combined chemoradiation is associated with significant adverse effects. Recent reports have characterized the genetic alterations in HNSCC and demonstrated that mutations confer resistance to conventional and molecular targeted therapies. The ability to use specific nucleic acid sequences to inhibit cancer-associated genes including non-druggable targets facilitates personalized medicine approaches with less adverse effects. Additionally, advances in drug delivery mechanisms have increased the transfection efficiency aiding in greater therapeutic responses. Given these advances, the stage has been set to translate the information garnered from genomic studies into personalized treatment strategies. Genes involved in the tumor protein 53 and epidermal growth factor receptor pathways have been extensively investigated and many promising preclinical studies have shown tumor inhibition through genetic modulation. We, and others, have demonstrated that targeting oncogene expression with gene therapy approaches is feasible in patients. Other methods such as RNA interference have proven to be effective and are potential candidates for clinical studies. This review summarizes the major advances in sequence-specific gene modulation in the preclinical setting and in clinical trials in head and neck cancer patients.

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