2022 Research Grants - Call for Applications:

The Head and Neck Cancer Foundation Aotearoa is calling for applications for the 2022 grants, one research grant of up to $30,000 and two research grants of up to $15,000 each.  Please download the application details here:   

Research projects supported by the Head and Neck Cancer Foundation Aotearoa

Dr Bridget Chang-McDonald – Gillies McIndoe Research Institute


Uncovering Heterogeneity in Cellular and Molecular Landscapes in Human Oral Tongue Squamous Cell Carcinoma Using Digital Spatial Transcriptomics

Head and neck cancer is the 6th most common cancer in the world and are more common in men and in people over age 50. Tongue cancer is an aggressive cancer with low survival rate especially in patients with more advanced disease with metastatic spread. This research project aims to better understand how the spatial organisation of tongue cancer shapes metastatic spread. Our long-term goal is to develop a spatial signature that will serve as a prognostic tool for patient survival and recurrence of tongue cancer.

Dr Don Schwass – University of Otago

Gold Nanoparticles Efficacy against Oropharyngeal Pathogens in Oral Mucositis

Oral mucositis is a common side effect of radiotherapy for head and neck cancer, for which there is no effective treatment. It is often associated with severe pain, difficulty in eating and increased risk of infection. Additionally, patients often require intravenous nutritional support, therefore longer periods of hospitalisation and cost. Gold nanoparticles promise low toxicity and potent anti-inflammatory properties. They also significantly reduce biofilm formation as demonstrated in our previous study. This project aims to explore the biofilm inhibitory effects of gold nanoparticles as new treatment option on relevant bacteria, fungi and epithelial cells involved in oral mucositis

Dr Helen Brasch – Gillies McIndoe Research Institute


Cancer Stem Cell Subpopulations in Head and Neck Mucoepidermoid Carcinoma

Mucoepidermoid carcinoma (MEC) is the most common salivary gland cancer. The cause of MEC is unknown, and while some behave well, other tumours grow rapidly, recur and metastasise. Cancer stem cells, the proposed origin of cancer have been found in many cancer types. They drive tumour growth and account for recurrence and metastasis. This study aims to identify and characterise cancer stem cells in MEC using stem cell markers OCT4, NANOG, SOX2, KLF4 and c-MYC.

Dr Benedict Seo – UNIVERSITY OF Otago

Exosomal Biomarkers in Blood Plasma and Saliva of Oral Cancer Patients

Exosomes are small nano-sized particles that have been shown to carry and transfer genetic and protein information from one cell to another. Cancer cells, including oral cancer cells, have been shown to use exosomes to communicate with and manipulate host cells. However, the precise mechanisms by which this occurs remain elusive. This research will investigate the differences in the expression of cancer-associated genes present in blood and saliva-derived exosomes present from oral cancer patients and healthy control patients. Ultimately, it is hoped that the results will contribute to the development of a non-invasive oral cancer-screening tests.




Cancer Stem Cells in Metastatic Head and Neck Cutaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma


The project supported by the HNCFA has resulted in the identification and characterisation of cancer stem cells in metastatic head and neck cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma – an aggressive cancer. Findings of the research has been published in the international journal Frontiers in Oncology (click here) and is scheduled to be presented at the Australian and New Zealand Head and Neck Cancer Society and the New Zealand Association of Plastic Surgeons joint conference 5th - 8th August 2021 in Queenstown, New Zealand

Dr Phoebe Macrae – University of Canterbury

Optimising swallowing outcomes in head and neck cancer patients


In this project an honours student will complete a thorough review of international evidence to develop ‘best practice’ guidelines for optimising swallowing outcomes in head and neck cancer patients. The student will also document patient and care parameters that are known to impact patient outcomes. The project will involve liaison and collaboration with speech and language therapists, radiation oncologists, and surgeons, to ensure all aspects of patient management are considered. The student will then develop a retrospective study to enable evaluation of outcomes for patients who have undergone head and neck cancer treatment through the Canterbury District Health Board, by documenting the factors that need to be extracted from patient notes.