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Headshot of Antonio Amelio
UNC Lineberger’s Antonio Amelio, PhD.

The National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research has awarded a five-year, $2.49 million research project (R01) grant to Antonio (Tony) Amelio, PhD, a UNC Lineberger member and associate professor at the UNC Adams School of Dentistry and the UNC School of Medicine Department of Cell Biology and Physiology, to investigate the molecular mechanisms that control tumor cell differentiation in mucoepidermoid carcinomas, the most common type of salivary gland cancer, with the goal to develop better treatments and improve patient survival.

Salivary gland cancer is rare — making up less than 1% of cancers in the United States — and it is more commonly diagnosed in older people, with 64 as the average age of diagnosis, according to the American Cancer Society. When detected and treated early, mucoepidermoid carcinomas have a greater than 60% five-year survival rate. However, this rate drops by half, to approximately 30%, if the cancer has recurred or spread to other parts of the body.

“Current treatment options for mucoepidermoid carcinoma are limited and are not always completely curative. These tumors exhibit significant intra-tumoral cellular heterogeneity, and the presence of specific cell types in high grade tumors is directly correlated with the potential for tumor recurrence and/or metastasis,” Amelio said. “If we can better understand the gene expression profiles and differentiation programs that govern the various cell types found in these tumors, we may be able to design more effective therapies.”